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A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nashby Sylvia Nasar
Winner of the 1999 National Book Critics Circle Award.
Synopses & Reviews
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.
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.
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
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)
17 Bad Boys
18 Experiments (RAND, Summer 1952)
19 Reds (Spring 1953)
Part Two: Separate Lives
22 A Special Friendship (Santa Monica, Summer 1952)
25 The Arrest (RAND, Summer 1954)
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
48 The Prize
49 The Greatest Auction Ever (Washington, D.C., December 1994)
50 Reawakening (Princeton, 1995-97)
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