I have recently finished a fascinating biography called A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar. A 388 page journey through John Forbes Nash Jr.’s life this book is “… a staggering feat of writing and reporting” (according to Michael J. Mandel of Business Week. After reading this “simply… beautiful book,” (Marcia Bartusiak of the Boston Globe), my favorite part of this book is how the author took many, many interviews of people and made that flow with her telling of Nash’s life. By this I mean that to use some many quotes from a variety of people and to use your own words as well looks extremely challenging. I could not put down this inspirational revealing of how a man could suffer an incurable mental illness only to come out as a better man… truly a great book.
A Beautiful Mind begins with a prologue. This prologue introduces you to John Nash, a mathematical genius from an early age. The prologue gives a brief overview of the story, leaving a reader ready to begin the book. Each chapter is of a different age in Nash’s life.
John Forbes Nash Jr.’s story starts at the in the midst of Nash’s childhood. Nash is socially awkward to the extreme. He is reluctant, even resistant to play with other kids his age. Nash wants to be alone. On the school side however, Nash begins to show a strong interest in mathematics at age 14, when he read Men of Mathematics, by E.T. Bell, a challenging mathematics book. Throughout his childhood Nash rejects friends, but his genius in mathematics begins to grow. The following pages talk about Nash’s college and under graduate life, a gigantic portion of the book. The author explains the “impossible” problems that Nash solved (which eventually earned him a Nobel Prize in economics). The sad, and even disappointing turn in Nash’s life comes, when Nash at the prime of his career, 30, is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental illness in which you become delusional. This is incurable and only a small percentage, (8-10%), recover. John Nash eventually recovers, after 30 years of disease, to win his Nobel Prize in the newly established category: economics.
In the following passage the author gives information on how others viewed Nash when he was delusional at Princeton in the 1970s…
“Eventually, some sophomore or junior would clue in the newcomer that the author of the messages, aka the Phantom, was a mathematical genius who had ‘flipped’ while giving a lecture; while trying to solve an impossibly difficult problem; after discovering that someone else had scooped him a major result;or upon learning that his wife has fallen in love with a mathematical rival. He had friends in high places at the university, the older student would add. Students were not to bother him.
Among the students, the Phantom was ofter held as a cautionary figure: Anybody who was too much of a grind or who lacked social graces was warned that he or she was ‘going to wind up like the Phantom.’ Yet if a new student complained that having him around made hum feel uncomfortable, he was immediately warned: ‘He was a better mathematician than you’ll ever be!'” (Page 332-333)
I chose this passage because of how it shows Nash. I think the author did a fantastic job depicting what the public thought of Nash. The way the author described Nash was not as a third person, but as another character with Nash. This book was an incredible read. I rate this book a nine out of ten for how well the author presented the life of a genius, a mathematician, a Nobel Prize winner.