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

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

ISBN13: 9780743224574
ISBN10: 0743224574
Condition: Standard
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Awards

Winner of the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In this dramatic and moving biography, Sylvia Nasar re-creates the life of a mathematical genius whose brilliant career was cut short by schizophrenia and who, after three decades of devastating mental illness, miraculously recovered and was honored with a Nobel Prize.

A Beautiful Mind traces the meteoric rise of John Forbes Nash, Jr., from his lonely childhood in West Virginia to his student years at Princeton, where he encountered Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, and a host of other mathematical luminaries. At twenty-one, the handsome, ambitious, eccentric graduate student invented what would become the most influential theory of rational human behavior in modern social science. Nash's contribution to game theory would ultimately revolutionize the field of economics.

As a young professor at MIT, still in his twenties, Nash dazzled the mathematical world by solving a series of deep problems deemed "impossible" by other mathematicians. As unconventional in his private life as in his mathematics, Nash fathered a child with a woman he did not marry. At the height of the McCarthy era, he was expelled as a security risk from the supersecret RAND Corporation — the Cold War think tank where he was a consultant.

At thirty, Nash was poised to take his dreamed-of place in the pantheon of history's greatest mathematicians. His associates included the most renowned mathematicians and economists of the era: Norbert Wiener, John Milnor, Alexandre Grothendieck, Kenneth Arrow, Robert Solow, and Paul Samuelson. He married an exotic and beautiful MIT physics student, Alicia Larde. They had a son. Then Nash suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown.

Nasar details Nash's harrowing descent into insanity — his bizarre delusions that he was the Prince of Peace; his resignation from MIT, flight to Europe, and attempt to renounce his American citizenship; his repeated hospitalizations, from the storied McLean, where he came to know the poet Robert Lowell, to the crowded wards of a state hospital; his "enforced interludes of rationality" during which he was able to return briefly to mathematical research. Nash and his wife were divorced in 1963, but Alicia Nash continued to care for him and for their mathematically gifted son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager. Saved from homelessness by his loyal ex-wife and protected by a handful of mathematical friends, Nash lived quietly in Princeton for many years, a dreamy, ghostlike figure who scrawled numerological messages on blackboards, all but forgotten by the outside world.

His early achievements, however, fired the imagination of a new generation of scholars. At age sixty-six, twin miracles — a spontaneous remission of his illness and the sudden decision of the Nobel Prize committee to honor his contributions to game theory — restored the world to him. Nasar recounts the bitter behind-the-scenes battle in Stockholm over whether to grant the ultimate honor in science to a man thought to be "mad." She describes Nash's current ambition to pursue new mathematical breakthroughs and his efforts to be a loving father to his adult sons.

Based on hundreds of interviews with Nash's family, friends, and colleagues and scores of letters and documents, A Beautiful Mind is a heartbreaking but inspiring story about the most remarkable mathematician of our time and his triumph over a tragic illness.

Synopsis:

In a masterful blend of biography and science writing, Nasar traces John Forbes Nash, Jr.'s rise to the heights of intellectual achievement and his harrowing descent from "eccentricity" to insanity. Released as a major motion picture directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe and Ed Harris.

Synopsis:

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.

About the Author

A former economics correspondent for The New York Times, Sylvia Nasar is the Knight Professor of Journalism at Columbia University. She lives in Tarrytown, New York.

Table of Contents

Contents

Prologue

Part One: A Beautiful Mind

1 Bluefield (1928-45)

2 Carnegie Institute of Technology (June 1945-June 1948)

3 The Center of the Universe (Princeton, Fall 1948)

4 School of Genius (Princeton, Fall 1948)

5 Genius (Princeton, 1948-49)

6 Games (Princeton, Spring 1949.)

7 John von Neumann (Princeton, 1948-49)

8 The Theory of Games

9 The Bargaining Problem (Princeton, Spring 1949)

10 Nash's Rival Idea (Princeton, 1949-50)

11 Lloyd (Princeton, 1950)

12 The War of Wits (RAND, Summer 1950)

13 Game Theory at RAND

14 The Draft (Princeton, 195O-51)

15 A Beautiful Theorem (Princeton, 1950-51)

16 MIT

17 Bad Boys

18 Experiments (RAND, Summer 1952)

19 Reds (Spring 1953)

20 Geometry

Part Two: Separate Lives

21 Singularity

22 A Special Friendship (Santa Monica, Summer 1952)

23 Eleanor

24 Jack

25 The Arrest (RAND, Summer 1954)

26 Alicia

27 The Courtship

28 Seattle (Summer 1956)

29 Death and Marriage (1956-57)

Part Three: A Slow Fire Burning

30 Olden Lane and Washington Square (1956-57)

31 The Bomb Factory

32 Secrets (Summer 1958)

33 Schemes (Fall 1958)

34 The Emperor of Antarctica

35 In the Eye of the Storm (Spring 1959)

36 Day-Breaks in Bowditch Hall (McLean Hospital, April-May, 1959)

37 Mad Hatter's Tea (May-June 1959)

Part Four: The Lost Years

38 Citoyen du Monde (Paris and Geneva, 1959-60)

39 Absolute Zero (Princeton, 1960)

40 Tower of Silence (Trenton State Hospital, 1961)

41 An Interlude of Enforced Rationality (July 1961-April 1963)

42 The "Blowing Up" Problem (Princeton and Carrier Clinic, 1963-65)

43 Solitude (Boston, 1965-67)

44 A Man All Alone in a Strange World (Roanoke, 1967-70)

45 Phantom of Fine Hall (Princeton, 1970s)

46 A Quiet Life (Princeton, 1970-90)

Part Five: The Most Worthy

47 Remission

48 The Prize

49 The Greatest Auction Ever (Washington, D.C., December 1994)

50 Reawakening (Princeton, 1995-97)

Notes

Select Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Index

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

rwilson, August 15, 2007 (view all comments by rwilson)
Seeing the movie made from this book and reading the book are two very different experiences! This is a book about math and a memoir, and author Sylvia Nascar somehow manages to render both beautifully. Even if you're not a "mathie" but you are a serious reader, this is a fascinating and thorough biography of a complex man. Once you understand that John Nash's abrasiveness and apparent cruelty come from his disability, you have to feel compassion for him and admiration that he accomplished all he did despite his handicap.
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(7 of 13 readers found this comment helpful)
crowyhead, August 22, 2006 (view all comments by crowyhead)
This biography was the basis for the popular film A Beautiful Mind a few years ago. It's the fascinating story of an arrogant young mathematician who began his career with genius-level work in mathetmatics, succumbed to paranoid schizophrenia in his thirties, and ultimately experienced a remission in the late 80s and was awarded the Nobel Prize for his early work in game theory.

Reading about Nash's early life and the beginning of his career, I couldn't help but notice that he was always rather an odd duck, even before he became delusional and was diagnosed as schizophrenic. I'm inclined to think that if he were a child now, it's fairly likely he would be diagnosed as having Asperger's or something similar, but that's just my uneducated opinion. His way of relating to the world was always sufficiently different that it took a long time for many of his colleagues to realize that his eccentricities had morphed into delusions. He was a genius, he was expected to behave oddly, and in some ways this both served as a measure of protection for him, and also may have prevented him from getting help earlier.

I have to admit that I actually really disliked John Nash for a lot of the book. Even when he was sane, he was arrogant, self-absorbed, and unkind. He must have had some good qualities, though, other than his genius, because what really saved him in the end was the willingness of his friends and family to stand by him and try to help him. Again and again during his illness, his colleagues arranged work for him, smoothed over scandals caused by his odd behavior, and assisted his wife and mother in providing him with care. At times, his friends were almost too caring -- not having the same intimate contact with Nash that his wife Alice did, many of them believed he was not as ill as he actually was, and were very upset when he was involuntarily committed. The many points of view Nasar provides really bring home what it's like when someone succumbs to mental illness, and the way it affects just about everyone the person comes into contact with, like ripples in a pond.

Nash's return to normality after years of delusional behavior is still something of a mystery to neuroscientists. This is not something that often happens in schizophrenic patients, which led some to posit that Nash may not have been schizophrenic, after all. Yet his behavior and experiences are much more consistent with schizophrenia than with any of the other illnesses, like biopolar disorder, that have been suggested. This leads to the conclusion that Nash is one of the lucky few who experience a near-complete remission after years of illness.

I'd definitely recommend this biography to anyone with an interest in mathematics, mental illness, or who just likes a well-written biography.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780743224574
Subtitle:
The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash
Author:
Nasar, Sylvia
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Location:
New York
Subject:
History
Subject:
Scientists
Subject:
Mentally ill
Subject:
Schizophrenics
Subject:
Mathematicians
Subject:
History -- Philosophy.
Subject:
Scientists - General
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Mentally ill -- United States.
Subject:
Schizophrenics -- United States.
Copyright:
Edition Description:
B102
Series Volume:
no. 2001-127
Publication Date:
December 2001
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.12 in 16.905 oz

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A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash Used Trade Paper
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Product details 464 pages Touchstone Books - English 9780743224574 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , In a masterful blend of biography and science writing, Nasar traces John Forbes Nash, Jr.'s rise to the heights of intellectual achievement and his harrowing descent from "eccentricity" to insanity. Released as a major motion picture directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe and Ed Harris.
"Synopsis" by , 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.

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