A Beautiful Mind : A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, 1994

by Sylvia Nasar

Hardcover, ?




The true story of John Nash, the math genius who was a legend by age thirty when he slipped into madness; through the selflessness of a beautiful woman and the loyalty of the mathematics community he emerged after decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel Prize; now a major motion picture--Cover.

Media reviews

Sylvia Nasar, an economics correspondent for the New York Times, presents the life "without theory" of John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematical genius and inventor of theories of rational behavior, who was a Wunderkind at Princeton when it was populated by the likes of Albert Einstein, John von Neumann and other 20th century luminaries.

User reviews

LibraryThing member SLuce
Listened to the book on tape. Very impressive but way over my head when it goes into the math. Great book. Much better than the movie
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
It’s a biography of Nash- a Nobel Prize winner in Economics- with an extensive scientific background featuring not only Nash, but other mathematicians and their theories as well. Nash himself appears to be a naturally born mathematical genius who was a weird and pretty annoying character in his early life. As the saying goes, genius and insanity are often two sides of the same coin, so just as the recognition of his genius reached its heights, Nash succumbed to schizophrenia in his thirties, and only emerged from it thirty years later, just in time to be awarded a Nobel Prize in economics (not without contention). There is no Nobel prize in math.
I was very impressed with how the mathematicians Nash worked with rallied behind him and kept him intellectually alive through the course of his illness (for thirty years!). But, I can’t even imagine the anguish of his wife who had to cope with Nash and then with their own brilliant son succumbing to the same disease even earlier in life than her husband. Naser’s research into schizophrenia and the available treatments was interesting as well.
What was done with mentally ill people in the fifties and sixties chills your blood though.
I really enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone with interest in science. The movie, on the other hand, was a sheer disappointment that had very little in common with Nash, or the book.
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LibraryThing member melydia
This is another book I picked up because I liked the movie. I liked the book, too, but was a little disappointed to learn how little resemblance there is between the two. For example, neither Nash's college roommate nor his tendency to draw on windows were mentioned in the book, while Nash's homosexuality and illegitimate son were left out of the movie. Once I realized that there was such a huge disparity, however, I was able to appreciate them as separate works. This biography of mathematician John Nash, Nobel Laureate and recovered schizophrenic, was simply fascinating. It manages a balance between the mathematics and the insanity without becoming either too dry or too sensationalist. I kind of wish there had been a cast of characters listing somewhere to keep all the names straight, but by and large I had no trouble following it. In short, I enjoyed it. However, if you're just looking for a glimpse inside the mind of a schizophrenic, give this one a pass. Nash's specific delusions are not described in depth, and most of the information is secondhand anyway. That said, I would recommend it to people who love a good biography, especially one that reads almost like a novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member bwyatt
This book is an amazing book based on the life of John Nash. John Nash is the greatest mathematical genius of the 20th century. The book reads like a fine novel describing the life of John Nash while explaining important mathematical discoveries at different times in his life. John Nash is no doubt brilliant, yet he lacks in social behavior. At the height of Nash's career while trying to decipher one of the hardest problems in the history of mathematics, Nash goes insane. He believes to be hunted by men in red ties, he believes he is disguised as the Pope on numerous magazine covers, and finally tries to start an international organization posing as the emperor of Antarctica.
This book is amazing to me. I read it not too long ago and loved everything about it.
I would recommed all my students to read this and then we would watch the movie in class together and find all the literary elements in it.
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LibraryThing member ejp1082
There aren't many biographies that have interested me, and there are even fewer that I would highly reccomend. This is one of them.

This is a terrific book that covers an absolutely fascinating subject. The story of John Nash's life is at once amazing, profound, and inspirational.

It's certainly one of those cases where the movie falls far short in comparison; this novel covers his work, his genius, and his painful descent into madness with a depth that shows the movie barely scratched the surface.… (more)
LibraryThing member Alera
This enthralled me in a way I didn't actually think that it would. I picked it up out of pure curiosity, I knew vaguely what it was about, but was not biased by the film which I still haven't seen. But the portrait of John Nash's life was well done. I knew the scene...the state of the world and the state of John himself...which always makes a biography more complete. The motivations and actions of the person more understandable and easier in which to relate. The mathematics was neatly woven throughout and while not a particular fan...I could understand at least vaguely most all that was talked of in that respect..or at least connect it to something I could understand. I think the author did a wonderful job. I thoroughly recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Narshkite
A fascinating look into the way mental illness affects everyone in shooting range and into the fine line between a beautiful mind which thinks in ways no one else can understand and a hideous mind that thinks in ways no one else can understand.
LibraryThing member csayban
4 stars


At first glance, a biography of a mathematician would seem to make for a read dryer than the Sahara. However, John Nash is no ordinary mathematician and Sylvia Nasar is no ordinary biographer. In her capable hands, the life of John Nash comes to life…in all of its brilliant, dark, pessimistic, extraordinary, callous wonder.

John Forbes Nash, Jr. is a mathematical genius whose extraordinary mind developed the structure for what became known as Game Theory – revolutionizing both mathematics and economics in the second half of the twentieth century. The power of his theories culminated with him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics nearly fifty years after his groundbreaking work began. But it came at a heavy price. By the age of thirty, Nash was suffering from his first bouts of paranoid schizophrenia, a disease he would suffer with for three decades. He was institutionalized by his family on several occasions and left for dead by most of the mathematics community.

Left to wander the campus of Princeton University as a “ghost” and a “crazy man,” Nash did the unthinkable – he began recovering from a disease that there was thought to be no recovery from. He even begin to work on mathematics research again. It was a recovery that physiatrists thought was impossible.

A Beautiful Mind is really not about mathematics, but about what it means to be labeled “gifted,” “different” or “sick.” It is about how society treats people who are unusual and how few answers there are for what goes on between someone’s ears. It is also about John’s wife Alicia, who set aside her own desires to try to guide John through a world that had become hostile to him.

Ultimately, Sylvia Nasar succeeds with A Beautiful Mind because she leaves out most of the heavy-handed mathematics and focuses on who John Nash is and what his life represents. Make no mistake, John Nash not a lovable person. He is rude, thoughtless, self-centered and egotistical – all the things we don’t like in a person. His genius is both a gift and a curse.

Yet, we cheer for him the whole way because there is an innocence about him; a childlike quality of someone who doesn’t quite understand other people but has to function within society none-the-less. And it is a society of the 1950s and 1960s with little understanding or tolerance for mental illness. His story also gives us hope that no matter how hopeless a person’s situation may seem, here is an example of someone who was able to climb out of that hole and rejoin life and be happy again. That is what makes John Nash’s story so important – it demonstrates that anyone’s life can be turned around. It demonstrates hope. It demonstrates redemption. It is a story well worth your time.
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LibraryThing member kawgirl
By far better than the movie. There are many more details and the book is more about what happened than creating a story. I read the book before I saw the movie and was glad that I had.
LibraryThing member GMac
Relates how mathematical genius John Forbes Nash, Jr., suffered a breakdown at age thirty-one and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but experienced a remission of his illness thirty years later.
LibraryThing member wispywillow
A Beautiful Mind

"A legend by the age of thirty, recognized as a mathematical genius even as he slipped into madness, John Nash emerged after decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel Prize and world acclaim." ~ from cover of book

Though not a good selection for someone looking for a quick and light read, A Beautiful Mind is an intense biography of John F. Nash, Jr., a mathematician who rubbed elbows with the likes of John von Neumann and Albert Einstein. His arrogance was outweighed by his eccentric genius, which eventually won him a Nobel Prize in economics.

Before this award, however, Nash slowly lost his grip with reality and, by his thirties, fell into full-blown schizophrenia.

I have no particular interest in the field of mathematics. Nevertheless, I found this biography fascinating and poignant despite its occasional slow parts. Perhaps because biographies/autobiographies deal with the lives of real people, I overlook the "slow parts" by simply remembering that I am a voyeur into someone's life. Now that I have read the book, I have added the movie starring Russell Crowe to the top of my Netflix queue :)
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LibraryThing member Ix0x0L
This book was great. I am very partial to any writing that accurately depicts mental illness. The story of John Nash is so intriging. The book was very well researched.
LibraryThing member Angelic55blonde
A great book about a great man who's life is tragic and beautiful all at the same time. I read the book after I saw the movie, and I was not disappointed. Of course I think the book is better than the movie but the movie is amazing as well.
LibraryThing member kris1990
This book is an amazing book based on the life of John Nash. John Nash is the greatest mathematical genius of the 20th century. The book does a fine job describing the life of John Nash while explaining important mathematical discoveries at different times in his life. John Nash is no doubt brilliant, yet he lacks in social behavior. At the height of Nash's career while trying to decipher one of the hardest problems in the history of mathematics, Nash goes insane. He believes to be hunted by men in red ties, he believes he is disguised as the Pope on numerous magazine covers, and finally tries to start an international organization posing as the emperor of Antarctica. I loved this book and it was very interesting to see such an intelligent man stray so far away from his mindset.… (more)
LibraryThing member thegeneral
One of the best books I have ever read. A true warts and all portrayal of John Nash, showing both his greatness and his flaws. I'd highly recommend this to anyone studying or someone who has studied economics or who is engaged in research.
LibraryThing member JBD1
Great book, better than the movie (also fantastic).
LibraryThing member Rhyla
I read this book after having watched the movie. I usually try and do it in the opposite order. It was undoubtedly an interesting read. At times I found it got bogged down in mathematical details that won't make much sense to the majority of people, myself included.
LibraryThing member NellieMc
Wonderful biography, a must read if you liked the movie or want to learn about the intellectual history of the 20th century. Nash's story is more involved (less romantic) and more interesting than the movie (though the acting was spot on). The book has several fascinating themes--the fine line between genius and insanity, how one man can be so cruel (the way he monetarily abandoned his illegitimate son and used his mistress) yet still be so insightful, and the sheer strength that allowed Nash to think his way out of schizophrenia. The story had me from the beginning, when Nasar quotes Nash answering the question, "How could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world", "Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously." The Nash Equilibrium is a must-know concept in behavioral economics--this is a must read book for anyone interested in economic or scientific history, or just wants to read a biography written to the highest standards. (I also recommend buying or viewing the PBS documentary on Nash that was made from this book, he's interviewed in it and seeing the actual man and listening to him illuminate the book's contents even more.)… (more)
LibraryThing member bragan
A biography of the brilliant, eccentric mathematician John Nash, whose career was cut short by a descent into schizophrenia, but who experienced a rare, astonishingly dramatic remission in time to accept the Nobel Prize in economics in 1994. Nasar's writing is simple, with no personal interjections about her research for the book and no gimmicks, but it's effective. She invokes a great sense of understanding and sympathy for Nash without sentimentalizing him or downplaying his character flaws or his sometimes reprehensible treatment of others. Her depiction of Nash's illness and recovery is poignantly bittersweet, and her examination of the arc of his life raises a lot of thought-provoking questions about the possible connections between genius, mental illness, and personality.

This is, by the way, the basis of the movie of the same name. I saw that long enough ago that I don't remember much about it, but I understand that the movie did fudge a number of details and leave quite a few things out. I'm thinking perhaps I ought to watch it again to compare.
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LibraryThing member JaneSteen
Where I got the book: audiobook downloaded from Audible.

I haven't had an Audible subscription for ages but I knew there were some books on there I hadn't listened to. I was surprised to find this one among them. Why, I wondered, had I picked a book about a mathematician I'd personally never heard of? By the time my youngest was in freshman year at high school I could no longer follow what she was doing in math. Actually, that was probably true in 8th grade. Ok, 7th grade. You get the picture? I'm not a mathematician.

Well, I love surprises. I was spellbound by the story of John Nash, who as a young man emerged as one of the most talented mathematicians of his generation. The discussion of how mathematics, especially game theory, was used during the Cold War to plan strategies was beyond fascinating even though I didn't understand it 100%. And then as Nash drew closer to middle age, at the time when he should have been riding the top of the wave, his eccentricity degenerated into outright schizophrenia and cost him his job, his marriage and his rational mind.

And THEN--I feel like one of those commercials, "Wait! There's more!"--after years spent in asylums he somehow managed to emerge from insanity and THEN, something like 40 years after he'd done the work, he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his contribution to game theory. By the end of the book he is living in a fragile balance with his ex-wife, still seeing his mathematical friends and caring for a son with schizophrenia. And, most striking of all, he is a much nicer person after his harrowing experience with insanity than he was as an arrogant wunderkind. Nasar provides a very complete, warts-and-all picture of a human thinking machine.

This was the abridged version, which was a pity. One day I'll seek out the full version and read it, or listen to it, again. The narrator, by the way, one Edward Hermann, was one of the best I've heard recently; an unremarkable voice in a way but a reading that was as smooth as silk with absolutely NO annoying mannerisms of speech.
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LibraryThing member soniaandree
Contrary to what the movie may lead people to believe, the book does not concentrate on John Nash's life. Instead, it is a very good presentation of the scientific and mathematical developments of the time. It was a golden age of sciences and discovery, the start of many modern scientific subjects. Nash is shown to participate in this golden age, while his troubled personality makes him an interesting character.

It is a good read if you want to know about the era of sciences and economics; also, it can open some discussions about the scientists of the time, their research groups, the ideas behind some theories. The book is very well written, easy to read (for the lay reader) and is general enough that it doesn't swamp the reader with data and numbers - this is still a (mostly) bibliographical novel, after all.
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LibraryThing member dianemb
A very revealing look at the life of Nobel Prize winner, John Nash. At the height of his career , he was began showing the symptoms of the devastating illness, schizophrenia. The book shows the battle he had to endure as did those who loved him. However, it does offer some hope as well to those coping with this illness. Thoroughly enjoyable, thought if you are not mathematical some passages are hard going.… (more)
LibraryThing member urhockey22
A powerful story. Well-written and very detailed, it takes a balanced look Nash's life. By the end you want to meet the man and hear him describe his life in his own words.
LibraryThing member joeteo1
An excellent biography about John Nash. This is the biography of the real John Nash who has very little resemblance to the one portrayed in the movie adaptation. Although I have to say that I enjoyed the movie as well, the movie Nash is much more likable than the real life man. In many ways the real life Nash is a much more complex character with added elements of latent homosexuality, communist leanings and an illegitimate child that were never addressed in the movie. If you want to learn more about the real Nash along with an excellent timeline of the contributions to mathematics, this book will not disappoint.… (more)
LibraryThing member nevusmom
Fascinating and sad.



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