Author: Sylvia Nasar
Genre: Biography, Non-fiction
Stories of famously eccentric Princetonians abound–such as that of chemist Hubert Alyea, the model for The Absent-Minded Professor, or Ralph Nader, said to have had his own key to the library as an undergraduate. Or the “Phantom of Fine Hall,” a figure many students had seen shuffling around the corridors of the math and physics building wearing purple sneakers and writing numerology treatises on the blackboards. The Phantom was John Nash, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of his generation, who had spiraled into schizophrenia in the 1950s. His most important work had been in game theory, which by the 1980s was underpinning a large part of economics. When the Nobel Prize committee began debating a prize for game theory, Nash’s name inevitably came up–only to be dismissed, since the prize clearly could not go to a madman. But in 1994 Nash, in remission from schizophrenia, shared the Nobel Prize in economics for work done some 45 years previously.
I saw the movie that was based on the book first. I loved it so much that I decided to pick this one up. While I knew that the book would be better than the movie (it always is!), I was not prepared to tackle the fact that the movie was nothing like the book! While the movie focused on sensationalising the delusions and the paranoia, the book went many levels down and tackled the issues and the events that were actually important.
The book takes you on a journey of the life of the extraordinary man, John Nash. Since the story begins right at the birth, we come to understand the kind of person that he is. I appreciate the fact that the book paints the good, the bad and the ugly all with the same brush. This helps us to come to know exactly what kind of a person John Nash was.
A beautiful mind is more on the fact that if a person really puts his mind to it, he can come out of a disease that was presumably incurable than the mathematical as well as the economic contributions. The book deals more with the life events than the mathematical equations. I was hoping to read something about how he came upon the Game Theory as well as other discoveries that he made in the field, but I suppose the reason it was omitted was that the field in which Nash worked was so abstract that it would have put off many readers.
The book also focuses on the society’s idea of mental illnesses at the time and the kind of treatment that was meted out to people who suffered from it. It got me thinking that if a person with so many high connections would have to face such a treatment, what about the people who had nobody to back them?
I rate this book a perfect 4 out of 4.