A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind


Sylvia Nasar

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John von Neumann Character Analysis

Von Neumann is a Hungarian American mathematician and polymath (an individual with a broad knowledge base who studies a variety of subjects) and one of Princeton’s most famous professors during John Nash’s PhD studies at the university. Nasar describes him as “possibly the last true polymath,” a “worldly and engaged” scholar who forged connections between his academic work and the political sphere: for example, he was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and the top member of the Manhattan Project, advising the United States on the atomic bomb and military strategy during the Cold War. Though in A Beautiful Mind, von Neumann is initially disparaging of Nash’s research, Nash would build on von Neumann’s foundational work in game theory, describing a scenario—a solution for a non-cooperative game—that von Neumann failed to sketch out in his and Oskar Morgenstern’s 1944 treatise on game theory, The Theory of Games and Economic Work.
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John von Neumann Character Timeline in A Beautiful Mind

The timeline below shows where the character John von Neumann appears in A Beautiful Mind. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
...understanding dynamics of human rivalry—were some of the most significant ideas of the 20th century. John von Neumann , the Hungarian-born mathematician, paved the way for Nash’s ideas as the first academic to... (full context)
Chapter 3 – The Center of the Universe
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
...of the 20th century, Princeton had become a home for Europe’s rising stars in mathematics—including John von Neumann —who were financed by research fellowships funded by the wealthy Rockefeller family. Princeton’s Institute for... (full context)
Chapter 6 – Games
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
John von Neumann is walking through the graduate common room one afternoon in spring 1949 when he notices... (full context)
Chapter 7 – John von Neumann
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
John von Neumann is the “very brightest star” in Princeton’s mathematical scene, a “role model” for mathematicians of... (full context)
Chapter 8 – The Theory of Games
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
At Princeton, Nash becomes interested in game theory, invented by von Neumann in the 1920s. Game theory can be defined as “an attempt […] to construct a... (full context)
Mental Illness, Recovery, and the Quest for Knowledge Theme Icon
Though “the bible”—as von Neumann and Morgenstern’s book was referred to by Princeton’s graduate students—is ground-breaking, Nash and other students... (full context)
Chapter 9 – The Bargaining Problem
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
...encouraged to further explore this idea by the presence of the game theory group ( von Neumann and Morgenstern) at Princeton. His initial exposure to economics, it seems, was most influential in... (full context)
Chapter 10 – Nash’s Rival Idea
Genius, Morality, and Relationships Theme Icon
...Nash is prepared to dive back into his own research; he also decides to visit von Neumann to discuss his ideas for an “equilibrium” in games of more than two players. Von... (full context)
Chapter 11 – Lloyd
Love, Desire, and the Impact of Hidden Lives Theme Icon
...Shapley who is viewed as “the real star of the next generation” of mathematicians, by von Neumann and other Princeton professors. However, while Nash publishes three important papers in one year, Shapley... (full context)