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Simon: The Genius in My Basement Hardcover – February 28, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; 1St Edition edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385341083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385341080
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,113,784 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Simon: The Genius in My Basement
 
“Exuberant and compelling . . . This is both a happy and a funny book. It is decorated with [Alexander] Masters’s elegant cartoons and his language is lyrical and vernal.”—Financial Times
 
“An absorbing read, with Masters’s deft pen and idiosyncratic style once again in evidence.”—The Times
 
“A comically tender portrait.”—The Observer
 
“Astonishingly good . . . a glorious book: funny, surprising and completely sui generis.”—The Sunday Times
 
“Masters has managed to convey something of the beauty and mystery not just of mathematics but of the human spirit.”—The Sunday Telegraph
 
“An affectionate, dynamic tale.”—The List
 
“Delightful.”—The Guardian

About the Author

Alexander Masters studied physics and mathematics in London and Cambridge. For five years he worked in hostels for the homeless and ran a street newspaper. He has also worked as a newspaper columnist, a travel writer, an illustrator, and a bedspread salesman.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By BHB on May 17, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really wanted to like this book because I thought the subject, Simon Norton, would be fascinating, but I learned very little about him or his work from the author's disjointed collage. The story of how Simon goes from his early extraordinary brilliance, mathematical successes, work on group theory and The Atlas of Finite Groups, to an unkempt, hoarding landlord obsessed with transit timetables is never really told. I have read articles about Simon by several other authors that told this interesting story much more clearly. Maybe it is Simon's own lack of real communication about his mathematics, but this book quickly became one about the quirky relationship between Simon and the author, and one that was not very interesting to me. I kept waiting for better explanations of Simon's transformation from highly promising mathematician to recluse, but a mistake made in a mathematical calculation and finding a collection of bus timetables is all the author offers.

There is this: "It's a cliché that mathematicians are over the hill by their mid-30s, but often it's not loss of mathematical intelligence that weakens their ability, but loss of focus ... Simon says that in his case, it was grief." Simon calls his colleague and father figure John Conway's departure for Princeton as "a sort of bereavement", and he is also grief-stricken over "an additional trauma", the Deregulation of the Buses Act. Simon sees this as the destruction of public transport and it becomes his new devotion. The author never fully develops these ideas that are crucial to Simon.

Simon is clear as to his reasons for agreeing to help Masters: "You said I could use the book as a soapbox for the issues on which I care deeply ... The two things that I would recommend to anyone who is lonely: politics and public transport." Simon Norton is fascinating, but I don't think that Alexander Masters fully explains that in this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By happy listener on March 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved reading this book because the main character, Simon Norton, is so interesting! This biography describes what it is like to be a genius. Simon P. Norton is a distinguished mathematician at Cambridge University who did ground breaking work in the field of group theory. We get to peek in on how such an extraordinary person confronts everyday life. In addition, Alex Masters does give very interesting tidbits about what group theory is (you might learn something too) and some interesting factoids about the mathematicians who contributed to the field. What is marvelous is that Dr. Norton who is so brilliant can be totally unfazed by his remarkable accomplishments. In a world where politicians and celebrities are so narcissistic and bellicose about what they do, it is great to read a story about a humble man who perhaps should take more credit for what he has accomplished with his life. This is a wonderful book about a special person who enjoys the simple things in life such as a public bus ride over a limo.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Martina A. Nicolls on March 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The genius is Simon Phillips Norton, a British mathematician born on February 28, 1952 of Jewish heritage--traced back to the Iraqi Jews of Babylon.

Written in simple, understandable language, Simon: The Genius in my Basement follows two threads: (1) the upbringing, achievements, and day-to-day life of Simon P. Norton (accompanied by photographs and examples of Simon's jottings and work); and (2) an illustrated basic introduction to the study of symmetry. While living in the author's basement since 1981, Norton, schooled at Eton, is exploring the mathematical puzzle known as The Monster, working in the Department of Pure Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in London as an "independent researcher" on group theory, the study of symmetry.

It is a unique account of a unique man. Masters attempts to discover what factors contributed to establishing Norton as a mathematical genius. What does Masters reveal about the life of a genius? We know he has two older brothers: Michael and Francis. Michael Norton OBE studied chemistry and is the author of several books on fundraising, while Francis Norton manages the jewellery store that their great-grandfather established--he is the one that provides the family money. We know that he doted on his mother, and was significantly affected by her death in 2002.

At age one, Simon P. Norton was already exploring number patterns with his building blocks; at three years and eleven months he could do long multiplication; by five he had mastered percentages, square numbers, factors, and long division; and at age ten he had triumphed at music, even writing a sonata. We know that Norton has always liked the number 2, but worshipped number 7, and 45 was the number for his mother.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By DL on March 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Simon Norton and Alexander Masters share a house. That is to say, Alexander is one of Norton's two renters. Simon was a child prodigy, a genius, some say, who scored a 178 on his IQ test as a small child. He is best know for his work in symmetry and finite mathematics at Cambridge when he is not obsessing over public transportation and downing kippers a la Norton in the recesses of the Excavation, or rather the basement, where he dwells knee deep in plastic bags of papers, timetables, and stacks of miscellaneous relics of his past.

Masters uses silly, at times ridiculous (bloomers and bare bottoms) illustrations to explain the basics of mathematical symmetry, Norton's Monster Group mathematics, and to explain the eccentric behavior of Norton himself.

I don't think a more critical review has been written of Masters' writing than the ongoing critique that Simon provides of Masters' skills throughout the story itself, often times calling him out on inaccuracies, misinterpretations and general lack of writing skill. "One fact to get right and you get it wrong in four different ways," says Simon. It left me wondering why, at first, Norton allowed Masters to write a biography about him at all? But later it becomes very clear that Masters made a promise, a coercion of sorts to get Norton to come out of his shell for public discourse. "You said I could use the book as a soapbox for the issues on which I care deeply...the two things that I would recommend to anyone who is lonely: politics and public transport...Cars corrode mankind."

All, in all, I laughed, guffawed, sometimes went "ewww!" but I did enjoy the romp, or should I say the daily crawl through the clutter of the life of a modern genius. Simon Norton has some things to say...
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