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The Erdős Paradox

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Part of the Springer Proceedings in Mathematics & Statistics book series (PROMS,volume 220)


The great Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős was born in Budapest on March 26, 1913. He died alone in a hospital room in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday afternoon, September 20, 1996. It was sad and ironic that he was alone, because he probably had more friends in more places than any mathematician in the world. He was in Warsaw for a conference. Vera Sós had also been there, but had gone to Budapest on Thursday and intended to return on Saturday with András Sárközy to travel with Paul to a number theory meeting in Vilnius. On Thursday night, Erdős felt ill and called the desk in his hotel. He was having a heart attack and was taken to a hospital, where he died about 12 h later. No one knew he was in the hospital. When Paul did not appear at the meeting on Friday morning, one of the Polish mathematicians called the hotel. He did not get through, and no one tried to telephone the hotel again for several hours. By the time it was learned that Paul was in the hospital, he was dead.

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  1. 1.

    Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1992.

  2. 2.

    Irving Segal, “Noncommutative Geometry by Alain Connes (book review),” Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 33 (1996), 459–465.

  3. 3.

    Weil wrote, “...there is a subject in mathematics (it’s a perfectly good and valid subject and it’s perfectly good and valid mathematics) which is called Analytic Number Theory.... I would classify it under analysis....” (Œuvres Scientifiques Collected Papers, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1979, Volume III, p. 280).

  4. 4.

    I ended my eulogy with a sentence in Aramaic and a sentence in Hebrew. The first is the first line of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Immediately following the second sentence is its English translation.

  5. 5.

    cf. L. Babai, “In and out of Hungary: Paul Erdős, his friends, and times,” in: Combinatorics, Paul Erdős is Eighty (Volume 2), Keszthely (Hungary) 1993, Bolyai Society Mathematical Studies, Budapest, 1996, pp. 7–95.

  6. 6.

    This suggests the fundamental question: How much, or how little, must one know in order to do great mathematics?.

  7. 7.

    “It was a book of a very different kind, Carr’s Synopsis, which first aroused Ramanujan’s full powers,” according to G. H. Hardy, in his book Ramanujan, Chelsea Publishing, New York, 1959, p. 2

  8. 8.

    For example, Joel Spencer, “I felt ... I was working on ‘Hungarian mathematics’,” quoted in Babai, op. cit.

  9. 9.

    For example, S. Mac Lane criticized “emphasizing too much of a Hungarian view of mathematics,” in: “The health of mathematics,” Math.Intelligencer 5 (1983), 53–55.

  10. 10.

    E. G. Straus, “Paul Erdős at 70,” Combinatorica 3 (1983), 245–246. Tim Gowers revisited this notion in his essay, “The two cultures of mathematics,” published in Mathematics: Frontiers and Perspectives, American Mathematical Society, 2000.

  11. 11.

    “I believe that time gives the only definite proof of the fertility of new ideas or a new vision. We recognize fertility by its offspring, and not by honors.”

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Correspondence to Melvyn B. Nathanson .

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Nathanson, M.B. (2017). The Erdős Paradox. In: Nathanson, M. (eds) Combinatorial and Additive Number Theory II. CANT CANT 2015 2016. Springer Proceedings in Mathematics & Statistics, vol 220. Springer, Cham.

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