Three views into mathematics

What better use for a lunch break than a bottle of cola and a blog post? Three books off the showing-off-how-mathematical-I-am bookshelf at my elbow. One semi-random sentence from each.


In 1924, reviewing reports on algebraic numbers issued by the National Research Council, he noted with pleasure the comparatively great amount of space that the authors had devoted to cyclotomy, a fact that he saw as an encouragement to beginners and proof that the “lusty” old subject was still very much alive.

(Constance Reid, The Search for E.T. Bell, also known as John Taine, Mathematical Association of America, 1993, p. 145)

An obscure book about a mathematician, a historian, a popularizer of mathematics (author of the justly famous and famously not always exact Men of Mathematics), a poet, and a science fiction writer, that was not always all that honest with his own personal history.


Pathological monsters! cried the terrified mathematician
Every one of them is a splinter in my eye
I hate the Peano Space and the Koch Curve
I fear the Cantor Ternary Set
And the Sierpinski Gasket makes me want to cry

(Sarah Glaz and JoAnne Growney, Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics, A K Peters, 2008, p. 141; this bit is a Jonathan Coulton song lyric)

I guess this is what snotty types call “an eclectic collection”. I liked about half of the poems; the other half weren’t mathematical enough.


“No reason was ever given,” recalled Henriksen, “but his lawyer was permitted to examine a portion of the Erdös file and found recorded the facts that he corresponded with a Chinese number theorist named Hua who had left his position at the University of Illinois to return to Red China in 1949 (a typical Erdös letter would have begun: Dear Hua, let p be an odd prime…) and that he had blundered onto a radar installation in Long Island … while discussing mathematics with two other noncitizens.” The authorities apparently feared that the letters to Hua, filled with impenetrable mathematical symbols, might be coded messages.

(Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdös and the Search for Mathematical Truth, Hyperion, 1998, p. 128)

One of two (!) Erdös biographies I have; the other is by My Brain Is Open by Bruce Schechter. Erdös (and I suppose that is not o-umlaut but some Hungarian doodle) was a real-life stereotypical mathematician. As can be glimpsed from the quote above.

One Response to “Three views into mathematics”

  1. Erik the Reader Says:

    Actually it’s Erdős. Ő is the long vowel version of ö. Ö is pronouced simillarly to the Geman ö (o umlaut). The name means woody or foresty, or simply with forest.

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