• The Man from the Future

  • The Visionary Life of John von Neumann
  • By: Ananyo Bhattacharya
  • Narrated by: Nicholas Camm
  • Length: 11 hrs and 56 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (216 ratings)

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The Man from the Future

By: Ananyo Bhattacharya
Narrated by: Nicholas Camm
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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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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

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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

3 people found this helpful

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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!

2 people 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.

1 person found this helpful

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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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Enjoyed it

could've divided the content in smaller chapters. Gets too technical many times. Narration was very good

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His life was too short

well told and good story and embellished with entertaining notes and style. would recommend to anyone in the physical sciences

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Exceeded expectations

It's definitely a difficult person to write about due to the wide range of von Neumann's contributions. But the author did it well, at least from my field of computer science perspective. I also like the right amount of personality depiction. I saw a real and interesting human, but in the meantime, not drowned in the human drama.

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Not a biography … and a perplexing narration

This is a good book, but I would not call it a biography - if you are looking for a story that focuses solely on Von Neumann, this is not for you. This is a light touch on the person, with a heavier focus on the times and people he influenced.
As an avid audiobook listener, this is by far the most polarizing narrator I’ve ever encountered. While I’ve had cases where I initially didn’t like the narration but eventually warmed up to them, this absolutely did not happen here. If I had the time and decent eyesight, I would have switched to the print version like other reviewers on audible.

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Educational Book

Extremely informative book of not only Von Neumann, but the entire scientific research community of this time.