In 1971, Erdős’s mother died of a bleeding ulcer in Calgary, Canada, where Erdős was giving a lecture. Apparently, she had been misdiagnosed, and otherwise her life might have been saved. Soon afterward Erdős started taking a lot of pills, first antidepressants and then amphetamines. As one of Hungary’s leading scientists, he had no trouble getting sympathetic Hungarian doctors to prescribe drugs.

“I was very depressed,” Erdős said, “and Paul Turin, an old friend, reminded me, ‘A strong fortress is our mathematics.’”

Erdős took the advice to heart and started putting in nineteen-hour days, churning out papers that would change the course of mathematical history.

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