By Miguel de Guzmán
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Additional resources for Aventures mathématiques
I immersed myself in the history of mathematical ideas. I studied Pythagoras, Newton, Fermat, Gauss, Hilbert, Einstein, and Godel. I read mathematical memoirs, pored over Erdos's correspondence, peeked in his lone suitcase, and conversed with him at various times over the period of a decade. I grew fond of him, laughed at his silly quips, and came to appreciate why he saw mathe matics as the search for lasting beauty and ultimate truth. It was a search, I learned, that he never lost sight of even when his life was torn asunder by major political dramas of the twentieth century-the Communist revolutions in Hungary, the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitism in Europe, World War II, the Cold War, McCarthyism.
It was pretty good early in the month-two, three, five, seven-but got tough toward the end, when the primes are thinner, nineteen, twenty three, then a big gap till twenty-nine. But this guy was seriously nuts. " Prime numbers are appealing because, in spite of their apparent simplicity, their properties are extremely elusive. All sorts of basic questions about them remain unanswered, even though they have been scrutinized by generations of STRA I G HT FRO M THE BOOK the sharpest mathematical minds.
His style was to work on many problems at once with colleagues in far-flung locations. "Every day he called mathematicians all over the world," said Peter Winkler of AT&T. "He called me all the time. ' Even when my kids were very young, they knew immediately that it was Uncle Paul. He knew every math ematician's phone number, but I don't think he knew any- STRAIGHT FROM THE BOOK one's first name. I doubt if he would have recognized my first name even though I worked with him for twenty years. " When Erdos collaborated in person, he liked to do work with several people at the same time.