Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway

Siobhan Roberts’s latest book, Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway, brings her subject to life: John Horton Conway, the endearing and eccentric Prof. Emeritus of Mathematics at Princeton University.

You may already be familiar with Prof. Conway, or at least with some of his work. Although perhaps best known for inventing “Game of Life”, he also created FRACTRAN (a simple universal computer  translation programming code for arithmetic), and discovered the Conway groups and surreal numbers. Roberts highlights these and other notable achievements and reveals how Conway feels about them and about numbers generally. 

Along the way, Roberts shares stories gleaned from interviewing not only Conway, but also many of his friends, relatives, colleagues, and students. His sister, Joan, for example, recalls how at age 4, he would sit on the floor and recite the powers of two. Illustrations, such as the odd cartoon or photograph, and quotations, also add interesting dimensions.

Even the math-phobic may delight in this entertaining and informative book – one of the best biographies published so far this century.

This book is available from the library in book and eBook formats.

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