Conway takes the Guardian!


In keeping with Conway’s “Let It All Hang Out” policy, especially with respect to errors…
  • page 30 illustrates a figure-8 knot
  • page 86 Leonhard Fuller is of course Euler, as it was in the first pass page proofs! (thanks, AutoCorrect?!):
    Euler not Fuller
  • page 117 fraction “M” is fraction “L”
  • page 222 regarding the telegram: …On precisely the fourth of May, 1972, at 3 o’clock, Conway’s host, Marshall Hall, received a telegram about some new and exciting work by Arunas Rudvalis, a Lithuanian American mathematician at Michigan State University. The telegram contained Rudvalis’ precise and detailed prediction for yet another group…
  • page 327 regarding the footnote: “…Conway had proved the 15 Conjecture, together with his Ph.D. student William Schneeberger, thus transforming it into the 15 Theorem, which Bhargava subsequently reproved and improved. Bhargava and Jonathan Hanke then did the much harder job of proving the 290 Theorem…”
  • page 357 the Free Will Theorem disproves that the particles’ behaviors are explained by randomness
  • page 377 in the magic square, the 5 × 5 central square goes like this:

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.

Watch the Genius at Play trailerMoving 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 all manner of nerdish delights.

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?!?”

“An entertaining, often exhilarating, book.”

—David Guaspari, The Weekly Standard

“I’m not going to worry any more! Ever again.” —Conway is featured again chez Numberphile, in a mini documentary, Memento Mori, clocking up 100K+ views

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.” (by Edmund Morris, 2001)

—Bethany, Goodreads

Genius At Play lets the drama and art of true mathematical genius speak for itself. If you liked A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar, check this out.”

—Nathan Harshman, American University

“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

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.”

—Roger Penrose, author of The Road to Reality and The Emperor’s New Mind

It’s a riveting read, and you don’t need to be a mathematician to enjoy it.”

—Baron Martin Rees of Ludlow, UK Astronomer Royal and author of Just Six Numbers

I couldn’t put it down! It kept me up reading ‘til 3am.”

—John Horton Conway, Princeton’s John von Neumann Professor Emeritus

Buy the book

Bloomsbury Publishing
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