March 23, 2012

Book: A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:16 am

A wonderful book on the life of John Nash.

It is a good read, but slightly heavy going in places. Sylvia has tried to demystify the economic theory that inherently forms part of any narrative on John Nash’s life, and has mostly succeeded in making it readable for the non economist among us.

By the way, if you had seen the movie made out of the book and read this book, you are in for a surprise: The movie deviates from the book a bit. There are some  ‘adaptations’ made for the movie to whitewash the image of John Nash a bit. The movie presentation is interesting and for the sake of storytelling, they have taken some artistic liberties. Incidentally, the movie is also very well made, but I would prefer that you read the book before seeing the movie, if you have done neither so far.

Two things make this one a great book to read. First is the accuracy of the book. The book is very true biography of  John Nash’s life, and not purely a story.  As in any true biography, this book is strewn with all kinds of footnotes describing the references and in fact,  in this book, almost every fifth sentence has a footnote attached to it, making it even more heavily referenced than a normal research paper. Yet, the story has been told in a very interesting style and certainly grabs the attention. It almost reads like a work of fiction, written for your enjoyment, and I think that this is a great achievement by Sylvia.

Second, the narrative style is excellent. It follows John Nash in his life until, say, he meets John von Neumann. Then it goes back in time and (briefly) describes the major events in von Neumann’s life, bringing you up to speed on the individual you just met. John’s wife, Einstein and others who populate the story are also treated the same way, and it is a very interesting and delightful way of reading a biography.

The story of Nash’s life is inherently gripping and endearing because Sylvia makes no apologies for John’s warts and quirks. Indeed, in many parts, you read John Nash’s character and conclude that this person is “not a nice man”. But in the end, you retain the sympathy for what he endured and achieved in his life.

I loved the book, which is an example of how a biography can and should be written.

I will give it a 8/10 only because of the very minor issue that  some explanations of the economics may be a bit heavy for some readers.

— Krishna


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