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A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash Paperback – November 27, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reissue edition (December 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743224574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743224574
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (383 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

165 of 173 people found the following review helpful By Rex Hammock on January 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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99 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 13, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Ivan Sindell on December 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.
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65 of 71 people found the following review helpful By A reader on March 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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