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

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

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by Sylvia Nasar, Anna Fields

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In this biography, Sylvia Nasar recreates 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…  See more details below


In this biography, Sylvia Nasar recreates 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 21, 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. At 30, Nash was poised to take his dreamed-of place in the pantheon of history's greatest mathematicians. 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. At age 66, 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 son.

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Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
John Nash was a prodigy. A star of the already prestigious Princeton and MIT mathematics departments in the 1950s, Nash was known for his ability to penetrate and solve "deep problems" -- those thought virtually unsolvable by his peers. His greatest contribution came with his advancement of game theory that revolutionized economics. A professor in his 20s, he was a leader in his field, a recognized genius.

And then his life and career collapsed. In 1959, at the age of 30, Nash had a schizophrenic breakdown that saw him disappear from the world of mathematics. He lost his job, his wife, and, seemingly, his sanity.

Sylvia Nasar's detailed biography of the man, his achievements, and his descent into mental illness is as affectionate towards its subject as it is probing into the often oddly parallel worlds of academia and mental hospitals, genius and madness.

Nasar stays focused on the life of Nash but manages to bring to it insights into the fine line between ill and well. Notably, her behind-the-scenes look at the Nobel Prize committee's consideration of Nash's work and their trepidation at awarding their prestigious prize to a "madman" is an interesting discussion.

Ultimately, the story has a bizarre and happy ending. At 66, Nash inexplicably recovered from his illness, returned to academia, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics. (Greg Sewell)

Product Details

Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.96(w) x 6.96(h) x 1.85(d)

Read an Excerpt

John Forbes Nash, Jr. mathematical genius, inventor of a theory of rational behavior, visionary of the thinking machine had been sitting with his visitor, also a mathematician, for nearly half an hour. It was late on a weekday afternoon in the spring of 1959, and, though it was only May, uncomfortably warm. Nash was slumped in an armchair in one corner of the hospital lounge, carelessly dressed in a nylon shirt that hung limply over his unbelted trousers. His powerful frame was slack as a rag doll's, his finely molded features expressionless. He had been staring dully at a spot immediately in front of the left foot of Harvard professor George Mackey, hardly moving except to brush his long dark hair away from his forehead in a fitful, repetitive motion. His visitor sat upright, oppressed by the silence, acutely conscious that the doors to the room were locked. Mackey finally could contain himself no longer. His voice was slightly querulous, but he strained to be gentle. "How could you," began Mackey, "how could you, a mathematician, a man devoted to reason and logical proof...how could you believe that extraterrestrials are sending you messages? How could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world? How could you...?"

Nash looked up at last and fixed Mackey with an unblinking stare as cool and dispassionate as that of any bird or snake. "Because," Nash said slowly in his soft, reasonable southern drawl, as if talking to himself, "the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously."

The young genius from Bluefield, West Virginia handsome, arrogant, and highly eccentric burst onto the mathematical scene in 1948. Over the next decade, a decade as notable for its supreme faith in human rationality as for its dark anxieties about mankind's survival, Nash proved himself, in the words of the eminent geometer Mikhail Gromov, "the most remarkable mathematician of the second half of the century." Games of strategy, economic rivalry, computer architecture, the shape of the universe, the geometry of imaginary spaces, the mystery of prime numbers all engaged his wide-ranging imagination. His ideas were of the deep and wholly unanticipated kind that pushes scientific thinking in new directions.

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What People are saying about this

Timothy Ferris
Every once in a while there appears a book on science that mirrors the splendor of its subject. Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind is such a book -- an eloquent, heartbreaking, and heartwarming tale.
Oliver Sacks
A splendid book, deeply interesting and extraordinarily moving, remarkable for its sympathetic insights into both genius and schizophrenia.
David Herbert Donald
A brilliant book -- at once a powerful and moving biography of a great mathematical genius and an important contribution to American intellectual history.

Meet 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.

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A Beautiful Mind 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 46 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a person interested in biography, history and psychology, I found this book to be well-written and frequently poignant. Some biographies degrade into a stiff, lifeless recitation of history, but this story is at turns interesting, insightful and compelling. It's been a long time since I have enjoyed a biography this much.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thank God someone has the courage to write a hopeful and honest portrayal of someone who is a survivor of a severe mental illness. It is a rare thing indeed to read something at all positive about the mentally ill. Bravo to the courageous and skillful writer of this book and her subject of study, Mr. Nash. Another wonderful new book to read which also gives hope to the mentally ill and the survivors of mental illness is the beautifully written new autobiography by Tracy Harris entitled 'The Music of Madness'. I highly reccomend both books if you want to be inspired and enlightened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The journey we call life is often filled with tensions and emotions which are a result of those tensions. These things are the spices of life unless they loom so large in relation to our logical mind that they become bitter waters. A trial it is, then, to have tensions so great or emotions so compelling that one is unable to live a 'normal' life. It is interesting to see inside that space to which the logical mind is relegated when all other spaces are filled with the darkness of mental illness. Peering out of the logical into the surrounding unfathomable darkness we readers can almost get a sense of what life with an unrelenting mental illness is like. The inspiration for us all is in the character's finding of the light and the regaining of the control of that dark side of the mind. Another such journey from darkness into light is told by Tracy Harris in her book, 'The Music of Madness'. In Ms. Harris' case the journey is of a brilliant Musician whose life deconstructs because of Mental illness and its tormentors. It is at once chilling, fascinating, frightening, and like Nash she triumphs through sheer strength of will. Both stories are inspirational, and both end up letting the reader feel that he or she just might have hope after all, no matter how high the mountain, or how deep the sea.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To begin with a cliche, I enjoyed the book more than the movie. Nasar did a great deal of research in compiling this book. Nash is described as a lot more strange and somewhat more boring than he is in the movie, and Nasar's description is probably more accurate. I think Hollywood did a disservice to schizophrenics by depicting the disease as a lot more romantic than it really is. Nasar has an easy writing style, is insightful, and pays great attention to detail. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I became obsessed with the hyp for the movie and the man. I never expected to like the book as much as I did. Could not put it down. Even reading through the mathematical problems was easy. I was so disappointed when I finished it. I will not forget this book for a long time!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Excellent movie. Great acting on all cast members. Definitely portrayed John Nash's life very well. Gave much enlightenment on a difficult disease. A positive approach. Helped to understand a disease that a person has to carry inside.
edwinhope More than 1 year ago
A believable and touching biography of human proportions yet with an insight into a special world of intellectual experience most of us will never achieve. The story of mental illness told in a very personal and specific way. It makes the reader more sympathetic about a little understood ailment that has catastrophic consequences in the patient and all who come in contact with him or her. The movie was great entertainment; the book is great biography.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good book rich with details.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GlenThorsen More than 1 year ago
A Beautiful Mind is a stellar book. It provides a detailed look inside the mind of the mentally ill set against the backdrop of mathematics. It is a sad story. I found it very hard to put down. I found it even better than the movie, which I loved. John Nash’s ability to mind over matter his reality is inspirational. Five stars.
KarindN More than 1 year ago
Sylvia Nasar did not skimp on anything in this biography. I am very impressed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Robinhoodbook More than 1 year ago
Amazing life of one of the most prominent genius, the author knows how to mix the scientific approach of a genius, with skills, social life, it is a very honest life of one of the most important minds in Mathematics, paradoxically with personal issues or eccentric moments about this great person and the people that surrounds him. Makes specific historical remarks about Newton, Einstein, but then tell us how human is Dr Nash and how sensible he is with his own environment. it is full of interesting details, his theory about games and probability is not as interesting as his personal life, and the way he had to deal with society, I appreciate all the effort to do this book, it took a lot of time to do it as I can see, from the psychological view, scientific and academic it is worth it. I am still learning so much from someone who wanted to share this gift with the world, it talks about religion too and this thin line between "craziness" and "genaility" Havent seen the movie yet but I will. Intense of a private life with similarities in the life of other genius, it is very well written, you are not going to believe all this details in just one Person, and how other's started to accept this gifted mind and how this gifted mind accepted his own self, it is wroth it... buy it now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
cannonball More than 1 year ago
There is warmth and humanity about this book that makes it must reading. John Nash himself, although never dull, is not particularly sympathetic even in the best of times. Nevertheless, as he slips into madness his peers continue to recognize him as the genius who made several important contributions to mathematics. They tolerate his eccentricities and offer him employment despite his debilitating illness. Ultimately, too, his family reconciles with him. Not only is this is an extraordinary journey into the rarified world of higher mathematics but it's a journey into mental illness, its fallout and treatment. PS, the movie, which I loved, pales beside the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book leads you inside the guy's mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What I like most about the abriged version is that it doesn't cut too much out. In fact, it adds something to the movie by explaining to the reader what the movie couldn't touch on. I would suggest to anyone who gets this-to make sure that they have enough time to finish it. (And yes, it is that involved).
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a school assignment on credibility, and although it's a great story, according to the criteria the teacher gave, this book is full of opinions, loaded words, and fallacies. However, it's still a great story of triumph.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book extremely engaging, but its most important contribution may be introducing mathematical concepts and life as a mathematician to those not trained in mathematics. A Beautiful Mind gives mathematics a human face.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i think that this is a great book its about the real people who can triumph over a serious disease