Book: A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash

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Book:

A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash

Author: Sylvia Nasar
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Publisher: Simon & Schuster

How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?” the visitor from Harvard asked the West Virginian with the movie-star looks and Olympian manner.

“Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did,” came the answer. “So I took them seriously.”

Thus begins the true story of John Nash, the mathematical genius who was a legend by age thirty when he slipped into madness, and who—thanks to the selflessness of a beautiful woman and the loyalty of the mathematics community—emerged after decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel Prize and world acclaim. The inspiration for a major motion picture, Sylvia Nasar’s award-winning biography is a drama about the mystery of the human mind, triumph over incredible adversity, and the healing power of love.

Reviews

Amazon.com

Stories of famously eccentric Princetonians abound—such as that of chemist Hubert Alyea, the model for The Absent-Minded Professor, or Ralph Nader, said to have had his own key to the library as an undergraduate. Or the “Phantom of Fine Hall,” a figure many students had seen shuffling around the corridors of the math and physics building wearing purple sneakers and writing numerology treatises on the blackboards. The Phantom was John Nash, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of his generation, who had spiraled into schizophrenia in the 1950s. His most important work had been in game theory, which by the 1980s was underpinning a large part of economics. When the Nobel Prize committee began debating a prize for game theory, Nash’s name inevitably came up—only to be dismissed, since the prize clearly could not go to a madman. But in 1994 Nash, in remission from schizophrenia, shared the Nobel Prize in economics for work done some 45 years previously.

Economist and journalist Sylvia Nasar has written a biography of Nash that looks at all sides of his life. She gives an intelligent, understandable exposition of his mathematical ideas and a picture of schizophrenia that is evocative but decidedly unromantic. Her story of the machinations behind Nash’s Nobel is fascinating and one of very few such accounts available in print (the CIA could learn a thing or two from the Nobel committees). This highly recommended book is indeed “a story about the mystery of the human mind, in three acts: genius, madness, reawakening.” —Mary Ellen Curtin

Barnes and Noble

John Nash was a prodigy. A star of the already prestigious Princeton and MIT mathematics departments in the 1950s, Nash was known for his ability to penetrate and solve “deep problems”—those thought virtually unsolvable by his peers. His greatest contribution came with his advancement of game theory that revolutionized economics. A professor in his 20s, he was a leader in his field, a recognized genius.

And then his life and career collapsed. In 1959, at the age of 30, Nash had a schizophrenic breakdown that saw him disappear from the world of mathematics. He lost his job, his wife, and, seemingly, his sanity.

Sylvia Nasar’s detailed biography of the man, his achievements, and his descent into mental illness is as affectionate towards its subject as it is probing into the often oddly parallel worlds of academia and mental hospitals, genius and madness.

Nasar stays focused on the life of Nash but manages to bring to it insights into the fine line between ill and well. Notably, her behind-the-scenes look at the Nobel Prize committee’s consideration of Nash’s work and their trepidation at awarding their prestigious prize to a “madman” is an interesting discussion.

Ultimately, the story has a bizarre and happy ending. At 66, Nash inexplicably recovered from his illness, returned to academia, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics. (Greg Sewell)

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