Genius at Play (Hardcover)

The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway

By Siobhan Roberts

Bloomsbury USA, 9781620405932, 480pp.

Publication Date: July 14, 2015



Winner of the 2017 JPBM Communications Award for Expository and Popular Books.
"A delightful meta-biography--playful indeed--of a brilliant iconoclast." --James Gleick, author of The Information

John Horton Conway is a singular mathematician with a lovely loopy brain. He is Archimedes, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Richard Feynman all rolled into one--he boasts a rock star's charisma, a slyly bent sense of humor, a polymath's promiscuous curiosity, and an insatiable compulsion to explain everything about the world to everyone in it. At Cambridge, Conway wrestled with "Monstrous Moonshine," discovered the aptly named surreal numbers, and invented the cult classic Game of Life--more than just a cool fad, Life demonstrates how simplicity generates complexity and provides an analogy for mathematics and the entire universe. As a "mathemagician" at Princeton, he used ropes, dice, pennies, coat hangers, even the occasional Slinky, as props to extend his winning imagination and share his many nerdish delights. He granted Roberts full access to his idiosyncrasies and intellect both, though not without the occasional grumble: "Oh hell," he'd say. "You're not going to put that in the book. Are you? ?"

About the Author

Siobhan Roberts is a science writer and winner of four National Magazine Awards. While writing this book, she was a Director's Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and a Fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Her first book, King of Infinite Space, won the Mathematical Association of America's Euler Prize for expanding the public's view of mathematics. She lives in Toronto, Canada.