Jew of the Week: Paul Erdős

Greatest Mathematician in History

Math Extraordinaire Paul Erdos

Paul Erdős (1913-1996) was born in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Jewish mathematicians from whom he inherited his gift. By age three, Erdos was able to instantly calculate the amount of seconds a person had lived. In 1930, he was allowed into university despite Hungary’s restrictions on Jewish students. After becoming a mathematics professor, he was forced to flee European anti-Semitism and came to teach at Princeton University. By 1956 he was so well-known that his native Hungary gave him a free pass to enter and exit the country as he pleased, despite Hungary’s position behind the Iron Curtain. Erdős would go on to publish more papers on mathematics than any other human in history. He wrote 1,525 math articles in his life, collaborating with 511 people (he was a strong proponent of group work). Unmarried and without children, he was a wandering mathematician, travelling the globe with all his possessions in a single suitcase. He donated every award and prize he received. Erdos wished his epitaph to say: “I’ve finally stopped getting dumber.”

Words of the Week

Old age is a virtue and a blessing… It is true that a 20-year-old can dance the night away while his grandmother tires after a few minutes. But man was not created to dance for hours on end. Man was created to make life on earth purer, brighter and holier than it was before he came on the scene… In this regard, a person’s value and productivity only increases with age… The institution of ‘retirement’, which pushes million of men and women to the sidelines of society each year, is a tragic waste of human life and resources.
– The Lubavitcher Rebbe