A Beautiful Mind Summary

Sylvia Nasar

A Beautiful Mind

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A Beautiful Mind Summary

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A Beautiful Mind (1998) by Sylvia Nasar, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, is an unauthorised biography of the Nobel Prize-winning economist and mathematician, John Forbes Nash, Jr. Although there was considerable controversy surrounding the work, as it was unauthorised by Nash, it was a largely successful book, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography. It was on the New York Times Best Seller list for biography, and was shortlisted for the Rhône-Poulenc Prize in 1999. In 2001, it was adapted into a film, which won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for 2001.

John Forbes Nash Jr. was born June 13, 1928, in Bluefield, West Virginia. His father, John Nash Sr., was an electrical engineer who had left Texas to work for the Appalachian Power Company in Bluefield, where he met, and in 1924 married, Margaret Virginia Martin. Both educated, John and Virginia were loving parents to Nash and his sister Martha, born in 1930. Nothing in his early life suggested that Nash Jr. would later struggle with illness. He was a healthy, handsome child, although quiet and introverted. His mother taught him to read, and closely kept track of his progress at school. Nash was a difficult pupil, prone to constant talking and an indifference to the rules. He tended to be a loner, preferring to stay alone and read, or to perform experiments, rather than play sports or interact socially with his peers.

When Nash was thirteen or fourteen, he read E. T. Bell’s book of biographical sketches, Men of Mathematics. Bell gave vivid accounts of mathematical problems, and wrote an essay on Pierre de Fermat and number theory. These deeply appealed to the youthful Nash,who was set well apart from his high school peers by his precociousness and mean practical jokes. While still in high school, he attended Bluefield College,where he excelled. He did so well that he was accepted at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and won a full scholarship, one of only ten Westinghouse awards given nationally.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Nash decided to become an electrical engineer. By his second year at Carnegie, he had switched his major to mathematics, where he was recognised as a genius. These years were difficult for Nash socially, given his awkwardness and attraction to other boys. Although he was often ridiculed, his teachers nurtured his mind so well he was accepted into graduate programs at Harvard, Princeton, Chicago, and Michigan. He chose Princeton, continuing on to earn his master’s degree. During the summers, Nash worked as a consultant at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California—a position he kept for four years until he was arrested for indecent exposure.

Nash was deeply interested in games and wrote his thesis developing the Nash equilibrium. In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in the development of game theory.Although everyone acknowledged Nash’s genius, most considered him strange and socially inept. He was not well-liked and would play childish pranks on people, as well as belittle them.

Nash eventually secured a position teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had an affair with Eleanor Stier at this time, and fathered his first son, John David Stier, but he refused to marry Eleanor. A short while later, he married Alicia Larde and had his second son, John Charles Martin. Unfortunately, it is around this time that his mental health deteriorated, and he was hospitalized for the first of many times. Nash was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, believing that aliens were sending signals to him from outer space in an attempt to recruit Nash to save the world. This tragic mental illness interrupted what had been a brilliant and successful career.

After this hospitalization, Nash was never able to teach again. Over the next few years of his life, he roamed the halls of Princeton, writing on blackboards. Despite not being very social or likeable, he had many friends in the mathematics field that respected his genius; these peers offered him short-term research projects during the periods that he was well enough to work. In the 1980s, John Forbes Nash Jr. began to show some signs of recovery. He was lucid enough to start discussing mathematics again. Tragically, by this time, his youngest son, John Charles Martin, displaying signs of the hereditary schizophrenia, was already hospitalized.