Truly an unabashed original, John Horton Conway is Archimedes, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Richard Feynman all rolled into one—a singular mathematician, with a rock star’s charisma, a slyly bent sense of humor, a polymath’s promiscuous curiosity, and a compulsion to explain everything about the world to everyone in it.
Born in Liverpool in 1937, Conway found fame as a barefoot Cambridge professor. He discovered the Conway groups in mathematical symmetry and invented the aptly named surreal numbers, as well as the cult classic Game of Life. More than a cool fad, Life demonstrates how simplicity generates complexity; it provides an analogy for all mathematics and the entire universe.
Moving to Princeton in 1987, as a mathemagician of sorts Conway deployed cards, ropes, dice, coat hangers, and even the odd Slinky as props to extend his winning imagination and share his many obsessions with signature contagion. With his lovely loopy brain—deemed worthy of study by the neuroscientist who studied Einstein’s brain—he is a jet-setting ambassador-at-large for the beauties of all things mathematical, and beyond…
Genius At Play is an intimate and unbuttoned investigation into the mind of an endearing genius, laying bare Conway’s professional and personal idiosyncrasies. The intimacy comes courtesy of the man himself. He generously granted Roberts full access, though not without the occasional grudge and grumble: “Oh hell,” he’d say. “You’re not going to put that in the book. Are you?!?”
Early Praise for Genius At Play
“A delightful meta-biography—playful indeed—of a brilliant iconoclast.”
—James Gleick, author of The Information and Chaos
“Genius At Play is a portrait of one creative genius by another. Absolutely brilliant. Impossible to put down.”
—Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit
“Wonderfully written, fascinating and hilarious, the book is a delight from beginning to end. Roberts has produced a captivating portrait of the most playful mathematician alive.”
—Alex Bellos, author of Here’s Looking at Euclid and The Grapes of Math
“John Conway is, by any standard, a very remarkable man, and he well deserves a remarkable biography, which this book undoubtedly is. Siobhan Roberts expertly conjures up a genuine picture of the man and his amazing world.”
—Roger Penrose, author of The Road to Reality and The Emperor’s New Mind