[SIGCIS-Members] The Man from the Future by Ananyo Bhattacharya review – the life of John von Neumann
brian.randell at newcastle.ac.uk
Thu Oct 28 04:14:22 PDT 2021
My attention has just been drawn to the review in The Guardian of " The Man from the Future" by Ananyo Bhattacharya.
An expert on everything from game theory to Byzantine history, the inspiration for Dr Strangelove was as brilliant as he was dangerous.
"A quaint and ceremonious village of puny demigods on stilts,” wrote Albert Einstein to the queen of Belgium. It was November 1933 and Einstein had been in Princeton, New Jersey, for just a month having left Europe after the Nazis’ rise to power. The celebrated physicist wasn’t referring to the ordinary citizens of the famous university town but to some of his new colleagues.
Einstein’s recruitment by the Institute for Advanced Study was like a modern-day star signing for a football club backed by a Russian oligarch. His presence there soon attracted a stellar collection of mathematicians. The brightest of these was a 30-year-old Hungarian.
John von Neumann was a mathematical prodigy who published his first paper at 18. As far removed from the caricature of the bookish, socially awkward mathematician as possible, he was a charming, party-loving, hard-drinking raconteur who mastered ancient Greek, Latin, French, German, English and Hungarian as a child growing up in Budapest. He was also capable of chillingly cold calculation, and an attitude to human life in the context of the cold war that can seem breathtaking in its ruthlessness. Nevertheless, despite being the real-life model for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, he helped usher in the computer age.
There was certainly no doubt about his intellect. To entertain his friends, he would recite verbatim passages from books read years before. An unnamed historian, so the story goes, would only attend one of Von Neumann’s legendary parties if they didn’t discuss Byzantine history, since he wanted to maintain his reputation as the world’s foremost expert.
Full story at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/oct/13/the-man-from-the-future-by-ananyo-bhattacharya-review-the-life-of-john-von-neumann
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