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

by Sylvia Nasar


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451628425
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 07/12/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 147,296
Product dimensions: 9.20(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Sylvia Nasar is the author of the bestselling A Beautiful Mind, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. She is the John S. and James. L Knight Professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

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.

Table of Contents

Part One: A Beautiful Mind
1 Bluefield (1928-45)
2 Carnegie Institute of Technology (June 1945-June 1948)
3 The Center of the Universe (Princeton, Fall 1948)
4 School of Genius (Princeton, Fall 1948)
5 Genius (Princeton, 1948-49)
6 Games (Princeton, Spring 1949.)
7 John von Neumann (Princeton, 1948-49)
8 The Theory of Games
9 The Bargaining Problem (Princeton, Spring 1949)
10 Nash's Rival Idea (Princeton, 1949-50)
11 Lloyd (Princeton, 1950)
12 The War of Wits (RAND, Summer 1950)
13 Game Theory at RAND
14 The Draft (Princeton, 195O-51)
15 A Beautiful Theorem (Princeton, 1950-51)
16 MIT
17 Bad Boys
18 Experiments (RAND, Summer 1952)
19 Reds (Spring 1953)
20 Geometry
Part Two: Separate Lives
21 Singularity
22 A Special Friendship (Santa Monica, Summer 1952)
23 Eleanor
24 Jack
25 The Arrest (RAND, Summer 1954)
26 Alicia
27 The Courtship
28 Seattle (Summer 1956)
29 Death and Marriage (1956-57)
Part Three: A Slow Fire Burning
30 Olden Lane and Washington Square (1956-57)
31 The Bomb Factory
32 Secrets (Summer 1958)
33 Schemes (Fall 1958)
34 The Emperor of Antarctica
35 In the Eye of the Storm (Spring 1959)
36 Day-Breaks in Bowditch Hall (McLean Hospital, April-May, 1959)
37 Mad Hatter's Tea (May-June 1959)
Part Four: The Lost Years
38 Citoyen du Monde (Paris and Geneva, 1959-60)
39 Absolute Zero (Princeton, 1960)
40 Tower of Silence (Trenton State Hospital, 1961)
41 An Interlude of Enforced Rationality (July 1961-April 1963)
42 The "Blowing Up" Problem (Princeton and Carrier Clinic, 1963-65)
43 Solitude (Boston, 1965-67)
44 A Man All Alone in a Strange World (Roanoke, 1967-70)
45 Phantom of Fine Hall (Princeton, 1970s)
46 A Quiet Life (Princeton, 1970-90)
Part Five: The Most Worthy
47 Remission
48 The Prize
49 The Greatest Auction Ever (Washington, D.C., December 1994)
50 Reawakening (Princeton, 1995-97)
Select Bibliography

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.

Customer Reviews

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A Beautiful Mind 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 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.
austroud on LibraryThing 10 months ago
John Forbes Nash, Jr. (1928- ) is a mathematician and economist known for both his schizophrenic personality and for winning the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. This unauthorized biography based on Nash's life, A Beautiful Mind, written by Sylvia Nasar examine's his life and career. The book takes readers through his childhood, education, career, and his ordeal with schizophrenia. The book ends with Nash winning the 1994 Nobel Prize for his work in economics. Nash's mental illness is a central theme of the book.
csayban on LibraryThing 10 months ago
4 starsRECOMMENDED!At first glance, a biography of a mathematician would seem to make for a read dryer than the Sahara. However, John Nash is no ordinary mathematician and Sylvia Nasar is no ordinary biographer. In her capable hands, the life of John Nash comes to life¿in all of its brilliant, dark, pessimistic, extraordinary, callous wonder. John Forbes Nash, Jr. is a mathematical genius whose extraordinary mind developed the structure for what became known as Game Theory ¿ revolutionizing both mathematics and economics in the second half of the twentieth century. The power of his theories culminated with him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics nearly fifty years after his groundbreaking work began. But it came at a heavy price. By the age of thirty, Nash was suffering from his first bouts of paranoid schizophrenia, a disease he would suffer with for three decades. He was institutionalized by his family on several occasions and left for dead by most of the mathematics community. Left to wander the campus of Princeton University as a ¿ghost¿ and a ¿crazy man,¿ Nash did the unthinkable ¿ he began recovering from a disease that there was thought to be no recovery from. He even begin to work on mathematics research again. It was a recovery that physiatrists thought was impossible.A Beautiful Mind is really not about mathematics, but about what it means to be labeled ¿gifted,¿ ¿different¿ or ¿sick.¿ It is about how society treats people who are unusual and how few answers there are for what goes on between someone¿s ears. It is also about John¿s wife Alicia, who set aside her own desires to try to guide John through a world that had become hostile to him.Ultimately, Sylvia Nasar succeeds with A Beautiful Mind because she leaves out most of the heavy-handed mathematics and focuses on who John Nash is and what his life represents. Make no mistake, John Nash not a lovable person. He is rude, thoughtless, self-centered and egotistical ¿ all the things we don¿t like in a person. His genius is both a gift and a curse. Yet, we cheer for him the whole way because there is an innocence about him; a childlike quality of someone who doesn¿t quite understand other people but has to function within society none-the-less. And it is a society of the 1950s and 1960s with little understanding or tolerance for mental illness. His story also gives us hope that no matter how hopeless a person¿s situation may seem, here is an example of someone who was able to climb out of that hole and rejoin life and be happy again. That is what makes John Nash¿s story so important ¿ it demonstrates that anyone¿s life can be turned around. It demonstrates hope. It demonstrates redemption. It is a story well worth your time.
Rhyla on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I read this book after having watched the movie. I usually try and do it in the opposite order. It was undoubtedly an interesting read. At times I found it got bogged down in mathematical details that won't make much sense to the majority of people, myself included.
NellieMc on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Wonderful biography, a must read if you liked the movie or want to learn about the intellectual history of the 20th century. Nash's story is more involved (less romantic) and more interesting than the movie (though the acting was spot on). The book has several fascinating themes--the fine line between genius and insanity, how one man can be so cruel (the way he monetarily abandoned his illegitimate son and used his mistress) yet still be so insightful, and the sheer strength that allowed Nash to think his way out of schizophrenia. The story had me from the beginning, when Nasar quotes Nash answering the question, "How could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world", "Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously." The Nash Equilibrium is a must-know concept in behavioral economics--this is a must read book for anyone interested in economic or scientific history, or just wants to read a biography written to the highest standards. (I also recommend buying or viewing the PBS documentary on Nash that was made from this book, he's interviewed in it and seeing the actual man and listening to him illuminate the book's contents even more.)
wispywillow on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A Beautiful Mind"A legend by the age of thirty, recognized as a mathematical genius even as he slipped into madness, John Nash emerged after decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel Prize and world acclaim." ~ from cover of bookThough not a good selection for someone looking for a quick and light read, A Beautiful Mind is an intense biography of John F. Nash, Jr., a mathematician who rubbed elbows with the likes of John von Neumann and Albert Einstein. His arrogance was outweighed by his eccentric genius, which eventually won him a Nobel Prize in economics.Before this award, however, Nash slowly lost his grip with reality and, by his thirties, fell into full-blown schizophrenia.I have no particular interest in the field of mathematics. Nevertheless, I found this biography fascinating and poignant despite its occasional slow parts. Perhaps because biographies/autobiographies deal with the lives of real people, I overlook the "slow parts" by simply remembering that I am a voyeur into someone's life. Now that I have read the book, I have added the movie starring Russell Crowe to the top of my Netflix queue :)
nevusmom on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Fascinating and sad.
Angelic55blonde on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A great book about a great man who's life is tragic and beautiful all at the same time. I read the book after I saw the movie, and I was not disappointed. Of course I think the book is better than the movie but the movie is amazing as well.
dianemb on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A very revealing look at the life of Nobel Prize winner, John Nash. At the height of his career , he was began showing the symptoms of the devastating illness, schizophrenia. The book shows the battle he had to endure as did those who loved him. However, it does offer some hope as well to those coping with this illness. Thoroughly enjoyable, thought if you are not mathematical some passages are hard going.
SLuce on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Listened to the book on tape. Very impressive but way over my head when it goes into the math. Great book. Much better than the movie
kawgirl on LibraryThing 10 months ago
By far better than the movie. There are many more details and the book is more about what happened than creating a story. I read the book before I saw the movie and was glad that I had.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing 10 months ago
It¿s a biography of Nash- a Nobel Prize winner in Economics- with an extensive scientific background featuring not only Nash, but other mathematicians and their theories as well. Nash himself appears to be a naturally born mathematical genius who was a weird and pretty annoying character in his early life. As the saying goes, genius and insanity are often two sides of the same coin, so just as the recognition of his genius reached its heights, Nash succumbed to schizophrenia in his thirties, and only emerged from it thirty years later, just in time to be awarded a Nobel Prize in economics (not without contention). There is no Nobel prize in math. I was very impressed with how the mathematicians Nash worked with rallied behind him and kept him intellectually alive through the course of his illness (for thirty years!). But, I can¿t even imagine the anguish of his wife who had to cope with Nash and then with their own brilliant son succumbing to the same disease even earlier in life than her husband. Naser¿s research into schizophrenia and the available treatments was interesting as well. What was done with mentally ill people in the fifties and sixties chills your blood though. I really enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone with interest in science. The movie, on the other hand, was a sheer disappointment that had very little in common with Nash, or the book.
bragan on LibraryThing 10 months ago
A biography of the brilliant, eccentric mathematician John Nash, whose career was cut short by a descent into schizophrenia, but who experienced a rare, astonishingly dramatic remission in time to accept the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994. Nasar's writing is simple, with no personal interjections about her research for the book and no gimmicks, but it's effective. She invokes a great sense of understanding and sympathy for Nash without sentimentalizing him or downplaying his character flaws or his sometimes reprehensible treatment of others. Her depiction of Nash's illness and recovery is poignantly bittersweet, and her examination of the arc of his life raises a lot of thought-provoking questions about the possible connections between genius, mental illness, and personality.This is, by the way, the basis of the movie of the same name. I saw that long enough ago that I don't remember much about it, but I understand that the movie did fudge a number of details and leave quite a few things out. I'm thinking perhaps I ought to watch it again to compare.
JBD1 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Great book, better than the movie (also fantastic).
melydia on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This is another book I picked up because I liked the movie. I liked the book, too, but was a little disappointed to learn how little resemblance there is between the two. For example, neither Nash's college roommate nor his tendency to draw on windows were mentioned in the book, while Nash's homosexuality and illegitimate son were left out of the movie. Once I realized that there was such a huge disparity, however, I was able to appreciate them as separate works. This biography of mathematician John Nash, Nobel Laureate and recovered schizophrenic, was simply fascinating. It manages a balance between the mathematics and the insanity without becoming either too dry or too sensationalist. I kind of wish there had been a cast of characters listing somewhere to keep all the names straight, but by and large I had no trouble following it. In short, I enjoyed it. However, if you're just looking for a glimpse inside the mind of a schizophrenic, give this one a pass. Nash's specific delusions are not described in depth, and most of the information is secondhand anyway. That said, I would recommend it to people who love a good biography, especially one that reads almost like a novel.
soniaandree on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Contrary to what the movie may lead people to believe, the book does not concentrate on John Nash's life. Instead, it is a very good presentation of the scientific and mathematical developments of the time. It was a golden age of sciences and discovery, the start of many modern scientific subjects. Nash is shown to participate in this golden age, while his troubled personality makes him an interesting character.It is a good read if you want to know about the era of sciences and economics; also, it can open some discussions about the scientists of the time, their research groups, the ideas behind some theories. The book is very well written, easy to read (for the lay reader) and is general enough that it doesn't swamp the reader with data and numbers - this is still a (mostly) bibliographical novel, after all.
Ix0x0L on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was great. I am very partial to any writing that accurately depicts mental illness. The story of John Nash is so intriging. The book was very well researched.
ejp1082 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There aren't many biographies that have interested me, and there are even fewer that I would highly reccomend. This is one of them.This is a terrific book that covers an absolutely fascinating subject. The story of John Nash's life is at once amazing, profound, and inspirational.It's certainly one of those cases where the movie falls far short in comparison; this novel covers his work, his genius, and his painful descent into madness with a depth that shows the movie barely scratched the surface.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautiful book about a tortured genius. Although a bit slow in parts, Nash comes alive.