Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You do the to but math is truly not my forté

Quote of the day:

"It is very, very easy not to be offended by a book.  You just have to shut it."
                   ~Salman Rushdie

Math is not my thing.  I get confused, do not have a mathematical bone in my body and get nervous when I have to apply it to anything.  I did well in math in school until high school and then everything went south.  I stood first in math in grade nine and by grade eleven just barely passed and lost all my confidence in it.  In teacher's college I had the most wonderful math teacher and when I did a grade eight placement ended up with an A+ week thanks to him.  But still the memories haunt me and I do not have that "math" mind to solve those problems and come up with the correct answer.  I am sure I am not alone and many others feel the same way.  Thank goodness for people like Paul Erdös who loved math and lived it 24/7...

          Title:  The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of 
                     Paul Erdös
          Author: Deborah Heiligman        
          Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
          Ages:  9-13

Paul Erdös was not a typical youngster.  At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head,  The irony?  He didn't learn to butter his own bread until he was twenty. Paul was an eccentric boy growing up in Hungary during World War 1 and a math genius.  He did not like to play by the rules and convinced his mom not to send him to school but to study at home. She allowed him to do so and she and imperious "Fräulein" dressed him and even tied his shoes every day.  Also by the time he was 20 he was known as "The Magician from Budapest."  Although he was unable to cook, do laundry or drive he spent his adult life flying around the world, visiting other mathematicians, and working collaboratively on very challenging math problems. Erdös truly saw the world through a mathematical lens.  Heiligman and Pham cleverly incorporate mathematical references throughout the story.  Other mathematicians were honoured to have him as a guest and talk math with him.   Paul "thought about math whatever he was doing, wherever he was" and he grew into one of the world's top math geniuses.  He did not want to settle down but to keep on his global math journey while others "did his laundry and cooked his food and cut open his grapefruit and paid his bills." The artwork is wonderful and rich.  Each character is timeless and and each illustration is a puzzle to be solved. The author and illustrator have included notes which give further detail of this extraordinary man's life. Recommended for junior/middle school students I am sure this book will be greatly received by them.

About the author and the illustrator:

Meet the Author

Deborah Heiligman has written numerous books for young readers, including Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith, a National Book Award finalist. She lives in New York City.
LeUyen Pham has illustrated dozens of books for kids, including God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, and her own Big Sister, Little Sister.

Meet the man himself:

The son of two high-school mathematics teachers, Erdős had two sisters, ages three and five, who contracted scarlet fever and died the day he was born. His mother, fearing that he, too, might contract a fatal childhood disease, kept him home from school until the age of 10. With his father confined to a Russian prisoner-of-war camp for six years and his mother working long hours, Erdős passed the time flipping through his parents’ mathematics books. “I fell in love with numbers at a young age,” Erdős later recalled. “They were my friends. I could depend on them to always be there and always behave in the same way.” At three he entertained his mother’s friends by multiplying three-digit numbers in his head, and at four he discovered negative numbers. “I told my mother,” he said, “that if you take 250 from 100, you get –150.”
In 1930, at age 17, Erdős entered the Péter Pázmány University in Budapest, where in four years he completed his undergraduate work and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics. Of all the numbers, it was theprimes (integers such as 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11 whose only divisors are 1 and themselves) that were Erdős’s “best friends.” As a college freshman, he made a name for himself in mathematical circles with a stunningly simple proof of Chebyshev’s theorem, which says that a prime can always be found between any integer(greater than 1) and its double. Even at this early point in his career, Erdős had definite ideas about mathematical elegance. He believed that God, whom he affectionately called the S.F. or Supreme Fascist, had a transfinite book (“transfinite” being a mathematical concept for something larger than infinity) that contained the shortest, most beautiful proof for every conceivable mathematical problem. The highest compliment he could pay to a colleague’s work was to say, “That’s straight from The Book.” As for Chebyshev’s theorem, no one doubted that Erdős had found The Book proof.
During his university years he and other young Jewish mathematicians, who called themselves theAnonymous group, championed a fledgling branch of mathematics called Ramsey theory, which has as its philosophical underpinning the idea that complete disorder is impossible. A concrete example is the random scattering of points on a plane (a flat surface). The Ramsey theorist conjectures that no matter how haphazard the scattering appears, certain patterns and configurations of points must emerge.
In 1934 Erdős, disturbed by the rise of anti-Semitism in Hungary, left the country for a four-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Manchester in England. In September 1938 he emigrated to theUnited States, accepting a one-year appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where he cofounded the field of probabilistic number theory. During the 1940s he wandered around the United States from one university to the next—Purdue, Stanford, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins—spurning full-time job offers so that he would have the freedom to work with anyone at any time on any problem of his choice. Thus began half a century of nomadic existence that would make him a legend in the mathematics community. With no home, no wife, and no job to tie him down, his wanderlust took him toIsrael, China, Australia, and 22 other countries (although sometimes he was turned away at the border—during the Cold War, Hungary feared he was an American spy, and the United States feared he was a communist spy). Erdős would show up—often unannounced—on the doorstep of a fellow mathematician, declare “My brain is open!” and stay as long as his colleague served up interesting mathematical challenges.
With amphetamines to keep him going, Erdős did mathematics with a missionary zeal, often 20 hours a day, turning out some 1,500 papers, an order of magnitude higher than his most prolific colleagues produced. His enthusiasm was infectious. He turned mathematics into a social activity, encouraging his most hermetic colleagues to work together. The collective goal, he said, was to reveal the pages in the S.F.’s Book. Erdős himself published papers with 507 coauthors. In the mathematics community those 507 people gained the coveted distinction of having an “Erdős number of 1,” meaning that they wrote a paper with Erdős himself. Someone who published a paper with one of Erdős’s coauthors was said to have an Erdős number of 2, and an Erdős number of 3 meant that someone wrote a paper with someone who wrote a paper with someone who worked with Erdős. Albert Einstein’s Erdős number, for instance, was 2. The highest known Erdős number is 15; this excludes nonmathematicians, who all have an Erdős number of infinity.
In 1949 Erdős had his most satisfying victory over the prime numbers when he and Atle Selberg gave The Book proof of the prime number theorem (which is a statement about the frequency of primes at larger and larger numbers). In 1951 John von Neumann presented the Cole Prize to Erdős for his work in primenumber theory. In 1959 Erdős attended the first International Conference on Graph Theory, a field he helped found. During the next three decades he continued to do important work in combinatorics, partition theory, set theory, number theory, and geometry—the diversity of the fields he worked in was unusual. In 1984 he won the most lucrative award in mathematics, the Wolf Prize, and used all but $720 of the $50,000 prize money to establish a scholarship in his parents’ memory in Israel. He was elected to many of the world’s most prestigious scientific societies, including the Hungarian Academy of Science (1956), the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1979), and the British Royal Society (1989). Defying the conventional wisdom that mathematics was a young man’s game, Erdős went on proving and conjecturing until the age of 83, succumbing to a heart attack only hours after disposing of a nettlesome problem in geometry at a conference in Warsaw.

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