Ilya's Reviews > A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
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Dec 27, 10


John Forbes Nash was born in a small town in West Virginia in 1928 to an engineer and a former schoolteacher. He did well in school, and sufficiently well in college (the future Carnegie Mellon University) to be called a genius by his teachers. As a graduate student in Princeton, he developed game theory beyond what the founder of the field, John von Neumann, could do, and did important work in analysis and algebraic geometry; he also behaved in a very eccentric and immature manner. After graduating, Nash worked as a lecturer at MIT; during summers he did consulting at RAND (Dr. Strangelove's alma mater), but was stripped of his security clearance after being arrested for indecent exposure. Nash fathered a son by a nurse from New England he decided not to marry, and later married a Salvadoran student and fathered another son by her. However, he began to go crazy around the time of his wife's pregnancy in 1959; when offered a permanent position by the University of Chicago, he replied that he could not accept it because he was scheduled to become the Emperor of Antarctica. During the next 30 years he was mentally ill, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, in and out of psychiatric hospitals but having occasional periods of lucidity, during which he wrote more mathematical papers. In Luxembourg he tried to surrender his American passport, but embassy officials talked him out of it, realizing that they were dealing with a sick man. In the 1990s Nash recovered, and he continues to work as a research mathematician in Princeton. Nash's younger son, however, is also a paranoid schizophrenic, but he received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Rutgers despite his illness. In 1994 Nash was co-awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in game theory; this created an interest in his life that resulted in this biography and a film with the same name, though there are many inaccuracies in the film. Game theory, which von Neumann and Nash cofounded, lives on; the FCC's auction of the electromagnetic spectrum in 1994 was designed using its results, and it brought the U.S. government $7 billion, though similar auctions in Australia and New Zealand were spectacular failures.
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