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

1992; 406 pp; softcover
Reprint/Revision History:
first AMS printing 1999; reprinted 2000
ISBN-10: 0-8218-2676-X
ISBN-13: 978-0-8218-2676-8
List Price: US$36
Member Price: US$28.80
Order Code: JVNM.S
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See also:

The Intrinsic Nature of Things: The Life and Science of Cornelius Lanczos - Barbara Gellai

An Introductory Course on Mathematical Game Theory - Julio Gonzalez-Diaz, Ignacio Garcia-Jurado and M Gloria Fiestras-Janeiro

This volume is the reprinted edition of the first full-scale biography of the man widely regarded as the greatest scientist of the century after Einstein.

Born in Budapest in 1903, John von Neumann grew up in one of the most extraordinary of scientific communities. From his arrival in America in the mid-1930s--with bases in Boston, Princeton, Washington, and Los Alamos--von Neumann pioneered and participated in the major scientific and political dramas of the next three decades, leaving his mark on more fields of scientific endeavor than any other scientist. Von Neumann's work in areas such as game theory, mathematics, physics, and meteorology formed the building blocks for the most important discoveries of the century: the modern computer, game theory, the atom bomb, radar, and artificial intelligence, to name just a few.

From the laboratory to the highest levels of government, this definitive biography gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the politics and personalities involved in these world-changing discoveries. Written more than 30 years after von Neumann's untimely death at age 54, it was prepared with the cooperation of his family and includes information gained from interviewing countless sources across Europe and America. Norman Macrae paints a highly readable, humanizing portrait of a man whose legacy still influences and shapes modern science and knowledge.


General mathematical audience; historians of science.


"Provides a nice and fascinating picture of a genius who was active in so many domains."

-- Zentralblatt MATH

"The American Mathematical Society should be congratulated for republishing the 1992 Pantheon Books biography about "Johnny" von Neumann. Biographer Macrae takes a "viewspaperman" approach which stresses the context and personalities associated with von Neumann's remarkable life, rather than attempting to give a detailed scholarly analysis of von Neumann's papers. The resulting book is a highly entertaining account that is difficult to put down."

-- Journal of Mathematical Psychology

"A full and intimate biography of 'the man who consciously and deliberately set mankind moving along the road that led us into the Age of Computers'."

-- Freeman Dyson, Princeton, NJ

"This book has now been reprinted by the AMS. 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."

-- MAA Online

"I always thought [von Neumann's] brain indicated that he belonged to a new species, an evolution beyond man. Macrae shows us in a lively way how this brain was nurtured and then left its great imprint on the world."

-- Hans A. Bethe, Cornell University

"The book makes for utterly captivating reading. Von Neumann was, of course, one of this century's geniuses, and it is surprising that we have had to wait so long ... for a fully fleshed and sympathetic biography of the man. But now, happily, we have one.

"Macrae nicely delineates the cultural, familial, and educational environment from which von Neumann sprang and sketches the mathematical and scientific environment in which he flourished. It's no small task to render a genius like von Neumann in ordinary language, yet Macrae manages the trick, providing more than a glimpse of what von Neumann accomplished intellectually without expecting the reader to have a Ph.D. in mathematics. Beyond that, he captures von Neumann's qualities of temperament, mind, and personality, including his effortless wit and humor. And [Macrae] frames and accounts for von Neumann's politics in ways that even critics of them, among whom I include myself, will find provocative and illuminating."

-- Daniel J. Kevles, California Institute of Technology

"A lively portrait of the hugely consequential nonmathematician-physicist-et al., whose genius has left an enduring impress on our thought, technology, society, and culture. A double salute to Steve White, who started this grand book designed for us avid, nonmathematical readers, and to Norman Macrae, who brought it to a triumphant conclusion."

-- Robert K. Merton, Columbia University

"Macrae paints a highly readable, humanizing portrait of a man whose legacy still influences and shapes modern science and knowledge."

-- Resonance -- journal of science education

Table of Contents

  • The cheapest way to make the world richer
  • A silver spoon in Budapest, 1903-14
  • At the Lutheran Gymnasium, 1914-21
  • An undergraduate with lion's claws, 1921-26
  • Rigor becomes more relaxed, 500 B. C.-A. D. 1931
  • The quantum leap, 1926-32
  • Sturm und Drang, marriage, emigration, 1927-31
  • Depression at Princeton, 1931-37
  • The calculating exploder, 1937-43
  • Los Alamos to Trinity, 1943-45
  • In the domain of economics
  • The computers at Philadelphia, 1944-46
  • The computers from Princeton, 1946-52
  • And then the H-bomb
  • With astonishing influence, 1950-56
  • Acknowledgments
  • Permissions acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Macrae on Macrae
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