Excerpt from A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Beautiful Mind

The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash

by Sylvia Nasar

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
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  • First Published:
    Jun 1998, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2001, 464 pages

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It is highly unlikely, however, that many people outside this intellectual Olympus would have become privy to these developments, dramatic as they appeared to Princeton insiders, if not for another scene, which also took place on these grounds at the end of the first week of October 1994.

A mathematics seminar was just breaking up. Nash, who now regularly attended such gatherings and sometimes even asked a question or offered some conjecture, was about to duck out. Harold Kuhn, a mathematics professor at the university and Nash's closest friend, caught up with him at the door. Kuhn had telephoned Nash at home earlier that day and suggested that the two of them might go for lunch after the talk. The day was so mild, the outdoors so inviting, the Institute woods so brilliant, that the two men wound up sitting on a bench opposite the mathematics building, at the edge of a vast expanse of lawn, in front of a graceful little Japanese fountain.

Kuhn and Nash had known each other for nearly fifty years. They had both been graduate students at Princeton in the late 1940s, shared the same professors, known the same people, traveled in the same elite mathematical circles. They had not been friends as students, but Kuhn, who spent most of his career in Princeton, had never entirely lost touch with Nash and had, as Nash became more accessible, managed to establish fairly regular contact with him. Kuhn is a shrewd, vigorous, sophisticated man who is not burdened with "the mathematical personality." Not a typical academic, passionate about the arts and liberal political causes, Kuhn is as interested in other people's lives as Nash is remote from them. They were an odd couple, connected not by temperament or experience but by a large fund of common memories and associations.

Kuhn, who had carefully rehearsed what he was going to say, got to the point quickly. "I have something to tell you, John," he began. Nash, as usual, refused to look Kuhn in the face at first, staring instead into the middle distance. Kuhn went on. Nash was to expect an important telephone call at home the following morning, probably around six o'clock. The call would come from Stockholm. It would be made by the Secretary General of the Swedish Academy of Sciences. Kuhn's voice suddenly became hoarse with emotion Nash now turned his head, concentrating on every word. "He's going to tell you, John," Kuhn concluded, "that you have won a Nobel Prize."

This is the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. It is a story about the mystery of the human mind, in three acts: genius, madness, reawakening.

Copyright © 1998 by Sylvia Nasar.

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