Paul Erdős was born in Budapest, Hungary on March 26, 1913. He was a mathematical prodigy and he has stayed among the very first among mathematicians for all his life. He obtained his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1934 from the University of Budapest. He spent four years in Manchester as a postdoc - this is the longest time he ever spent at the same place. It would be impossible to list the universities, academies and research institutes where he has lectured, or even those where he obtained honorary degrees. It would be impossible to outline the topics of his more than 1200 papers or even count those papers that cite Erdős's work as their main motivation. Let it suffice to mention the Wolf prize, one of the highest recognitions in mathematics, which he received in 1984.
Quotation from the paper Paul Erdős is 80 by L. Lovász, in the book Combinatorics, Paul Erdős is Eighty, Volume 1, Bolyai Society Mathematical Studies (edited by D. Miklós, V.T. Sós and T. Szönyi), 1993.
This picture was taken at the Paul Erdős 60'th birthday conference in Keszthely, Hungary, in 1973 at the boat excursion on Lake Balaton. Erdős is posing a problem related to Ramsey numbers.
His approach to mathematics is as unique as his life. He has invented a new kind of art: the art of raising problems. Paul Erdős says that mathematics is eternal because it has an infinity of problems; and in his view, the more elementary a problem is, the better. He also invented his system of offering prizes for problems. His lectures with the title "My favorite problems in combinatorics" (or equivalent) always draw large audiences. Many try to imitate him in problem raising, but few can master this art: his problems may appear ad hoc or random at the first sight, especially for those not closely acquainted with the field, but after a few months or years of tirelessly pursuing one problem after the other, they suddenly connect up and form whole new theories - as if Erdős had those theories and metatheorems in his mind right away, and gave us only their corollaries.
Quotation from the paper Paul Erdős is 80 by L. Lovász, in
the book Combinatorics, Paul Erdős is Eighty, Volume 1, Bolyai
Society Mathematical Studies (edited by D. Miklós, V.T. Sós and T. Szönyi), 1993.
Paul Erdős is the consummate problem solver; his hallmark is the succinct and clever argument, often leading to a solution from 'the book'. He loves areas of mathematics which do not require an excessive amount of technical knowledge but give scope for ingenuity and surprise. The mathematics of Paul Erdős is the mathematics of beauty and insight.
Quotation from the book A Tribute to Paul Erdős , Cambridge University Press (edited by A. Baker, B. Bollobás and A. Hajnal), 1990.
Tommy R. Jensen and Bjarne Toft
Last modified: August 2011.