Monday, October 9, 2017

Genius at Play: A Book Review

Genius at Play by Siobhan Roberts is a biography about "the curious mind of John Horton Conway", a raging mathematician and absolute genius. This book is written in it's own sort of curious way as it is written in the form of a kind of interview in some parts, but as a general story in others. Roberts includes numerous accounts of conversation with Conway in the text, incorporating direct quotes and allowing the reader to hear Conway's voice. The main focus of this book, although the title seems to focus on Conway's mathematical intelligence, is in my opinion the character of Conway as a person rather than as a mathematician specifically. While mathematics is definitely involved in Conway's life, I felt that math was the subtopic behind Conway himself in this book, which is something I was not expecting. Overall, the author uses Conway's life to explore certain mathematical concepts, as Conway did impact the world of mathematics immensely.

Genius at Play definitely wouldn't be a book that I would recommend to anyone who was not in some form interested in math. Even as an individual who is a math major, I personally felt that this book was difficult to read and I struggled to get through it. The mathematical content that is addressed in this book is often breezed by, so any form of proof or explanation for a given problem is hard to find. Therefore, this book would be a good read for anyone who enjoys exploring and forming proofs and discovering those kinds of connections. There are also several parts in this book that mention a theorem or game of some sort that Conway proved or invented, so it would be easy for an individual interested in that sort of thing to find lots of material as well.

Although I felt that it was difficult to read, there were still things included that I liked. As mentioned earlier, the author included specific quotes from Conway from interviews and conversations with others in the writing, which added another perspective and gave the book more personality (partly because Conway has quite the personality). The author also included various drawings and graphics that Conway presented while forming a new game or deciphering certain theorems. This is a nice change of pace as well because it allows the reader to explore as well in an attempt to understand and follow along with Conway's thinking.

All in all, given an individual who desires to deepen their mathematical knowledge and challenge themselves with the mind of John Conway, this book could be a really strong, beneficial read.

1 comment:

  1. I love this book, but have wondered who can read it. Conway's emphasis on playing with ideas is so delightful.