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Loving and Hating Mathematics by Reuben Hersh, Vera John-Steiner

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Mathematical Beginnings

A Passion for Numbers

How does a child first begin to become a mathematician? Is it a predisposition or some special gift? Does help and encouragement from parents contribute? What makes it possible, finally, to commit one’s life to this risky, forbidding pursuit?

In this chapter, we tell contrasting stories about the childhood, adolescence, and schooling, up through graduate school, of some future mathematicians, both famous and not so famous. We also report the experiences of youngsters in Olympiad competitions, psychologists’ investigations of prodigies, and what the parents of math prodigies are like.

A few famous mathematicians showed their interest and ability before school age. The Hungarian combinatorialist ...

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