The life of John von Neumann can only be called fabulous: a child prodigy raised in vibrant, decadent early-twentieth-century Budapest; polylingual and able all his life to quote from memory long passages of Voltaire, Goethe, and Thucydides; a polymath who, from age seventeen, produced important work in nearly all branches of pure and applied mathematics, as well as in quantum mechanics, economics, the design and development of computers, and even biology; celebrated for astonishing quickness of mind, elegant clothes, fast cars, erratic driving, and legendary parties. In 1930, aged twenty-six, he began dividing his academic year between appointments at Princeton and the University of Berlin. Three years later he accepted, along with Einstein and three eminent American mathematicians, one of the inaugural professorships at the Institute for Advanced Study (ias). Alarmed by the rise of...


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