*The Man From the Future*

That is the new biography of John von Neumann, by Ananyo Bhattacharya, highly recommended, probably the best book about him.  Here is one short bit:

Von Neumann himself attributed his generation’s success to ‘a coincidence of some cultural factors’ that produced ‘a feeling of extreme insecurity in the individuals, and the necessity to produce the unusual or face extinction’. In other words, their recognition that the tolerate climate of Hungary might change overnight propelled some to preternatural efforts to succeed…Moreover, one could reasonably hope that good work in these fields would be fairly rewarded. The truth of general relativity was established through experiment and was not contingent on whether the person who developed the theory as Jew or Gentile.

By the way, a lot of those famous mathematicians thought their high school was crap.  And here is another excerpt:

Equally, von Neumann had no interest in sport and, barring long walks (always in a business suit), he would avoid any form of vigorous physical exercise for the rest of his life.  When his second wife, Klari, tried to persuade him to ski, he offered her a divorce. ‘If being married to a woman, no matter who she was, would mean he had to slide around on two pieces of wood on some slick mountainside,’ she explained, ‘he would definitely prefer to live alone and take his daily exercise, as he put it, “by getting in and out of a pleasantly warm bathtub.”.

I believe my original pointer here came from Tim Harford.


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