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John von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence, and Much More

Norman Macrae
American Mathematical Society
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
[Reviewed by
Fernando Q. Gouvêa
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Norman Macrae's book on the life (and, to some extent, the work) of John von Neumann was originally published by Pantheon Books in 1992. It has now been reprinted by the AMS. John von Neumann was enormously influential on the mathematics of the first half of the twentieth century. His work included crucial contributions to set theory, quantum mechanics, and the theory of operator algebras. He created game theory as a mathematical tool for understanding economic behavior, and was one of the pioneers in the creation of the computer. Towards the end of his life, he got involved in the issue of nuclear deterrence, and ended up as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and a consultant to the government labs at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. His positions about nuclear war and international politics were controversial at the time, and remain a source of discomfort for many admirers of his mathematics. (Macrae, a journalist who at one time was editor of The Economist, seems to share many of von Neumann's political views.) It is good to have a biography of one of the most important mathematicians of the twentieth century, even if it is a biography that focuses much more on the man than on the mathematics

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