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The Man from the Future

The Visionary Life of John von Neumann

Ananyo Bhattacharya



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Allen Lane
03 January 2022
An exhilarating new biography of John von Neumann- the lost genius who invented our world
The smartphones in our pockets and computers like brains. The vagaries of game theory and evolutionary biology. Nanotechnology and nuclear weapons. All bear the fingerprints of one remarkable man- John von Neumann.

Born in Budapest at the turn of the century, von Neumann is one of the most influential scientists to have ever lived. His colleagues believed he had the fastest brain on the planet - bar none. He was instrumental in the Manhattan Project and helped formulate the bedrock of Cold War geopolitics and modern economic theory. He created the first ever programmable digital computer. He prophesied the potential of nanotechnology and, from his deathbed, expounded on the limits of brains and computers - and how they might be overcome.

Taking us on an astonishing journey, Ananyo Bhattacharya explores how a combination of genius and unique historical circumstance allowed a single man to sweep through so many different fields of science, sparking revolutions wherever he went. Insightful and illuminating, The Man from the Future is a thrilling intellectual biography of the visionary thinker who shaped our century.
Imprint:   Allen Lane
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 222mm,  Width: 144mm,  Spine: 34mm
Weight:   483g
ISBN:   9780241398852
ISBN 10:   0241398851
Pages:   368
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Ananyo Bhattacharya is a science writer who has worked at the Economist and Nature. Before journalism, he was a medical researcher at the Burnham Institute in San Diego, California. He holds a degree in physics from the University of Oxford and a PhD in protein crystallography from Imperial College London.

Reviews for The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann

A splendid biography of one of the most brilliant, unpredictable and ultimately dangerous mathematicians of the 20th century * Financial Times, Best Books of the Year * Bhattacharya is a first-class science writer with an impeccable pedigree and he does the best job I have seen of explaining the significance of von Neumann's work across many different fields. . . If you are interested in the development in the 20th century of science that impacts all our lives today, there can be no better place to seek information than this book. . . A fine tribute to von Neumann's genius and his contributions to science -- John Gribbin * Literary Review * With great deftness, Bhattacharya gives John von Neumann his rightful place among such better-known giants as Albert Einstein or J Robert Oppenheimer. He tells the story tremendously well -- David Bodanis * Financial Times * Good biographies of some of the greatest mathematical minds are rare. . . Rather like the books of Stephen Hawking or Carlo Rovelli, this book is rewarding on different levels. . . Mr Bhattacharya is a clear and authoritative guide * The Economist * Splendid . . . a whistle stop tour through von Neumann's restless mind -- Manjit Kumar * Guardian * Rivetting . . . a sharp, expansive biography of John von Neumann, a titanic 20th-century scientist * Kirkus * An agile, intelligent, intellectually enraptured account of von Neumann's life. Bhattacharya argues convincingly that von Neumann was a man in whose extraordinarily fertile head the pre-war world found a lifeboat. Five stars -- Simon Ings * Sunday Telegraph * Fascinating . . . Bhattacharya succeeds in arguing that von Neumann is under-appreciated, and that to understand him, we have to see him in the political and scientific movements of his time * The Critic * Bhattacharya's crystal-clear prose makes for a tour de force of enjoyable science writing. . . A marvelously bracing biography of the ideas of John von Neumann, ideas that continue to grow and flourish with a life of their own -- Stephen Budiansky * Wall Street Journal * It seems fair to claim there was no one like von Neumann. . . . Bhattacharya manages to cover his dazzling range of ideas clearly and compellingly -- Jon Turney * Arts Desk * Brilliant. . . Apart from being one of the finest minds of the 20th century, von Neumann was also idiosyncratic and entertaining. Bhattacharya guides us through the ideas that built the modern world while making sense of the man behind them -- Nick Smith * E&T * Vivid. . . The Man From the Future is devoted to exploring the ideas and technological inquiries von Neumann inspired -- Jennifer Szalai * New York Times * Reacquainting modern readers with the most famous scientist in America after Einstein, The Man from the Future examines the tremendous impact von Neumann had on various scientific disciplines. . . exceptional * Science * An engaging and fascinating book that blends science and history. I loved it -- Paul Davies, author of The Demon in the Machine John von Neumann was one of the deepest and broadest thinkers of the 20th century - but also a delight to encounter. According to one admirer, listening to him was mental champagne . Now we have a biography of the man about which you can say the same. This is a sparkling book, with an intoxicating mix of pen-portraits and grand historical narrative. Above all it fizzes with a dizzying mix of deliciously vital ideas. The Man From The Future is a staggering achievement -- Tim Harford, author of How to Make the World Add Up An ambitious account of a complex thinker who lived through extraordinary times. Ananyo Bhattacharya's biography of von Neumann is admirably thorough and accessible -- Angela Saini, author of Inferior I loved The Man from the Future. An extremely impressive piece of science writing that deftly covers the twentieth century's revolutions in maths, physics, economics and computer science. Bravo! -- Alex Bellos A book I'll be reading over Christmas? The Man From the Future, Ananyo Bhattacharya's engaging new biography of a legendary polymath - John von Neumann was a unique figure in twentieth-century science and mathematics, laying the foundations for much that we now take for granted -- Anil Seth, author of Being You John von Neumann was the genius's genius, the man who shone in whatever topic in mathematics or physics he turned his mind towards. Despite his central contributions to the theory of computation, economics, logic, complexity, and quantum physics, somehow he never became a household name to rival Einstein and Feynman. Ananyo Bhattacharya's biography deserves to change that. Consistently clear and careful without sacrificing elegance or accessibility, it does full justice to this legendary figure of twentieth century science. Johnny did indeed imagine the first draft of the future, and we are now living it -- Philip Ball, author of Beyond Weird More than just a biography, The Man from the Future elucidates the breath-taking scientific progress in the mid-20th century, skilfully woven together in the story of one man, John von Neumann -- Sabine Hossenfelder, author of Lost in Math Highly enjoyable. Von Neumann's genius lay in synthesising the theoretical knowledge of the time: from quantum and nuclear physics to game theory and computing. Ananyo Bhattacharya's great insight, which he reveals with engaging clarity, is that von Neumann was also creating a blueprint for how technology would change our world over the next sixty years -- David Sumpter, author of The Ten Equations that Rule the World A gripping tale of the most significant mathematical, scientific and geopolitical events of the early 20th century. Bhattacharya's storytelling seamlessly weaves together the science, the vibrant social and historical context, and the private idiosyncrasies of John von Neumann and the fascinating geniuses around him, without mythologising. As a scientist, you come across von Neumann's name frequently - but I hadn't appreciated quite how fundamental an influence he'd had on so many fields until I read this book -- Andrew Steele, author of Ageless A fascinating read about a fascinating man. John von Neumann's contributions range from breakthroughs in the most abstract areas of mathematics to revolutionizing economics and other social sciences as a co-inventor of game theory. Before computer science departments were created and before the term AI was coined von Neumann did foundational work on AI. This book is a great read for anybody who is interested in science or history of science -- Michael Schwarz, chief economist, Microsoft Any future intelligence capable of sending a representative back in time to help invent itself will be intelligent enough to conceal this from us. Ananyo Bhattacharya's The Man from the Future is therefore unable to confirm this suggestion, but much else about John von Neumann's presence in the twentieth century is revealed along the way -- George Dyson, author of Turing's Cathedral

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