Book Review: Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind

The story of John Nash, the brilliant mathematician who solved a number of interesting problems in game theory, descended into madness haunting the corridors of Princeton for years, and then, incredibly, regained a level of sanity and was awarded the goddamn Nobel Prize. It’s a hell of a story. And it raises a number of interesting questions. Was Nash’s mathematical brilliance tied to his madness? Did it bring him into his illness? Did it (as Nash himself thought) help bring him out of it? Must a genius be difficult? When do we excuse a man’s eccentricities and when do we question them as early signs of illness?  Nasar discusses all of this and more (including Nash’s sexuality, his class arrogance, and his mathematical work) in this fascinating biography. But wisely, she doesn’t try to answer the questions.

She couldn’t. None of us, not even Nash could.

I sympathize with Nash’s plight as told here, but I feel even more for the women in his life who he treated so horribly. The mother of his first child, Eleanor Stier,  who he abandoned, with a young child, and his second wife, Alicia Lopez-Harrison de Lardé, who stuck by him through very, very difficult times and to whom he was often cruel. Loving a person with these issues must be incredibly hard. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

All in all a fascinating story of a difficult, troubled, brilliant, man. Perhaps not an “important” book, but an interesting one. Added bonus: brief appearance by Von Neumann (who I have a bit of a man crush on).

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Nash in Later Life

 

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Poundstone’s Fortune’s Formula

Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street
William Poundstone

A book about the mathematical aspects of gambling, whether it be on Wall Street, or in the casino, this is a smart, playful book full of an eccentric mix of gangsters, MIT professors and business people who have used a variety of methods to get rich by playing the odds. Poundstone is a great writer — all his works are worth tracking down. Here he takes a complicated mathematical idea, explains it simply, and tells the story through compelling real life characters.
A much better book than the over hyped Bringing Down the House.
Recommended for the enthusiast.