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

ISBN: 0743224574

ISBN13: 9780743224574

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

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Book Overview

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.

Customer Reviews

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The Emperor of Antarctica.

This book details the career of the distinguished mathematician Dr John Nash, and the title comes from a reply of Dr Nash's to a pretigious job offer from the University of Chicago in 1959 (page 244) when, at the height of his illustrious career, he stated that he had to decline the offer because he was scheduled to become "the Emperor of Antarctica". Of course one might think he was kidding, but there is no doubt that at the time he believed that he was to be involved with a coming world government, and was to be one of its leaders-"Antarctica" may or may not have been his idea of a joke- but the idea certainly wasn't. Mr Nash was certainly one of the most significant mathematicians of the second half of the 20th century (page 12). This assertion carries some weight, but Mr Nash prior to his descent into paranoid schizophrenia, had in his PHd thesis already solved a major problem with Von Neumann's and Mortgenstern's 1200 page volume "The Theory of Games and Econmic Behaviour" (p97) (for which he eventually won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994), and solved the embedding problem for manifolds (p 156-163)-which caused quite a stir in academic circles. His PHd thesis was to become one of the major breakthroughs in economic theory in the second half of the 20th century-on non co-operative game theory. It has also been applied successfully to evolutionary biology, amongst other disciplines. For those who like important names, there are few here-Einstein who kindly said to Nash's ideas about gravitational fields at 19 "you need to do some physics young man", and another- John Von Neumann- regarded as the most multifaceted mathematician of the 20th century (p79), who thought his PHd thesis was "trivial", "just a fixed point theorem". There are a host of other names for those who know mathematical academia better than I.One of the best things about this book is that it attempts to journey through some of the greatest mysteries of the human mind-as Slyvia Nasar puts it, genius, madness and reawakening (p22). It takes great care to document as much as possible, the facts, and the testimonies of those who directly partook/partake in his life story (some of course who still do). (In this it differs from the general Hollywood style-but to be fair-the film was mostly accurate, and captured the major and important themes). It is one of those cases, where, with perserverance, the book is ultimately more rewarding than the film, and certainly more accurate. One must thank Sylvia Nassar for completing such an important and difficult work. She does so admirably. Discussions involve his relatively indistinguished childhood (a B- in the 4th grade in arithmetic), his early experimental and scientific tendencies, the politics within 'pure mathematics', the effects of stress, his marital relations, his homosexual tendencies, his extreme arrogance, childish manner, lack of social skills, occasional anti-semitism (page 146), fear of failure, brilliant mind, the cour

Beautiful...and Intriguing

John Forbes Nash, Jr. was a genius who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was in and out of mental institutions for most of his life. Nasar's book, as she states so succinctly in her prologue, is Nash's story, "in three acts: genius, madness, reawakening."Naturally introverted, even at a young age, Nash was described as being "bookish and slightly odd." His mother had him reading by the time he was four and instead of coloring books, his father gave him science books to read. But despite his parents' efforts, the young Nash was prone to daydreaming in school, which led his teachers to describe him as an underachiever. A loner and the ultimate nerd, his best friends were books, his bedroom resembled a science lab, he was always the last to be chosen for baseball, and at a school dance, he danced with chairs rather than girls.Although his elementary school math teachers complained he couldn't do the work, his mother noticed he wasn't following the teachers' instructions because he had devised a simpler way of solving the problems. By high school, he was deciphering problems his chemistry teacher wrote on the blackboard, without using pencil or paper. In college, his math professors would call on Nash when they themselves ran into problems solving complex equations they were presenting to their classes.But together with his brilliance were eccentricities that became more evident as Nash aged. Those close to him characterized him as "disconnected" and "deeply unknowable." He had little use for textbooks and was known for solving difficult (and often previously unsolvable) problems using "no references but his own mind." His peers called the results he was able to obtain "beautiful" and "striking", perhaps his greatest achievement being his work on game theory, which led to a Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. He possessed a true love of discovery - while swimming with a friend in California, the two were dragged out to sea by an undercurrent and nearly drowned. Finally reaching shore exhausted, the friend was grateful for surviving while Nash, after briefly catching his breath, re-entered the surf exclaiming, "I wonder if that was an accident. I think I'll go back in and see."Nash was in California during the Cold War working for the internationally famous think tank known as the RAND Corporation. Funded by the U.S. Air Force, RAND was populated by "the best minds in mathematics, physics, political science, and economics." Their principle focus was developing strategies to deter - or if that failed, to win - a nuclear war against Russia. Suddenly, the game theory Nash had been intrigued by at Princeton had a practical application, for war is the ultimate game of conflict. Years later, a more profitable application would be the FCC's $7-billion sale of cell phone air space to competing communications conglomerates.Possibly the oddest in an odd bunch of ducks, Nash's math colleagues over the years included a professor who used a mathematical form

A Martian Told Me to Read This Book

Saw and tremendously enjoyed the movie, but kept thinking, this can't be the real story of John Nash. As impressed as I was with director Ron Howard's construction and Russell Crowe's acting, I still left the theater with too many questions...and doubts.For the first time I can recall, I departed a movie and went directly to a bookstore to buy the book. (I'm still 100% on never purchasing a soundtrack CD from one of those theater vending machines.) This is NOT the same story as the movie. Nasar's biography of Nash is a thoroughly researched, riviting story that took me to worlds I've never known (advanced mathmatics and severe mental illness). It is a fast-paced read, a book I could not put down.There has been controversy about some of the details from the book being left out of the movie, but I think Ron Howard departed masterfully from the book to provide the escence of Nash's story without bogging down in some confusing issues that Nasar, in a book form, handles with appropriate detail and context.Watch the movie and read the book. Both are great. But they are different.

A Beautiful Book

If you enjoyed the movie "A Beautiful Mind" you will love this book. It is far richer in detail, context, and let's us a bit deeper into why what Nash accomplished was so beautiful. If you find the movie a bit of a problem because it seems a bit too glossy for the facts, again, you will love this book.For me, the movie did a marvelous job of embodying the spirit of the book. To delve more deeply into the facts of Nash's life and accomplishments and his illness would require a documentary or a mini-series. The movie is really a narrative poem about Nash. This book is about the people and their experiences. It is NOT a direct exposition of Nash's technical achievements. There are other books such as "The Essential John Nash" that provide that information.In this masterful book we find out more about his youth, his life at college, his work after he received his doctorate and his breakdown and illness as well as the nature and scope of his recovery. There is real sorrow and loss in the book, but there is also strength and tenacity that refuses to yield to hopelessness and despair. This is a book about the people and how they lived during the storms of his achievements and his illness.I am not qualified to discuss the quality of Nash's achievements, but from the admiration lavished on him by his peers and how they rallied round him it is clear that Nash was given immense gifts that he developed and used in ways that have benefited all of us even if we are unaware it. It seems that this is the nature of the gifts scientists and mathematicians give us. We are unaware of them until another person makes them part of other products, services, and policies that directly affect us. And even then we are unaware of the breakthroughs that made these wonderful additions to our lives possible.We should be grateful to Sylvia Nasar for helping us see the gifts we received from Dr. Nash and the sacrifices his wife and others made to make them possible.

Maximum Involvement

I was led to the book by a movie review in the NYT that said the movie did not tell the story of the book and that it was very serious and important story. I am writing this review because having read it I would like to discuss it.Though there is some redundancy in the text, I still read every word. The exploration of the themes of genius and acknowledged contributions, followed by more than 30 years of paranoid schizophrenia and then remission and recognition is gripping.The care of the biographer in acknowledging and noting her sources is very unusual for most popular and semi-popular biographers. That she took her subject and his work and his journey seriously is never in doubt. There is no pseudo psych. There is lots of exploration. The author explores very sensitive areas thou rally, but sensitively. Nash's homosexuality, his seeming contempt for people and their feelings nothing is left out. His forty-five year relationship with the woman who has been his wife is not a simple story and the author takes her time to present the facts. Still, she does not judge, she reports.I did enjoy the sections about Princeton and MIT and the world of mathematicians. An economics PhD candidate I had dinner with said, "I heard it's all about relationships and not mathematics". The mathematicians in the book say economics is not very serious math. (Nash seems to agree with that in an ironic way.) In short I was charmed by the book, it gave me a lot a material with which to consider the nature of genius, mathematical accomplishment, mental illness and (particularly the effect of other people on ones sense of self) and what is meant by a whole life.I understand that there is a lot of talk about love in the movie. In the book the word is not mentioned once-these are not touchy feely folk, still love and friendship are very important to the story.Read the book.

A Beautiful Mind Mentions in Our Blog

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Did you watch the Oscars last weekend? If so, maybe you're intrigued to catch up on the plays, books, and movies that served as inspiration for some of the nominated (and winning) movies. Plus we share some of our favorite book-to-screen Best Picture winners from the last quarter century.

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