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Adventures of a Mathematician Paperback – July 23, 1991

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (July 23, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520071549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520071544
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,022,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

S. M. Ulam (1909-1984) was born in Poland and was a key member of the now legendary Polish School of Mathematics. In the United States from 1935 on, he received many academic appointments and honors and authored many articles, essays, and mathematical books, including Analogies between Analogies (California, 1990). Daniel Hirsch is President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, located in Los Angeles. William G. Mathews is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Françoise Ulam is a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Jan Mycielski is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Colorado.

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Customer Reviews

Easy to read.
Angel Alvarez-Cedrón
This reflection of Stanislaw Ulam is confirmed by Davis & Hersh in their 1981 book The Mathematical Experience.
J. P. Vernee
Everything told with a great sense of drama.
henrique fleming

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Fabrice P. Laussy on December 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
For its greatest part, the book is about Ulam's encounter with other scientists. It's thus a must-have for all historian of science, with great details about the three important Ulam's acquaintances: Banach, Von Neumann and Fermi. However, it's not what is making this book an invaluable document.
Ulam was a pure mathematician, like Banach or ErdÆs, not like Dirac or Einstein. Yet he had the ability to escape from formal abstract considerations to think about how other sciences could show him a path to new mathematical considerations. In this regard, the Monte Carlo method and all his proposals to non-linear systems and usage of computers for exploring them may be are his greatest achievements (his H-bomb papers are classified, and I like to think Monte Carlo is still more useful).
For that matter, this book is of the greatest interest for he who wish to deepen his understanding of links between mathematics and physics, that are usually discussed by physicists often having very poor idea of what mathematics really are about. The chapter "random reflections" is a jewel which by itself makes worth buying the book, explaining for instance how practical problems can lead to new mathematical concepts, how mathematic theories link altogether, or advocating the use of computers to help mathematicians view new spaces of new objects. Many aside jokes or peculiar reflections--like how mathematics change according to what language one is exploring them with (English, Russian, French, German...)--make the book very entertaining, seldom boring. This "mathematician's mathematician"'s overview of this century's science (he also had some contributions to biology) is thus highly recommended.
(caution to purists: the book has been edited by Ulam's wife from recorded tapes, he didn't write it.)
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Paul T. Layman Jr. on July 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Before I start, let me say that, for me at least, this is one of the most fascinating and entertaining books I've ever read. But I'm a special case, as you'll see...
Stan Ulam was head of the math department at U. of Colo., Boulder, where I was a doctoral candidate circa 1970. I hardly knew him to speak to, but heard about his participation in the Manhattan Project, and that many of those connected with it considered him to be the "father of the H-bomb" rather than Edward Teller. Having already been put off by the dryness and lack of application of a great deal of the math I'd studied, I was intrigued on hearing that a pure mathematician could have played such a central part in that effort. That, and the book's title, convinced me to buy it, even though I was an impoverished grad student.
There are many reasons why I love this story, but I think foremost is the picture of a gregarious, open, and sometimes mischievous man who was also bright enough to hold his own with the leading scientific minds of the 20th century. The sketches of the many famous people he worked with are priceless -- for example, Enrico Fermi, Richard Feynman, George Gamov. And especially John von Neumann, possibly the most brilliant mathematician of that time, certainly the most diverse and prolific (he practically invented the computer industry that I now work in). Having tried to read his work on game theory, it's especially comforting to me to hear Ulam refer to him as "Johnny".
My struggles with some of the math mentioned in the book give it special meaning to me, but this is not a technical book at all, and I hope that aspect won't be off-putting to non-mathematicians.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Angel Alvarez-Cedrón on December 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
The very first time I heared from Stanislaw Ulam was reading a book by Otto Robert Frisch (What little I remember). In this book he said that a polish mathematician called Ulam was doing mathematics for the Hydrogen Bomb but his maths were deviating so much from abstract that he even used numbers with decimals in his formulas. This funny comment opened my curiosity to know more about this guy doing maths. Well, years later I bought this book and surprisingly he mentioned the comment by O.R Frisch. What a coincidence! I liked the book. He details his life and other genius lives: John von Neuman, Paul Erdos, Fermi, etc. No necessity to know maths. No formula within the book. Easy to read. Stan Ulam was co-father of the Hydrogen Bomb but everybody knows Edward Teller but not him. He makes especial emphasis in Alamos times (Ulamos times). Enjoyable book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. P. Vernee on February 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Confessions of a math fashion-victim

Towards the end of his celebrated autobiography that was published in 1976, mathematician Stanislaw Ulam makes a striking remark about the way mathematics is presented:

'This was more agreeable than the present style of the research papers or books which have so much symbolism and formulae on every page. I am turned off when I see only formulas and symbols, and little text. It is too laborious for me to look at such pages not knowing what to concentrate on. I wonder how many other mathematicians really read them in detail and enjoy them.'

To wit, these are the words of someone who really has enjoyed mathematics and has been engaged in the highest ranks of the subject for almost all of his life.

For me this is quite a relevant statement, since I started studying mathematics at the University of Leiden (The Netherlands) in the year 1975. And for me it was like Ulam describes. Lectures in mathematics almost entirely involved the stating of theorems and the subsequent proofing of them. Little was said about the meaning of what was proofed, why it would be interesting, or even what the essential idea of a proof was; most of the time no background or context of any kind was given. A semester of Lebesgue integration theory was given without even referring to the problems that had arisen with more basic forms of integration like the Riemann-Stieltjes Integral. It made a lot of the matter less exiting than it could have been. And to be honest, most of the proofs stayed quite unintelligible: one could follow the details but kept missing the big picture.
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