Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Horton Conway

A multifaceted biography of a brilliant mathematician and iconoclast


Published (US):
Oct 29, 2024
Published (UK):
Jan 7, 2025
5.25 x 8 in.
62 b/w illus.
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A mathematician unlike any other, John Horton Conway (1937–2020) possessed a rock star’s charisma, a polymath’s promiscuous curiosity, and a sly sense of humor. Conway found fame as a barefoot professor at Cambridge, where he discovered the Conway groups in mathematical symmetry and the aptly named surreal numbers. He also invented the cult classic Game of Life, a cellular automaton that demonstrates how simplicity generates complexity—and provides an analogy for mathematics and the entire universe. Moving to Princeton in 1987, Conway used ropes, dice, pennies, coat hangers, and the occasional Slinky to illustrate his winning imagination and share his nerdish delights. Genius at Play tells the story of this ambassador-at-large for the beauties and joys of mathematics, lays bare Conway’s personal and professional idiosyncrasies, and offers an intimate look into the mind of one of the twentieth century’s most endearing and original intellectuals.