A Beautiful Mind

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In this powerful and dramatic biography Sylvia Nasar vividly recreates the life of a mathematical genius whose career was cut short by schizophrenia and who, after three decades of devastating mental illness, miraculously recovered and was honored with a Nobel Prize.

“How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?” the visitor from Harvard asked the West Virginian with the movie-star looks and Olympian manner. “Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did,” came the answer. “So I took them seriously.”

Thus begins the true story of John Nash, the mathematical genius who was a legend by age thirty when he slipped into madness, and who—thanks to the selflessness of a beautiful woman and the loyalty of the mathematics community—emerged after decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel Prize for triggering the game theory revolution. The inspiration for an Academy Award–winning movie, Sylvia Nasar’s now-classic biography is a drama about the mystery of the human mind, triumph over adversity, and the healing power of love.
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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.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Jul 12, 2011
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Pages
464
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ISBN
9781439126493
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / General
Biography & Autobiography / Science & Technology
Mathematics / Game Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In a sweeping narrative, the author of the megabestseller A Beautiful Mind takes us on a journey through modern history with the men and women who changed the lives of every single person on the planet. It’s the epic story of the making of modern economics, and of how economics rescued mankind from squalor and deprivation by placing its material fate in its own hands rather than in Fate.

Nasar’s account begins with Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew observing and publishing the condition of the poor majority in mid-nineteenth-century London, the richest and most glittering place in the world. This was a new pursuit. She describes the often heroic efforts of Marx, Engels, Alfred Marshall, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, and the American Irving Fisher to put those insights into action—with revolutionary consequences for the world.

From the great John Maynard Keynes to Schumpeter, Hayek, Keynes’s disciple Joan Robinson, the influential American economists Paul Samuelson and Milton Freedman, and India’s Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, she shows how the insights of these activist thinkers transformed the world—from one city, London, to the developed nations in Europe and America, and now to the entire planet. In Nasar’s dramatic narrative of these discoverers we witness men and women responding to personal crises, world wars, revolutions, economic upheavals, and each other’s ideas to turn back Malthus and transform the dismal science into a triumph over mankind’s hitherto age-old destiny of misery and early death. This idea, unimaginable less than 200 years ago, is a story of trial and error, but ultimately transcendent, as it is rendered here in a stunning and moving narrative.
Should you watch public television without pledging?...Exceed the posted speed limit?...Hop a subway turnstile without paying? These questions illustrate the so-called "prisoner's dilemma", a social puzzle that we all face every day. Though the answers may seem simple, their profound implications make the prisoner's dilemma one of the great unifying concepts of science. Watching players bluff in a poker game inspired John von Neumann—father of the modern computer and one of the sharpest minds of the century—to construct game theory, a mathematical study of conflict and deception. Game theory was readily embraced at the RAND Corporation, the archetypical think tank charged with formulating military strategy for the atomic age, and in 1950 two RAND scientists made a momentous discovery.

Called the "prisoner's dilemma," it is a disturbing and mind-bending game where two or more people may betray the common good for individual gain. Introduced shortly after the Soviet Union acquired the atomic bomb, the prisoner's dilemma quickly became a popular allegory of the nuclear arms race. Intellectuals such as von Neumann and Bertrand Russell joined military and political leaders in rallying to the "preventive war" movement, which advocated a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. Though the Truman administration rejected preventive war the United States entered into an arms race with the Soviets and game theory developed into a controversial tool of public policy—alternately accused of justifying arms races and touted as the only hope of preventing them.

A masterful work of science writing, Prisoner's Dilemma weaves together a biography of the brilliant and tragic von Neumann, a history of pivotal phases of the cold war, and an investigation of game theory's far-reaching influence on public policy today. Most important, Prisoner's Dilemma is the incisive story of a revolutionary idea that has been hailed as a landmark of twentieth-century thought.
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