The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős -- great kids' book

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdős is a beautifully written, beautifully illustrated kids' biography of Paul Erdős, the fantastically prolific itinerant mathematician who published more papers than any other mathematician in history.

Boy is written by Deborah Heiligman, with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, and the pair really worked to weave numbers and mathematics through the text, with lively, fun illustrations of a young Erdős learning about negative numbers, becoming obsessed with prime numbers and leading his high-school chums on a mathematical tour of Budapest. They also go to great lengths to capture the upside and downside of Erdős's legendary eccentricity -- his inability to fend for himself and his helplessness when it came to everyday tasks like cooking and doing laundry; his amazing generosity and brilliance and empathy in his working and personal life.

Ultimately, this is a book that celebrates the idea of following your weird, wooing the muse of the odd, and playing to your strengths rather than agonizing over your weaknesses. It's an inspiring and sweet tale of one of humanity's greatest mathematicians, and a parable about the magic of passion and obsession.

My daughter, who is five, demanded that I read it to her three times in a row, over three bedtimes, which is always a vote of confidence.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

The illustrations and layouts in Boy are fabulous, and Roaring Brook was kind enough to supply us with three spreads (click each to embiggen):


  1. Does the book touch on his use of amphetamines? I realize that would probably be considered wildly inappropriate in a children’s book (and yet my childhood copy of Curious George *did* have him getting smashed on ether…).

    1. And then one day, Paulie found a magic pill.

      I didn’t even mind that I’d been beaten to the punch when I opened the comments. Ha!

      Incidentally, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers is a good bio to read.

  2. In the second spread, I’m pretty sure that office skyscraper to the left of La Tour Eiffel is supposed to be displaying a 7 of Diamonds, no?

  3. Ha, Serendipity! In that first spread, Erdös is counting off the amicable numbers. Amicable numbers are pairs whose factors sum to one another. I just finished an illustration of that concept for a father’s day present (my Dad’s a mathematician and number theorist—his Erdös number is 2!) If you really like the print, it’s for sale on Bigcartel (

  4. – I love Cory Doctorow’s book recommendations. Based on his recommendations I purchased this book  and “Topsy Turvy World”
    – But I think he should list his books with links to BookDepository ( and They offer free shipping to a huge number of countries around the world.
    – “Do they ship free to my country?”
    – “The store was founded by a former Amazon employee and was later acquired by Amazon.”

  5. The adult version is called “The Man Who Loved Meth”. (No disrespect…)

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