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REVIEW: "My Brain is Open", Bruce Schechter

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKMBRNOP.RVW 20000407 My Brain is Open , Bruce Schechter, 1998, 0-684-85980-7, U$13.00/C$19.00 %A Bruce Schechter %C 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 7, 2000
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      BKMBRNOP.RVW 20000407

      "My Brain is Open", Bruce Schechter, 1998, 0-684-85980-7,
      U$13.00/C$19.00
      %A Bruce Schechter
      %C 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
      %D 1998
      %G 0-684-85980-7
      %I Simon & Schuster/Touchstone
      %O U$13.00/C$19.00 +1-212-698-7541 www.simonsays.com
      %P 224 p.
      %T "My Brain is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul Erdos"

      The story of Paul Erdos, peripatetic mathematician, is certainly
      fascinating. His mathematical work is important enough, but of equal
      or greater significance is the social, or perhaps literary, concept
      known to mathematicians as the Erdos number (see
      http://www.acs.oakland.edu/~grossman/erdoshp.html). Erdos
      collaborated, or co-authored papers, with over five hundred
      colleagues, and that number is climbing even after his death, as work
      stimulated by conversations with him continues to be published.

      Schechter's account of Erdos' unsettled life is seamlessly integrated
      with the mathematics that inspired it. In fact, I cannot recall
      another biography which so carefully weaves the technical content in
      with the biographical facts. Interestingly, it is not Erdos' work
      itself which is included, but the basic work of proofs, particularly
      number theory. In this way, the text illuminates, as far as may be
      possible, the world of the mathematician, even for the
      non-mathematical reader. This tutelary factor improves the vitality
      of the work: Erdos was an obsessed man, and the author goes a long way
      to demonstrating even to those who don't share this obsession what and
      why it is.

      The Erdos who inhabits Schechter's book is not necessarily appealing,
      despite the author's sympathetic treatment. The picture we are
      presented with, reading between the lines, is not that of a happy or
      attractive person. Productive, prolific, and undeniably portentous he
      was, but also unusual and unsettled. The constant travel and endless
      collaborations can be seen as a rejection of the standards of a world
      in which he did not, early on, succeed, and the stream of work can
      also appear as a distraction from a life which had almost none of the
      normal attachments.

      Still, the book itself is an excellent piece of work in terms of
      scientific biography.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKMBRNOP.RVW 20000407

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak
      up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews,
      and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. They came for the
      trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade
      unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak
      up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by
      that time no one was left to speak up. - Martin Neimoeller
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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