A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind


Sylvia Nasar

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A Beautiful Mind Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sylvia Nasar's A Beautiful Mind. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sylvia Nasar

Sylvia Nasar was born in Germany but moved with her family to the United States in 1951, followed by Turkey in 1960. After earning her BA in literature from Antioch College, Nasar went on to study economics at New York University and earned her Master’s degree in 1976. Throughout her career as a journalist, she’s written for Fortune, U.S. News & World Report, The New Yorker, and the New York Times. She was formerly the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Business Journalism at Columbia University and is known best for her writing on economics and mathematics. A Beautiful Mind, published in 1998, won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. Her second book, Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius, was published in 2011. She currently resides in New York and is married to a fellow economist, Darryl McLeod. The pair have three adult children.
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Historical Context of A Beautiful Mind

The chronology of John Nash’s life given in A Beautiful Mind overlaps with both World War II and the Korean War: though Nash was too young to be drafted for World War II, he received a deferment for the Korean War draft. Nasar also discusses the activities of the American nonprofit think tank RAND, where John Nash was briefly employed in the 1950s, and its relation to Cold War politics. RAND was developed after World War II to help guide American military policy and strategy, particularly in the field of nuclear weaponry; as Cold War tensions grew between the Soviet Union and the United States, RAND helped to encourage nuclear deterrence, drawing on game theory, which was Nash’s area of expertise. Additionally, A Beautiful Mind intersects with the history of homosexuality in America: Nash was arrested for indecent exposure in 1954, during a period in which intense, undercover police operations targeted America individuals, and especially men, who exhibited homosexual behavior. Nash himself made academic history by developing crucial contributions to game theory, lending his name to three major mathematical concepts: the Nash equilibrium, the Nash embedding theorem, and the Nash functions.

Other Books Related to A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind is one of several well-known contemporary nonfiction works exploring the hidden lives of famous mathematicians and the cultural status of mathematics. Other examples include Paul Hoffman’s The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of the mathematician Paul Erdos; like Nasar, who portrays John Nash as a brilliant thinker but deeply complicated individual, Hoffman describes Erdos as an academic who struggled socially, despite his talents. David Berlinski’s Newton’s Gift reflects on the life of the 17th-century mathematician Sir Isaac Newton, examining his breakthroughs alongside his personal struggles. A Beautiful Mind might also be compared to Amir D. Aczel’s Fermat’s Last Theorem, a popular nonfiction exploration of a famous mathematical theorem devised in the 17th century and solved by Andrew Wiles (of Princeton University, like Nash) in the late 1990s.
Key Facts about A Beautiful Mind
  • Full Title: A Beautiful Mind
  • When Written: Late 1990s
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1998
  • Literary Period: N/A)
  • Genre: Biography
  • Setting: Bluefield, West Virginia; Roanoke, Virginia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Princeton and Trenton, New Jersey; Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts; Santa Monica, California; Paris, France; Geneva, Switzerland; Washington, D. C.
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for A Beautiful Mind

Movie Adaptation. The 2001 movie based on the book, starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, won four Academy Awards, including the award for Best Picture.

Nobel Prize. John Nash won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994. However, this award is not technically a “Nobel prize,” since the money given to recipients is endowed by the Swedish Central Bank, not through the estate of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel prizes in Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Medicine.