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A Beautiful Mind: Genius and Schizophrenia in the Life of John Nash Paperback – 1 Oct 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; New edition edition (1 Oct. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571197183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571197187
  • Product Dimensions: 0.3 x 0.3 x 0.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,897,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

A Beautiful Mind in some ways could join the ranks of stories of famously eccentric Princetonians--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. Another much-related story on campus concerns the "Phantom of Fine Hall", a figure many students had seen shuffling around the corridors of the maths and physics building wearing purple sneakers and writing numerology treatises on the blackboards. This was in fact John Nash, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of his generation, who had spiralled 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.

Economist and journalist Sylvia Nasar has written a biography of Nash that looks at all sides of his life. She gives an intelligent, understandable exposition of his mathematical ideas and a picture of schizophrenia that is evocative but decidedly unromantic. Her story of the machinations behind Nash's Nobel is fascinating and one of very few such accounts available in print (the CIA could learn a thing or two from the Nobel committees). This highly recommended book is indeed "a story about the mystery of the human mind, in three acts: genius, madness, reawakening". --Mary Ellen Curtin, Amazon.com --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


Oliver Sacks "A Beautiful Mind" is a splendid book, deeply interesting and extraordinarily moving, remarkable for its sympathetic insights into both genius and schizophrenia. It is equally gripping as a portrait of the mathematical community at Princeton and of Nash's friends and family, and the perhaps crucial part they played in his psychic survival and eventual emergence. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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First Sentence
AMONG JOHN NASH'S EARLIEST MEMORIES is one in which, as a child of about two or three, he is listening to his maternal grandmother play the piano in the front parlor of the old Tazewell Street house, high on a breezy hill overlooking the city of Bluefield, West Virginia. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Brian Sloan on 8 July 2002
Format: Paperback
Nasar provides an exhaustive account of the life of John F. Nash, Jr, who is perhaps one of the great geniuses of the past century, and could have been greater still if paranoid schizophrenia had not intervened.
What is so important about this work is that Nasar is equally skilled in communicating the extent of Nash's illness and the significance of his battle against it as she is in communicating the extent of his mathematical genius. She does not simply examine Nash, but also the effect that Nash had on those around him, whether positive or negative. Although it is blatantly obvious that Nash is a hero of Nasar's, she is certainly not afraid to criticise specific actions or attitudes of his when she feels that such criticism is justified. Perhaps the most potent examples of this occur when Nash's personal life is described in a large amount of detail. This produces a tremendously balanced, no-holds-barred, biography.
The fact that this book shares its title with Ron Howard's latest film is misleading to some extent, since this book devles much deeper than a two-hour film ever could. So, even if you have seen the film, as I had, you will be shocked and captivated by new revelations about Nash, and come away with a much more complete picture of the man. The sheer volume of the footnotes at the end of the book is a testament both to its accuracy and the effort that Nasar invested in it.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 21 Mar. 2002
Format: Paperback
I went with dubious mind to see the film. Being a psychology student i could see a certain appeal to its core subject however. I was blown away.
Both accurate and moving, the book provides a detailed and facinating account of a great, yet flawed man. This adds a human element to the events told. In fact 'told' is too simple a word to describe the painstaking lengths that must have gone into this accomplishment.
The book was a joy to read from start to finish, and ANYONE with a passing interest in the way the mind works or how genius is attained, should certainly read this book as soon as possible.
Cannot be higher recommended!
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By OllyOctopus on 9 Mar. 2003
Format: Paperback
The size of this book may seem overpowering, but do not, as I did, think it will be too cumbersome to just sit and read. Nash's world of mathematicians grabbed me immediately as they were all such interesting characters. I was intrigued to read of names I'd heard like Einstein - and see how these geniuses fitted together. The author has researched endlessly about the mathematical theorists, and explains their theories in a layperson's terms. But the star of the book is of course, John Nash. He is not always likeable, but he is always fascinating. The title sums him up perfectly. His "beautiful mind" was in his youth, above the rest of us, and he needed praise and stimulation. I was glad to learn more of the games theory which was covered in the film, and feel I have learned something valuable from the explanations. Nash's breakdown is described without sentimentality so that the reader feels even more the subject, knowing his potential. Schizophrenia has become more undertandable for me now I have read about a real person, and I can feel the torment he must have felt trying to suppress the delusions. This is one of the best biographies I have ever read, and recommend it to anyone who likes to feel they have learned something from their reading.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By "mattandabbi" on 10 Feb. 2004
Format: Paperback
I have not seen the film by Ron Howard and I must admit that I knew nothing of John Nash prior to reading this book. My main reason for reading A Beautiful Mind, was an interest in mental illnesses that impede with such catastrophic affect upon people's lives, an interest that stems from reading several books by Oliver Sacks. In this sense I misinterpreted the book's main objective.
Sylvia Nasar's aim has been to document Nash's life from his earliest childhood, and she does so with such a sense of time and place that the reader is immediately enthralled. It is not, as I had assumed before reading it, a book that sets out to expose a hidden truth of Schizophrenia or Mathematics. It is the story of a man whose character and ideas struggled to find a place in the world; a genius who was forced to live through the most debilitating of mental illnesses, to emerge to belated credit for his achievements. Although Mathematics is a central feature of the story, Nasar only touches on the substance of Nash's theories, focussing instead on their impact on the Mathematics and Economics communities, and his own mind. The same is true of Nasar's approach to Schizophrenia; there are no real medical descriptions of the illness, but her depictions of life for the schizophrenic and those around them, has a depth and clarity that goes beyond any medical diagnosis. The undertones of predisposition and of defining the borders between illness and health are carefully managed throughout the book and leave the reader, if not wiser, certainly more open-minded.
The volume of research, (easily assessed by a quick flick through the notes), Nasar invested in her book is truly impressive and the result is a biography that deserves the acclaim it has won.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Captain Cook on 9 July 2004
Format: Paperback
This biography of the Nobel Prize winner and schizophrenic mathematical genius John Forbes Nash surprisingly brings to mind the main character in Dostoyevsky's great novel, "Crime and Punishment." Like the intense, reclusive student, Raskolnikov, Nash in this biography comes across as an extremely anti-social and arrogant young man, convinced that his genius gives him certain rights and freedoms beyond the petty restrictions, rules, and manners that govern normal human conduct.
But whereas Dostoyevsky's character commits a murder, Nash's main offense is merely to be an arrogant and boorish lout, forever trying to show off to his fellow students at Princeton. When he is later struck down by mental illness after achieving so much so young, we can't help feeling there is an element of hubris involved.
Nash also fits into the popular paradigm of the lop-sided genius, the person of incredible talents who can't deal with the simpler aspects of daily life. As in the case of the notoriously absent-minded Albert Einstein -- whom Nash meets in the book -- or the equally eccentric Isaac Newton, we somehow feel reassured that these supreme geniuses have their weaknesses. For all these reasons, this is a story that resonates on a mythic and psychological level. We keep rooting for Nash, but also secretly look forward to him tripping up. This reflects the ambivalent attitude to the sciences that most people have -- we are both intrigued by new discoveries but afraid of their ramifications.
Around the age of 30, Nash's quest to find greater meaning in the Universe sparked off his insanity as he started to discern complex codes implanted by extra-terrestrials in the random occurrence of certain letters of the alphabet in daily life.
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