A great Christmas present?

I haven’t quite finished it yet – but I do want to strongly recommend Ananyo Bhattacharya’s “The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann” – not just because the author was very gracious when I, as some random on the Internet, tweeted him to tell him of a (very small) error in the text, but also because it’s such a stimulating book that – like its subject – covers so many areas from nuclear war to Conway’s Game of Life and back again.

I am not a great one for biographies that go in for long examinations of the subject’s childhood, schooling and dietary preferences, and this book gets the balance right by looking principally at von Neumann’s scientific and engineering work. But it also covers lots of other ground – reintroducing me to this massive tome for instance (which I bought on a whim years ago and did read some of, but didn’t quite get the point of – now I have a better idea).

Years ago, as a(n astro)physics under-graduate I was pretty sniffy about von Neumann – after all he was a big friend of Teller and Teller was evil, right? Well, I haven’t particularly changed my opinion of Teller but I have of von Neumann and this book has certainly accelerated the journey. Not that “Jonnie” is a great hero – in many ways he sounds pretty hard to take – but because his contribution to science, maths and engineering is just so huge. (Thankfully not all of his ideas – such as “pre-emptive” nuclear war were acted on)

Definitely a good book as a Christmas present for curious sixth formers and older.

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