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Publisher's Summary

An electrifying biography of one of the most extraordinary scientists of the 20th century and the world he made.

The smartphones in our pockets and computers like brains. The vagaries of game theory and evolutionary biology. Nuclear weapons and self-replicating spacecrafts. All bear the fingerprints of one remarkable, yet largely overlooked, man: John von Neumann.

Born in Budapest at the turn of the century, von Neumann is one of the most influential scientists to have ever lived. A child prodigy, he mastered calculus by the age of eight, and in high school made lasting contributions to mathematics. In Germany, where he helped lay the foundations of quantum mechanics, and later at Princeton, von Neumann’s colleagues believed he had the fastest brain on the planet - bar none. He was instrumental in the Manhattan Project and the design of the atom bomb; he helped formulate the bedrock of Cold War geopolitics and modern economic theory; he created the first ever programmable digital computer; he prophesized the potential of nanotechnology; and, from his deathbed, he expounded on the limits of brains and computers - and how they might be overcome.

Taking us on an astonishing journey, Ananyo Bhattacharya explores how a combination of genius and unique historical circumstance allowed a single man to sweep through a stunningly diverse array of fields, sparking revolutions wherever he went. The Man from the Future is an insightful and thrilling intellectual biography of the visionary thinker who shaped our century.

©2022 Ananyo Bhattacharya (P)2022 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"[Bhattacharya's] crystal-clear prose…mak[es] for a tour de force of enjoyable science writing….[A] marvelously bracing biography of the ideas of John von Neumann, ideas that continue to grow and flourish with a life of their own."—Stephen Budiansky, Wall Street Journal

"Vivid…[The Man From the Future is] devoted to exploring the ideas and technological inquiries [von Neumann] inspired."—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

"Lucid and rewarding….Bhattacharya composes a rich intellectual map of von Neumann’s pursuits, shading in their histories and evolutions, and tracing the routes and connections between them."—Samanth Subramanian, The New Republic

What listeners say about The Man from the Future

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Amazing story of an amazing man!

While some parts get a little complex and can be difficult to understand, the overall story is amazing. Von Neumann contributed to so many different areas that led to massive leaps in human advancement and even helped us win a World War. I look forward to branching out further into some of the interesting concepts he helped advance starting with game theory!

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With His Reality, Who Needs Science Fiction?!

I wish that I had been able to understand more of it, but that never once kept me from being utterly hypnotized - fascinated - by this superhuman mind, his thoughts and ideas.

His ideas have impacted so many aspects of our lives - and it seems that we are just in the early stages of relevance of his advanced thinking to society on earth - and beyond…

Manny Freiser

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Good book, very odd narration

Excellent biography, but the narrator's ridiculously over-performed reading makes it hard and unpleasant to listen to - best way to describe the very heavy and odd accent is Sean Connery suffering from constipation. I had to really concentrate to understand the reading which is not the point of listening to an audiobook..., though I was motivated to "battle through" because the subject of the book is so compelling.

1 person found this helpful

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Brilliant Zelig bio traces a new mid-century history.

Van Neumann is too brilliant to identify with and this nearly kept me from reading this well researched and difficult to write biography. His expertise was so broad that the author sometimes struggles to get the science right does nearly 100% of the time (I found only minor errors, Eg, left out ramifications of failure of equilibrium theory and some attribution debates are hard to settle without details that would distract). Still this is hardly a criticism what the author gets right and manages to deftly explore indicates a near genius behind the book.

Of special interest is the author’s capacity to track the von Neumann (vN) shooting star, and this produces while passing through constellations of geniuses from Hilbert to Mandelbrot a new and novel line through 20th century scientific history which has been prematurely concretized. Russell was too influential in logic, and class theory is under-taught in logic. Taking QM through vN is fascinating and changes the common view of Dirac. Again, his mixup with the military and the failed GOFAI history are presented with critical nuance to break the caricatures of Dr. Strangelove and MIT’s failed AI program.

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Not enough about JVN

This biography focuses much more on the areas that von Neumann worked in than the man and his thinking. JVN’s influence is wide and deep but this biographer stretches it beyond scope. Overall disappointing book. The audio performance was adequate.

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  • 05-30-22

Good book, terrible narration

I couldn’t stand the narrator, so I read the kindle version. It’s a disservice to such a good book to have this kind of strange narrative choice.

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Liked the book but not as much as I thought or hoped

This is the first of a couple dozen audiobooks where I have found the performance lacking. The biggest problem was probably pronunciations including both the sound of a number of words and the inflection. In addition Tucson Arizona became a region in Italy and there were other examples as well. Finally the maker of the reading gave the feeling that the author and the presenter had different ideas about things.

As for the book itself, it went along pretty well but got bogged down a lot in the last chapter. I thought a too time was spent on Cellular Automata and it was of limited interest. In a hundred years nothing much has yet come of it and Jonny didn’t spend that much time on it.

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outstanding book. Worth to read it and share

I loved it. It is a complete and up to date book about many fields