John Conway portrait by Mariana Cook
John Horton Conway is a singular mathematician with a lovely loopy brain. He is Archimedes, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, and Richard Feynman all rolled into one—he boasts a rock star’s charisma, a slyly bent sense of humor, a polymath’s promiscuous curiosity, and an insatiable compulsion to explain everything about the world to everyone in it.
At Cambridge, Conway wrestled with “Monstrous Moonshine,” discovered the aptly named surreal numbers, and invented the cult classic Game of Life—more than just a cool fad, Life demonstrates how simplicity generates complexity and provides an analogy for mathematics and the entire universe. As a mathemagician at Princeton, he used ropes, dice, pennies, coat hangers, even the occasional Slinky, as props to extend his winning imagination and share his many nerdish delights.
For Genius at Play, Conway granted Siobhan Roberts full access to his idiosyncrasies and intellect both, though not without the occasional grumble: “Oh hell,” he’d say. “You’re not going to put that in the book. Are you?!?”
“The book never gets bogged down in mathematical detail, yet it conveys much of the unstoppable excitement of its hero in full throttle.”
—Colm Mulcahy, Huffington Post
“An entertaining, often exhilarating, book.”
—David Guaspari, The Weekly Standard
“Genius At Play, The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway is, hands down, the best biography I have read since The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”
“It’s a riveting read, and you don’t need to be a mathematician to enjoy it.”
—Martin Rees, author of Just Six Numbers