Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wits

I recently read Stan (Stanislaw) Ulam's autobiography titled "Adventures of a Mathematician." Ulam was a Polish mathematician who worked on the Manhattan project and stayed at Los Alamos labs for much of his career. He was involved in the invention of the Monte Carlo method, supposedly named because he had an uncle who borrowed money to gamble at Monte Carlo.

Ulam tells some funny stories, many of them involving his friends Johnny von Neumann and Enrico Fermi. Here is a taste of Fermi's wit (p.164):

Once Segrè, who was very fond of fishing on weekends in the streams of the Los Alamos mountains, was expounding on the subtleties of the art, saying that it was not easy to catch trout. Enrico, who was not a fisherman, said with a smile, "Oh, I see Emilio, it is a battle of wits."

There is a wonderful picture of Ulam on the web (here).

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