Paul Erdös


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Paul Erdos born March 26, 1913, died September 20, 1996

The original name of Paul's family was Engländer - meaning the English. Paul and his parents were Jewish, although there is no suggestion that either of them observed the religion. Paul had two older sisters, both of whom died before Paul was born. This had effect on Paul's parents, and they dotted on Paul from the minute he was born.

When he was one year old, the First World War broke out. The Erdös family at the time lived in Hungary, in Budapest. Paul's father had to join the army, but was captured soon after the beginning of the war. He spent next six years in captivity in Siberia. Paul spent those years with his mother Anna teaching him along with private tutors she hired for Paul.

With the end of WWI upheaval in Hungary continued. Paul's father returned from Siberia in 1920. He learnt English in captivity, and set out to teach the language to his son. Paul kept some of the strange pronunciations of English words for the rest of his life!

He studied for his doctorate in Budapest and took the post-doctoral fellowship in Manchester in 1934. During this year he travelled throughout the UK and met some famous mathematicians. When his fellowship ended, Erdös did not know what to do: the anti-Jewish sentiment was rising throughout Europe, and in Eastern and Central Europe with the advancement of German politics and later army, the Jews suffered horrendous persecution. He luckily got a short-term fellowship at Princeton at the time and this is the beginning of his life in the United States.

He is most famous for his extensive network of collaborators and incessant writing of research papers. He was a problem solver, the 20th century mathematical correspondent and hard worker who knew what everyone who was anyone in mathematics was doing at the time. He was truly a mathematician of the 20th century. His life story tells everything there is to tell about the development of mathematics in that century as well as the world wars, new international cooperation among mathematicians from around the world, and in a way even the development of the concept of networking which has been materialised in the invention of the Internet. Bruce Schechter who in 1998 wrote a book about Erdös said that "in the years before the Internet, there was Paul Erdös. He carried a shopping bag crammed with the latest papers, and his brain was stuffed with the latest gossip as well as an amazing database of the world of mathematics."

He wrote more than 1500 papers cooperating with more than 450 mathematicians during his lifetime.



See page and worksheet on Erdösese

Also some photogrpahs from the time when Erdös was a child

Washington Post Obituary on Erdös.

See some other famous mathematicians here, or even a page where some of them appear when they were kids.


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