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by Sylvia Nasar
Touchstone Books, 1998
Review by G.C. Gupta on Apr 11th 2002

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind is about the life of John Nash, the mathematical genius, a legend by the age of thirty when he slipped into schizophrenia, and who – thanks to the selfless devotion of his wife and the continuing patronage of mathematics community- emerged after a crazy life to win a Nobel Prize in 1994 and world acclaim. The book, written in a biographical style which has won the praise of hundreds, is already a winner of several prestigious awards amongst which that stand out are National Books Critical Circle for Biography and Pulitzer Prize in Biography.  Now, the book is a major Motion Picture that has already bagged the Oscar for this year.

The book is about the life story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. – a mathematical genius and inventor of a theory of rational behavior for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1994. The book is written in a biographical style in five parts, beginning with a Prologue. The part one is on A Beautiful Mind, Part two on Separate Lives, Part three on A Slow Fire Burning, Part four on The Lost Years, and the Part five on The Most Worthy, followed by Epilogue, Notes, Select Bibliography, Acknowledgements, and Index, The latter features not only provide an appropriate support to the narration but also makes it a referenced biographical sketch.  As Sylvia Nasar, the brilliant author of the book concludes the Prologue; she ends by saying that “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.” The author excels not only in narration style but also in her capability in making the style absorbing – engrossing the reader entirely in the richness of the story’s presentation. The Prologue starts the unfolding of the story by presenting rich information about John Forbes Nash, Jr., as other celebrities knew him – the several facets of his personality, especially those that were leading him into his madness.  Presenting a characterization of schizophrenia, author helps in informing the reader about the circumstances under which a spontaneous recovery from this dementing and degenerative disease believed to be so rare, became a possibility for John Nash. In Epilogue, the author narrates such events in John Nash’s life, which validates his recovery from this madness. It also raises a question for the Psychiatrists and the Clinical Psychologists that given a personality like that of John Forbes Nash, Jr., what is the probability of recovery from the schizophrenic madness for another individual?

 

The Beautiful Mind.

The author has given the book the title of A Beautiful Mind. There must have been very strong reasons to do so and are surely in reference to the richness of behavior that John Forbes Nash Jr. showed during the entire span of his life – from genius to being a schizophrenic and to re-awakening. The author’s narration of his behavior stands out to demonstrate this aspect of his life. For example:

“His contemporaries, on the whole, found him immensely strange.” They found him as “aloof,” “haughty,” “without affect,” “detached,” “spooky,” “isolated,” and  “queer,” Nash mingled rather than mixed with his peers. Pre-occupied with his own private reality, he seemed not to share their mundane concerns. His manners – slightly cold, a bit superior, somewhat secretive – suggested something “mysterious and unnatural”. His remoteness was punctuated by flights of garrulousness about outer space and geo-political trends, childish pranks, and unpredictable eruption of anger. But these outbursts were, more often than not, as enigmatic as his silences. … “ (pp. 13).

“By his late twenties, Nash’s insights and discoveries had won him recognition, respect, and autonomy. He had carved a brilliant career at the apex of the mathematics profession, traveled, lectured, taught, met the most famous mathematicians of his day, and become famous himself. …” (p.15).

“Nash proved a tragic exception. Underneath the brilliant surface of his life, all was chaos and contradiction: his involvements with other men; a secret mistress and a neglected illegitimate son; and a haunting fear of failure, …” (p. 16).

“While Nash the man frozen in a dreamlike state, a phantom who haunted Princeton in the 1970s and 80s, scribbling on the blackboards and studying religious texts, his name began to surface everywhere- in economics textbooks, articles on evolutionary biology, political science treatises, mathematics journals. …” (pp. 19-20).

“At seventy three John looks and sounds wonderfully well. He feels increasingly certain that he won’t suffer a relapse. “It is like a continuous process rather than just waking up from a dream, he told a New York Times reporter recently. …” (pp. 389).

 

This is just a sampling of his behavior depicting diversity of different orders as he treaded his life path. The book has numerous examples of this diversity, spread over all the way until the last page. It is this large behavior variance that perhaps motivated the author to decide to give the book the title of A Beautiful Mind.

 

 © 2002 G.C. Gupta

Professor G.C. Gupta, Professor of Psychology (now retired), University of Delhi, Delhi, India