Go to Homepage   Sylvia Nasar: A Beautiful Mind


Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:three and a half moon gifTouchstone Books (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0743224574
Does insanity make the creative mind keener? Does it make the analytical mind more incisive? Sylvia Nasar's fine biography of John Forbes Nash, A Beautiful Mind, seems dedicated to dispelling such notions. Nash, a mathematician, won the Nobel Prize in 1994 for his contributions to game theory -- in particular, his exploration of non-cooperative game theory, which he began developing while a student in Princeton. Nasar defines one of Nash's key elements to this contribution as follows:

Book: Cait London, leaving lonely town"Nash defined equilibrium as a situation in which no player could improve his or her position by choosing an alternative available strategy, without implying that each person's privately best choice will lead to a collectively optimal result. He proved that for a certain very broad class of games at least one equilibrium exists."

Note the very basic sentence constructions used here: "Nash defined," "He proved." This one paragraph among four or five does not explain Nash's contribution. However, taken out of context, the passage illuminates an author whose plain style and exposition go the entire distance to make Nash's contributions compelling reading.

Book: sylvia nasar, the essential john nashHowever, the Nash of the late 1950s onward could not contribute to game theory or, really, to much else. One approaches the descriptions of Nash's treatments and mental hospitals with a kind of lurid fascination. In addition, Nasar tempers her depiction of the schizophrenic Nash with descriptions of math and economic genius Nash, unwilling to raise bastard son Nash, distant from Alicia Larde (his girlfriend and sometime wife) Nash, anti-Semitic Nash as well as several other far from savory aspects of his personality. Not beautiful at all.

Never content to simply "leave it at that," however, Nasar however points out that those suffering from schizoid affect disorders distrust or disdain such emotional bonds and may be unable to form them. Nash and Larde lived under the same roof for decades despite the little technicality of their divorce. For years, Nash despised his son John Charles for allowing his mind to suffer similar afflictions. Nasar postulates that pride also factored into the father/son scenario.

Larde and Nash complete each other, not in a Jerry Maguire aw-cry-weep-weep sort of way, but in the sense of two profoundly needy people who happen to fit together. Nasar's terrific biography finally allows Nash's mind to be beautiful. But this understanding follows decades of struggle and doubt and some very conscious efforts on Nash's part to reach out to his estranged sons on basic levels most people would take for granted. Nash may not possess a beautiful mind, but you must respect him -- and his mind -- not just for the Nobel-winning achievements, but for the years he struggled for a hard-won, tenuous alignment.

Michael Pacholski

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