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John Von Neumann

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  187 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Presents the biography of John von Neumann, one of the greatest scientist of the century after Einstein. This book discusses Von Neumann's work in areas such as game theory, mathematics, physics, and meteorology which formed the building blocks for the most important discoveries of the century: the modern computer, game theory, and the atom bomb. ...more
Paperback, 406 pages
Published October 15th 1999 by American Mathematical Society (first published October 6th 1992)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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 ·  187 ratings  ·  26 reviews

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Nick Black
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
Amazon 2008-05-31. Ugh...the reviews of this one were rough, but I tried to ignore them. First off, the book has a weird appearance. Let's not count that against it, but the odd shape yielded a much longer read than the 400 pages suggest. Furthermore, I'd have liked to have seen good ol' comforting Computer Modern or CM-Super used in the typesetting of the American Mathematical Society -- the (irritatingly unlisted) typeface was rather tiring on the glazzies. But I digress.

Macrae's editor notica
Alexander Polsky
Mar 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
John von Neumann is a subject deserving a great biography, one of the most important minds of the 20th century. This isn't that biography, sadly.

Norman Macrae was a well respected economist and editor at the Economist in London, and should have been in the position to write something excellent. Instead this reads like a phone-it-in work of lazy scholarship, relying on the superlatives associated with the subject rather than actually doing the work required to produce a biography commensurate wit
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
John von Neumann was one of the preeminent scientists and thinkers of the second quarter of the twentieth century. This is nearly the only full-length biography of him; it doesn't quite do him justice but it's the best available.

The book's style is breezy and digressive; the author intrudes regularly. The book was started by another author and then finished by Macrae; it leans heavily on secondary sources like Richard Rhodes, Ulam's memoir, etc. However, the family did cooperate in the project a
Alan Parker
Interesting biography of a genius, but an irritating author, who keeps intruding, for self-congratulating comments, because his political ideas coincide of those of Neumann.
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting portrait of one of the geniuses of the 20th century, important contributor to Allied success in WWII, and to the emerging computer age. The author portrays Von Neumann's whirlwind of brilliance affecting all with whom he came into contact in a myriad of fields. I was struck, as well, by the characterization of the culture of early 20th-century Budapest and its continuing influence on Von Neumann's work. I followed this book with a biography of Von Neumann collaborator, competitor, ...more
Dan Slimmon
Not a bad biography. Certainly not rife with technical detail about Von Neumann's work, but then it isn't meant to be.

I do think that the writer, excited to have similar political views to those of a true genius, gets a little too excited about defending Von Neumann from detractors – most of which are strawmen anyway.
William Hearst
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an academic biography. So the prose is a bit plodding, and stiff; and the sequence of life events reads like a timeline, rather than a life lived. However ... the personality, mind, and accomplishments of JvN are so magnificent that the pages keep turning. Until a few years ago thee was no really good biography of Enrico Fermi - now there are two very good ones. Took some 60 years to consider Fermi properly. It may take another 60 years before JvN gets a first rate biography. In the mean ...more
Nov 28, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first 5-7 chapters were a brilliant look into the environment and mind of a young prodigy. I didn't expect much going into it. That said I did have a few questions before I started:

1. How and why was John Von Neumann so brilliant?
2. What was the extent of his work.

The first was answered really well in the first 5 chapters. The second... not so much. You do get glimmers of what he was involved in, but one never gets to what extent he made any groundbreaking contributions. They are merely impl
Ahmet Akur
Feb 04, 2021 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vidur Kapur
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
A well-structured, largely captivating biography of one of the most intelligent people to have ever lived.

The author’s political comments were occasionally irritating (even when they were sentiments I shared), but apart from that the book gives one almost everything one could wish for in a biography: amusing anecdotes, but also an accessible exposition of the subject’s work. The earlier chapters, which charted the influence of von Neumann’s upbringing on his eventual academic path, were perhaps
Øystein Sjølie
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good biography on a mathematical genius, embodying world history in the first half of the 20th century. From a privileged upbringing in an intellectual Jewish family in Budapest, von Neumann studied simultaneously in Berlin and Zurich. In the late 1920s, he fled Europe for the US, anticipating the worst from the aspiring Nazis. He contributed to revolutionize physics and nuclear research, and played an invaluable part in the development of modern computers. He also made ground-breaking research ...more
Emanuele Gemelli
Mar 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: e-reader
One of the worst biographies I have ever read; the Author's presence feels too big, sidelining the main character of the story (it's a biography!). It's a pity because the character is fascinating and a deeper and more refined discussion of the discoveries would have made more justice to Von Neumann. ...more
Diego Arredondo
Jun 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I never think about such a brilliant mind, how much there is to learn about, those mysterious fellows from that little country. The brilliant father that nurture that amazing mind. I can't do nothing more than try to follow some , at least one, step .
At the end, the history of someone who taught me to keep thinking, keep learning. I'm humbled
Ian Welke
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
Interesting subject matter, terrible writing.
Dawn Drain
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I shared dozens of von Neumann anecdotes in the weeks and months after reading this book. The man is a legend.
Jul 26, 2020 rated it liked it
The first few chapters are great but then the quality quickly deteriorates. Still offers a great look at von Neumann and other academics though.
Sandy Maguire
The first two chapters of this are fantastically inspiring. The first talks in detail about how von Neumann looked at the world, and approached problems. The second describes his unusual upbringing, and it's something I plan to reread when I'm expecting a child. Five of out five stars for this first bit.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book isn't able to keep up. Unlike Feynman, von Neumann turns out to just not have been a very interesting character. Sure, he was brilliant, but the author is quic
Mar 20, 2011 rated it liked it
I've been somewhat fascinated by John von Neumann ever since I heard of him so I was almost certain to get a lot from this book, which I did. However, it isn't without it's flaws.

The amount of time spent recounting names, dates, times etc. seems excessive despite their important place in a biography. The author regularly refers back to people who haven't been mentioned in a long time as if they'd only just been introduced, requiring a constant flitting back and forth between the index which brea
Tim Holme
Nov 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
von Neumann was an important and charismatic genius who left an imprint across a wide array of fields. It was interesting to hear about his childhood development, where he was raised among the world elites at the time in Budapest (who knew?). His life also is a lens into some of the important trends of the 20th century: the uprooting of the entire Physics community from Europe to America due to Nazism, and trends of the cold war and Atomic Age like computing, game theory, and deterrence.

Roger Blakesley
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
An extremely informative book on one of the great minds of the last few hundred years. He had a life unfortunately shortened by atomic radiation. But his accomplishments were stupendous and the book reflects that. It defers attacks from von Neumann's enemies. Some of the darker things might have been nice to know; but it was not a whitewash of von Neumann either.

The author refers to von Neumann as "Johnny" throughout, and I found that distracting and disrespectful in such a biography. But the au
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Johnny worked till the last day of his life, thinking and inventing all the time. This book fascinatingly shows his role in the development of the computer and many other things. Surprising how involved with the military he was, and certain concepts made me reconsider my pacifist philosophy. A life with so strong a statement: to be alive and curious.
Clayton Brannon
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Extraordinary read about a great American scientist. So much of todays technology rest upon the mathematical skills of this one man. Genius. For superior to anyone of his time including Einstein and many others.
Luis Martinez
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Man's are from Mars! ...more
Sep 25, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was so dryly written, making it almost impossible to read, which is too bad, because I wanted to get excited about math geniuses.
Jul 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
the writing could have been better, but i enjoyed reading this book immensely. i felt a bit like the kid i was when i read the chapter on syd barrett in a book on pink floyd. :)
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
A good overview blend of history, science, and mathematics. This book can easily be a springboard into further investigations in any of these areas.
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23 likes · 8 comments
“The most important use to which he had put his memory was that he had stuffed an unprecedented number of mathematical constants and equations into it. Most of us have very few mathematical constants in our mind, perhaps only the up-to-twelve-times multiplication table. Johnny had put in his mind layers and layers of algebraic verities. These were the explanation of his extraordinary powers of mental calculation.” 0 likes
“His powers of memory were awe-inspiring, but only about matters on which he had fearsomely concentrated his mind.” 0 likes
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