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A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash Paperback – Dec 4 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (Dec 4 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743224574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743224574
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 2.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 540 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (261 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #662,642 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Nasar has written a notable biography of mathematical genius John Forbes Nash (b. 1928), a founder of game theory, a RAND Cold War strategist and winner of a 1994 Nobel Prize in economics. She charts his plunge into paranoid schizophrenia beginning at age 30 and his spontaneous recovery in the early 1990s after decades of torment. He attributes his remission to will power; he stopped taking antipsychotic drugs in 1970 but underwent a half-dozen involuntary hospitalizations. Born in West Virginia, the flamboyant mathematical wizard rubbed elbows at Princeton and MIT with Einstein, John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener. He compartmentalized his secret personal life, shows Nasar, hiding his homosexual affairs with colleagues from his mistress, a nurse who bore him a son out of wedlock, while he also courted Alicia Larde, an MIT physics student whom he married in 1957. Their son, John, born in 1959, became a mathematician and suffers from episodic schizophrenia. Alicia divorced Nash in 1963, but they began living together again as a couple around 1970. Today Nash, whose mathematical contributions span cosmology, geometry, computer architecture and international trade, devotes himself to caring for his son. Nasar, an economics correspondent for the New York Times, is equally adept at probing the puzzle of schizophrenia and giving a nontechnical context for Nash's mathematical and scientific ideas.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
AMONG JOHN NASH'S EARLIEST MEMORIES is one in which, as a child of about two or three, he is listening to his maternal grandmother play the piano in the front parlor of the old Tazewell Street house, high on a breezy hill overlooking the city of Bluefield, West Virginia. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Captain Cook on Aug. 14 2002
Format: Paperback
This biography of the Nobel Prize winner and schizophrenic mathematical genius John Forbes Nash surprisingly brings to mind the main character in Dostoyevsky's great novel, "Crime and Punishment." Like the intense, reclusive student, Raskolnikov, Nash in this biography comes across as an extremely anti-social and arrogant young man, convinced that his genius gives him certain rights and freedoms beyond the petty restrictions, rules, and manners that govern normal human conduct.
But whereas Dostoyevsky's character commits a murder, Nash's main offense is merely to be an arrogant and boorish lout, forever trying to show off to his fellow students at Princeton. When he is later struck down by mental illness after achieving so much so young, we can't help feeling there is an element of hubris involved.
Nash also fits into the popular paradigm of the lop-sided genius, the person of incredible talents who can't deal with the simpler aspects of daily life. As in the case of the notoriously absent-minded Albert Einstein -- whom Nash meets in the book -- or the equally eccentric Isaac Newton, we somehow feel reassured that these supreme geniuses have their weaknesses. For all these reasons, this is a story that resonates on a mythic and psychological level. We keep rooting for Nash, but also secretly look forward to him tripping up. This reflects the ambivalent attitude to the sciences that most people have -- we are both intrigued by new discoveries but afraid of their ramifications.
Around the age of 30, Nash's quest to find greater meaning in the Universe sparked off his insanity as he started to discern complex codes implanted by extra-terrestrials in the random occurrence of certain letters of the alphabet in daily life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Douglas P. Murphy on Oct. 21 2008
Format: Paperback
A while back I was glancing through one of my wife's magazines and found this article on John Nash. I read with interest and inexplicably began staring at one of the photos. "Oh, my God!" I recognized him. D floor. Firestone Library at Princeton University. For a while I had studied there rather steadily and spent a fair amount of time on D floor - coke machines and chatter. John Nash used to show up there fairly regularly and saw me as well. There was some gossip from the other D floor patrons about a professor in whose life something had gone wrong. Eventually Mr. Nash started to talk to me and started to show me books he was reading. I was fairly young and quite honestly became uncomfortable and uneasy for various reasons and did not promote future contacts although now I wish I had. Mr. Nash's life is fascinating to me, and I salute his achievements and recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By smartnurse123 on July 17 2004
Format: Audio Cassette
John Nash's story is truly inspirational. I could not stop the audio until I got to the end!
John Nash, a mathematical genius, had many ups and downs in his life, including a diagnosed mental illness and various social problems that made his life painful and complicated. His Nobel-prize winning work occurred while he was writing his dissertation at Princeton. He was not recognized until later in his life for his ground-breaking contribution to "game theory".
His story is one not only of his incredible gift, mental illness and remission, but really one of personal victory. In the end, he learns to live in harmony with those around him doing what he enjoyed most.
One of my most recent favorites!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alan Klanac on July 13 2004
Format: Paperback
As I have said in the title, this book is an amazing piece of detective work about the life of Great John Nash. This is by far the work that beats the movie. If you have seen it, do not stop there - read the book, because it is TRUE! If you are interested into mathematics, into the Game theory - read it, not to learn the science, but to appreciate the scientist! However, I still give it 4 stars since the level of writing drops a little after exhilarating first few chapters. Nevertheless this is a great read!!!
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Format: Paperback
(hey everyone else is making a pun with their titles so why not me?)
well this book has been well commented on so i'll try to keep this brief.
first, it is fact that many great mathematicians develop some sort of mental illness (it happened to kurt godel, georg cantor, and even issac newton). nash, then, is not really an unusual case.
what does make him interesting, then, is the fact that he had "reawakened" from his illness and continued to do math in his old age. such among mathematic circles is very rare.
and his math is indeed great. nash's ability to solve problems concerning manifolds and other topological spaces is still making waves in math today. the layman unfortunately, like nasar, doesn't appreciate this fully, which is a shame. i would have liked to get a mathematician's view on johnny's life.
but, as a pop bio, it's not too bad. i agree with other reviews that it contained too much minute detail, and her references to nash looking like a golden god were overstated and a bit offputting. i wouldn't be surprised if nasar was really in love with nash. (she might have dedicated her book to alicia to subdue any suspicions of that sort.)
in the end, though, we see the life of one of the greatest modern mathematicians, through triumph and tribulation, which was the ultimate goal of the book. i would recommend this book to some and not to others.
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