Hoffman, Paul 1956–
Hoffman, Paul 1956–
Born March 30, 1956; divorced; children: Alex (son). Education: Harvard University, B.A. (summa cum laude). Hobbies and other interests: Chess.
Scientific American, editor; Discover magazine, president and editor-in-chief; Encyclopedia Britannica, president and publisher. Good Morning America, special science correspondent; host and guest on television programs; consultant and advisor, including to the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Academy of Engineering, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
National Magazine Award for feature writing, Atlantic Monthly; Rhone-Poulene Prize for best science book of the year, for The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth.
(With Matt Freedman) How Many Zen Buddhists Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980.
(With Matt Freedman) What Do WASPs Say after Sex?, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1981.
(With Matt Freedman) What Do WASPs Do Instead of Sex?, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982.
(With Matt Freedman) Dictionary Shmictionary! A Yiddish and Yinglish Dictionary, Quill (New York, NY), 1983.
(Consulting editor) American Museum Guides (two volumes), Collier Books (New York, NY), 1983.
Archimedes' Revenge: The Joys and Perils of Mathematics, Norton (New York, NY), 1988.
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth (biography), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight (biography), Fourth Estate (New York, NY), 2003.
King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game (memoir), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Business Week, Time, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, and Smithsonian; as Dr. Crypton, designer of puzzles; writer of The Wisdom of Crocodiles (film), 1998, and Superstition (screenplay), 2001.
The former president and editor-in-chief of Discover magazine, Paul Hoffman is best known as a science journalist. He has also hosted science programs on public television, contributed articles to science magazines, and authored popular books on science and scientists. Under the pseudonym Dr. Crypton, Hoffman has created puzzles and brain teasers. The puzzle he designed for the fairy tale Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse was solved by an FBI agent and a Los Angeles deputy prosecutor after the five-year deadline.
Although his early books, written in collaboration with Matt Freedman, are lightly humorous offerings with such titles as How Many Zen Buddhists Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb? and What Do WASPs Do Instead of Sex?, Hoffman's later books are detailed studies of such topics as math and early flight. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth and Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight are biographies that have won particular praise from reviewers and readers; the former is an award-winning international best seller.
Paul Erdos, the subject of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, was a brilliant, quirky Hungarian immigrant whose total devotion to mathematics above all else resulted in his prolific output of over 1,500 published articles. Interested in pure math—math for math's sake—Erdos developed elegant proofs and refined old ones to solve a variety of complex mathematical puzzles; he spent practically every waking moment thinking about math. Indeed, such was his devotion that he spent the last forty years of his life homeless, living out of suitcases and staying with his mathematician friends as he traveled from conference to conference. A very idiosyncratic personality, Erdos seemed little able to care for himself, often asking others to do his laundry, take care of his meals, and handle other daily living tasks. The colleagues with whom he stayed did not mind, however, for the stimulating conversation Erdos provided them was reward enough. This is not to say that Erdos was a freeloader, however; he simply did not care about money, and what earnings he accrued as payment for his talks and lectures were often donated to other people, especially struggling young mathematicians Erdos sought to help.
Hoffman's book relates numerous stories about Erdos, revealing the mathematician's fascinating personality and brilliant insights, while also offering readers background information about mathematics to put his story into context. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Hoffman "skillfully manages an intricate, nonchronological account of Erdos's career." Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor noted that the biography "is jammed with the interesting idiosyncrasies of Erdos."
While Erdos's name is better known among his mathematician colleagues than to the general public, the name Alberto Santos-Dumont was once famous throughout the world, although it has since fallen into obscurity. In his Wings of Madness Hoffman tries to rectify that injustice by writing a biography that will hopefully place Santos-Dumont back in the limelight as the important aviation pioneer he was. A native of Brazil, Santos-Dumont was an eccentric heir to a wealthy coffee-growing family's fortune. He became fascinated by the prospects of flight at an early age, and his obsession with flight was not, unlike the Wright brothers, aimed at fame or fortune. In fact, during his early work with hot-air balloons, he freely shared his technical discoveries with others. In 1906, when Santos-Dumont took flight in an airplane, his accomplishment was lauded around the world because it was thought to be the first time anyone had flown a heavier-than-air craft. No one knew at the time that the secretive Wrights had already achieved flight with their airplane three years earlier. Once this was revealed, Santos-Dumont's achievement seemed considerably less important. Despite his many contributions to the science of aeronautics, the Brazilian's name was forgotten. He became severely depressed, and when his efforts in 1915 to prevent the use of airplanes for military purposes were ignored by the governments of Europe, his depression led to suicide.
Reviewing Wings of Madness for Booklist, contributor Jay Freeman called Hoffman "a gifted writer whose elegant prose captures a fascinating era and a compelling personality." Library Journal critic John Carver Edwards called the book an "enthralling biography" that has a "fast-paced writing style [that] carries the reader along a wonderful journey."
An avid chess fan, Hoffman spent seventeen hours as commentator for the last chess match between Garry Kasparov and a nonhuman rival, in this case X3D Fritz. His King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game is a history of chess, as well as a memoir. In an interview with Noah Davis of Mediabistro.com online, Hoffman said that as a young man he stopped playing chess when it began to take over his life. He was taught by his father, with whom he lived in New York's Greenwich Village on weekends. The young Hoffman lived with his mother and attended school in Connecticut during the week. In reviewing the book for Chronogram Online, Peter Lewis wrote: "The chessboard serves as Hoffman's couch, from which he investigates the emotional tribulation of his early years."
Hoffman told Davis that he dreamed and obsessed about the game, and his self-esteem depended on his success. He revisited the game of chess decades later in order to understand how players, especially professionals, handled "the emotional highs and lows." Hoffman noted that two of the top players, Paul Morphy in the nineteenth century and Bobby Fischer in the twentieth, were both "pretty nutty and paranoid. There's a connection between madness and chess. It doesn't mean you're mad to take it up, but it's striking to me how much madness there is at the top. It may have to deal with the fact that it's a solipsistic activity. You have to spend hours studying games and preparing for games, and you're by yourself essentially. I don't know if there's any more madness in chess than there is in concert pianists, but there's a lot and I was struck by it."
Hoffman writes of accompanying grandmasters Joel Lautier and Pascal Charbonneau to competitions in Moscow and Libya. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented: "The Libyan trip with Lautier, which included nerve-shattering encounters with a police-state bureaucracy, reveals the author's expertise as a storyteller as well as his own high-amateur competence at the chessboard." Other chess figures profiled by Hoffman include Kasparov, Nigel Short, Bruce Pandolfini, and Jennifer Shahade and Irina Krush, female players from the United States.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that Hoffman's tale "is filled with enough international intrigue and warped, shady characters to pass for the latest James Bond sequel." "At its best, King's Gambit is an endearing and digressive tapestry," noted Michael Weinreb in the New York Times Book Review. "Hoffman is a knowledgeable guide who explains the game well."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Hoffman, Paul, King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2007.
Booklist, June 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth, p. 1692; June 1, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight, p. 1736.
Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 2003, Steven Martinovich, review of Wings of Madness, p. 15.
Entertainment Weekly, September 14, 2007, Gilbert Cruz, review of King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game, p. 151.
Insight on the News, September 14, 1998, Jeremy Bernstein, review of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2007, review of King's Gambit.
Library Journal, July, 1998, Jack W. Weigel, review of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, p. 129; May 15, 2003, John Carver Edwards, review of Wings of Madness, p. 102.
New Scientist, April 29, 1989, review of Archimedes' Revenge: The Joys and Perils of Mathematics.
New York Times Book Review, September 30, 2007, Michael Weinreb, review of King's Gambit, p. 22.
People Weekly, September 10, 2007, "Books," p. 59.
Publishers Weekly, June 8, 1998, review of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, p. 54; May 5, 2003, review of Wings of Madness, p. 211; July 16, 2007, review of King's Gambit, p. 157.
Sciences, September-October, 1998, Brian Hayes, review of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, p. 35.
Chessbase,http://www.chessbase.com/ (September 13, 2007), review of King's Gambit.
ChessCafe.com,http://www.chesscafe.com/ (June 11, 2008), Howard Goldowsky, "A Conversation with Paul Hoffman," interview.
Chessville,http://www.chessville.com/ (June 11, 2008), Rick Kennedy, review of King's Gambit.
Chronogram,http://www.chronogram.com/ (September 28, 2007), Peter Lewis, review of King's Gambit.
Mediabistro.com,http://www.mediabistro.com/ (August 22, 2007), Noah Davis, "So What Do You Do, Paul Hoffman, Author, ASME-Winning Writer," interview.
Paul Hoffman Home Page,http://www.thephtest.com (June 11, 2008).