AUTHORMacRae, Norman
TITLEJohn von Neumann
PUBLISHERPantheon Books
CITYNew York, NY

This biography of mathematician John von Neumann explains the life and work of “the second smartest man of the century” in general, non-technical language. MacRae documents the astonishing breakthroughs that von Neumann’s mathematics made possible, such as radar, game theory, artificial intelligence, the atom bomb, and most importantly, the modern computer. A chapter is devoted to von Neumann's work at Los Alamos from 1943 to 1945. Special attention is given to his role in the Manhattan Project in calculating the design of implosion lenses for the plutonium bomb. The author defends von Neumann’s controversial views on building the hydrogen bomb and nuclear proliferation. MacRae also traces other work he did in the fields of meteorology and national defense policy of nuclear deterrence. To convey von Neumann’s human side, MacRae refers to the mathematician as “Johnny” throughout the text, recounts numerous anecdotes, and discusses von Neumann’s vibrant personality.

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