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John Von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence, and Much More Paperback – October 5, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0821826768 ISBN-10: 082182676X Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Amer Mathematical Society; 2 edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082182676X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0821826768
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 7.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #363,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Provides a nice and fascinating picture of a genius who was active in so many domains." ---- Zentralblatt MATH

"The American Mathematical Society should be congratulated for republishing the 1992 Pantheon Books biography about "Johnny" von Neumann. Biographer Macrae takes a "viewspaperman" approach which stresses the context and personalities associated with von Neumann's remarkable life, rather than attempting to give a detailed scholarly analysis of von Neumann's papers. The resulting book is a highly entertaining account that is difficult to put down." ---- Journal of Mathematical Psychology

"A full and intimate biography of 'the man who consciously and deliberately set mankind moving along the road that led us into the Age of Computers'." ---- Freeman Dyson, Princeton, NJ

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By lector avidus on June 21, 2006
John von Neumann was a prodigy's prodigy, the likes of whom rarely grace the earth. Norman McRae is one of the few intrepid biographers who have dared to take on von Neumann's phenomenally accomplished life. As was to be expected, McRae wasn't equal to his subject, but the book is still extremely worthwhile.

I wished that McRae had put more effort into describing the science of von Neuman's work - Aspray did an excellent job in describing his contributions to computer science - and spared us some his thoughts on the Japanese economy. Nevertheless, this is a good, if imperfect book, and one of the best on John von Neumann.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kunj Patel on November 3, 2012
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As a prodigious reader of biographies--of all sorts, but mostly those of persons of science and mathematics (probably read about a hundred)--I feel qualified to say that this biography of John von Neumann is one of the greatest written biographies available today. While the previous reviewers are completely correct in that there is little detailed technical information, the book more than compensates for this in its other aspects. The book is filled with fantastic anecdotes regarding John von Neumann's eccentricities and his extraordinary displays of his unparalleled abilities at mental calculation, problem solving, and memorization. (He was able to memorize entire book chapters verbatim and recite them 15 years later. He could easily multiply two eight digit numbers in his head. And so on...) The few stories that aren't breathtaking are downright hilarious! They often show the jovial side (and sometimes licentious side) of this man, who was one of the single greatest minds of the past millenium.

I particularly recommend this book for all types of quantitative thinkers, or even scholars of any sort who wish to widen their purview of the world. Von Neumann helps to define what it means to be an exemplary scientist. Furthermore, he does a great job of showing the moral responsibilities and gentlemanly behavior required of men of his stature and fame.

In the historical domain, this biography necessarily beats out most others simply because von Neumann was so intimately connected with some of the big scientific and political events of the 21st century (Hungarian education and WWI, Quantum Mechanics, the A-bomb and WWII, the Digital Computer, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and the Cold War, etc.).
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By S. ragno on October 25, 2010
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The book is enjoyable but the descriptions of Neumann's contributions to science are too brief.
In the beginning chapter there is almost full page explaining the origin of the surnames of John's parents, or the meaning of the word " Gymnasium " in different countries and I would have liked to have a similar level of detail about John's work and breakthroughs.
Despite being light on equations, the book is still interesting and accessible.
3,5 stars.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Palle E T Jorgensen VINE VOICE on January 1, 2013
The author Norman Macrae, a long time editor of the Economist, is a brilliant writer.
John von Neumann was one of the few mathematicians with a huge impact in technology and science outside mathematics itself. The book concentrates on those areas, quantum mechanics, the atomic bomb, computers (e.g., the idea of stored programs); as well as the times, and the historical background, Hungary, Germany, the USA.
There are many biographies of pioneers in physics and the other sciences, but to the public, the lives of mathematicians are ignored. Although a mathematician of axioms, von Neumann is nonetheless unique material for a biography of wide appeal.
The book is well researched, but it is also a delightful read; at times it reads as a thriller.
Also covered: von Neumann's two marriages, his friends and collaborators, and the planning and the building of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton in the 1930ties. Covered especially well are the two decades in Europe between the two World Wars, as it relates to von Neumann, and to mathematics; and the building of a scientific infrastructure in the US in the 1950ties when von Neumann was a government advisor to the Eisenhower administration for defense strategies, and for science and energy. Among other things at the time of his death, von Neumann was head of the Atomic Energy Commission. Reviewed by Palle E T Jorgensen, January 1213.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Pichierri Fabio on June 27, 2012
John von Neumann, or simply Johnny as he was known among his friends and colleagues, in one of the five Hungarian-born "martians" that emigrated to the States before the start of WWII. He was a mathematician of great power and a polymath that contributed greatly to many scientific fields such as physics, quantum mechanics, fluid dynamics, computer science, game theory, and economy. As a child prodigy he was able to entertain family guests by memorizing any page of Budapest's telephone book and then providing the phone number associated to a user and the other way round. His memory was awesome being able to recite verbatim the pages of books that he read fifteen or more years before. His speed of mental computing was unbeatable being able to outperform most of his colleagues (perhaps only Fermi with his ruler and Feynman with his Marchant mechanical calculator could keep pace with his speed). These and other interesting stories are nicely described in Macrae's book. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and as far as I am aware this is the best available biography of Johnny. Further details about the development of the first electronic computer (the IAS machine) based on the socalled "von Neumann architecture" can be found in George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe while the scientific and personal interactions between Johnny and the other "martians" (von Karman, Szilard, Teller, Wigner) are nicely described in Martians of Science by Istvan Hargittai.
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