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N Is a Number: Review

N Is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdos is a 1993 documentary, which is both produced and directed by George Paul Csicsery, with Cinematography by John Knoop and music composed by Mark Adler. The short 57 minute film has Erdos playing himself providing a window into the mind of this exceptional math wizard.

Arguably one of the best mathematicians of all time, Erdos’ life story is made even more interesting due to his younger years, growing up in poverty with no job or home as well as the difficulty he had to endure, as a Jew in Europe during the war. Paul Erdos is to mathematics what Mozart is to music.

Born in Hungary in 1913, Erdös published over 1,500 papers and developed several branches of mathematics which every mathematician owes him credit for. Erdös accomplished all of this whilst enduring the hardship of going through two major world wars.

The film takes place initially in South East England at a ceremony in one of Cambridge University’s Colleges. The year is 1991 and Erdös is being given an honorary doctorate from the university. As he receives his award Erdös declares (with his typical dry humour) that he would gladly swap the honour for a ‘new [mathematical] proof’.

The film then proceeds to document Erdös’s life which consists of 50 years of travelling, from one university to another, bringing with him news, theories, and proofs, constantly focusing on mathematical problems. He died in September 1996, doing what he loved, on the road while attending a meeting in Poland.

Anyone who enjoys mathematics or statistics will find this movie interesting and the movie will help to put a face and personality to one of the world’s most gifted individuals.

3 Stars

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