The Generosity of Paul Erdos'

Game Theory 
The Generosity of Paul Erdos' is legendary. This quote was taken from Paul Hoffman's 1998 book entitled: "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: the story of Paul Erdos and the search for mathematical truth," NY:Hyperion, pg.10.

What little money Erdos received in stipends or lecture fees he gave away to relatives, colleagues, students, and strangers. He could not pass a homeless person without giving him money. "In the early 1960s, when I was a student at University College London," recalled D. G. Larman, "Erdos came to visit us for a year. After collecting his first month's salary he was accosted by a beggar on Euston station, asking for the price of a cup of tea. Erdos removed a small amount from the pay packet to cover his own frugal needs and gave the remainder to the beggar." In 1984 he won the prestigious Wolf Prize, the most lucrative award in mathematics. He contributed most of the $50,000 he received to a scholarship in Israel he established in the name of his parents. "I kept only seven hundred and twenty dollars," Erdos said, "and I remember someone commenting that for me even that was a lot of money to keep." Whenever Erdos learned of a good cause-a struggling classical music station, a fledgling Native American movement, a camp for wayward boys-he promptly made a small donation. "He's been gone a year," said Graham, "and I'm still getting mail from organizations he gave donations to. Today I got a postcard from an Israeli girls' home."

In the late 1980s Erdos heard of a promising high school student named Glen Whitney who wanted to study mathematics at Harvard but was a little short of the tuition. Erdos arranged to see him and, convinced of the young man's talent, lent him $1000. He asked Whitney to pay him back only when it would not cause financial strain. A decade later Graham heard from Whitney, who as last had the money to repay Erdos. "Did Erdos expect me to pay interest?" Whitney wondered. "What should I do?" he asked Graham. Graham talked to Erdos. "Tell him," Erdos said, "to do with the thousand dollars what I did."

Last updated 23 April 1999

Copyright © 1999 by Duen Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.


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