John von Neumann is the “very brightest star” in Princeton’s mathematical scene, a “role model” for mathematicians of Nash’s generation. His ideas have wide applications, ranging from game theory to the implosion device for the A-bomb to quantum physics to computational programming. Von Neumann is also an academic consultant who works on military research—advising American military officials on how to think about the atomic bomb during the Cold War—and a dazzling, if slightly aloof, presence on the Princeton campus, with an “astounding” memory, work ethic, and capacity for solving complex math puzzles. By looking for intersections between mathematics and other fields, Von Neumann “inspired other young geniuses,” including Nash, encouraging them to apply similar approaches to a wide diversity of problems.
In addition to comparing Nash to Einstein, Nasar sketches out similarities between John von Neumann and Nash, showing how both mathematicians sought to connect their mathematical work to fields and ideas outside of the world of math (even though Nash often isolated himself from the outside world).