Genius At Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway

Genius At Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway

by Siobhan Roberts


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Genius At Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway by Siobhan Roberts

“Conway is a creative genius.” Martin Gardner

Born in Liverpool in 1937, John Horton Conway found fame as a Cambridge professor, making a pivotal contribution to the field of mathematical symmetry and inventing “surreal numbers.” A beloved teacher at Princeton University since 1987, he deploys cards, dice, coat hangers, and sometimes a Slinky as props to explain the beauties of mathematics. His myriad contributions to game theory, knot theory, number theory, coding theory, group theory, and geometry are legendary.

Conway is most celebrated for his 1970s cult classic “Game of Life.” One of the first cellular automata, the game plays out on a grid and is governed by three simple rules whereby proliferating cells resemble skittering microorganisms viewed under a microscope. More than just a cool fad, Life had broad cultural and scientific influence, showing how simplicity generates emergent complexity and providing an analogy not only for all mathematics but for the universe itself.

Science and mathematics writer Siobhan Roberts, a visitor at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, has had close access to Conway, to his colleagues, and to his family over several years. As a result, Genius At Play presents a unique and intimate portrait of the mind and work of one of the world's most acclaimed mathematicians. Anyone interested in mathematics, in game playing, indeed, in genius itself, will find it unforgettable.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620405932
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 07/14/2015
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Siobhan Roberts is a science writer and winner of two National Magazine Awards. While writing this book, she was a Director's Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Her first book, King of Infinite Space, won the Mathematical Association of America's Euler Prize for expanding the public's view of mathematics. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Table of Contents

Prologue xi

Act I

1 Identity Elements 3

2 Dazzling New World 10

3 Gymnastics 19

4 Calculate the Stars 43

5 Nerdish Delights 57

6 The Vow 83

Act II

7 Religion 103

8 Criteria of Virtue 109

9 Character Assassination 128

10 Snip, Clip, Prune, Lop 171

11 Dotto & Company 216

12 Truth Beauty, Beauty Truth 241


13 Mortality Flash 271

14 Optional Probability Fields 282

15 Lustration 320

16 Take It as Axiomatic 334

17 Humpty Dumpty's Prerogative 351

Epilogue 375

Appendix A On Morley's Trisector Theorem 393

Appendix B The Lexicode Dictionary 394

Appendix C Surreally 396

Author's Note 403

Acknowledgments 405

A Select Conway Bibliography 409

Bibliography 413

Notes 423

Art Credits 439

Index 441

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