“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.
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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
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
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
Appendix A On Morley's Trisector Theorem 393
Appendix B The Lexicode Dictionary 394
Appendix C Surreally 396
Author's Note 403
A Select Conway Bibliography 409
Art Credits 439