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Study Guide for A Beautiful Mind


Sylvia Nassar’s A Beautiful Mind is an account of the complicated life of Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash. We learn of his early life in which he demonstrated a precocious interest in codes and complicated games as well as the early signs of his brilliance, to his later achievements and eventual madness. Nassar’s book also shows us the early signs of his profound isolation and alienation from other people which contributed to his mental illness.

We follow Nash as he develops into a singular genius. Yet his inability to properly connect with other humans leads to serious complications in his personal life. In turn, these issues came to impact his professional life. For instance, Nash’s earliest intimate encounters were with other men, and this led to his dismissal from the RAND Corporation. At the time, homosexuality was considered grounds for terminating a security clearance.

Nash eventually descends into a schizophrenia. He develops paranoid delusions and loses touch with reality completely. After years of being in and out of mental hospitals, Nash finds his way back to sanity. Taken back in by his devoted wife Alicia, Nash went on to win the Nobel Prize for Mathematics.

The insight of Nassar’s biography come as she reveals the complex relationship between his intellectual brilliance and his mental illness. Nash’s isolation and alienation allowed him to see the complexities of relations which led to game theory. Yet this disposition also contributed to his decent into madness.

So much of Nash’s life was characterized by the mixed blessing of his intellect and unique perspectives on human relationships. The story of his life is in some measure redemptive in that Nash finds his way back to sanity, to his family, and to professional success as he discovers the reciprocal benefit of intimacy and emotional attachment.

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