Mathematical biography

I wrote an article the other day (I’m fascinated by board games) on the subject of games. And in it I mentioned the man John Nash, the subject of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”. This reminded me of a peculiar situation that occurred to me a few years back.

I had for some time been trying to find Sylvia Nasar’s book “A Beautiful Mind” which the movie was to be based on. When I had first started looking, as far as I know there was no movie planned.

Now I know that books can be found on the internet and I will sometimes employ that method but only in very specialist circumstances. Generally however I prefer to have a mental list in my head and then look around every bookshop I come near until I find it. This way it a) takes longer and b) costs more because generally I find may other books I didn’t really know I needed until I held them in my hands. But somehow I feel this is still the better method.

I suddenly found the book completely unexpectedly in the Waterstone’s on Charring Cross Road. I was amazed to discover that they had a dedicated mathematical biography section. And lo the book was there. As I went to the front desk clutching the last copy they had, I decided to mention something to the salesperson.

“This book,” I said, “is very difficult to find.”
“Oh,” she asked, “where did you find it.”
“Mathematical biography.” I replied. I’m sure it wasn’t a trick of the light there was pity in her eyes.

“No, no!”, I said, “this book may be in ‘mathematical biography’ in only one bookshop in the whole of London right now, but within a year I promise you this book will be in the bestseller section of every bookshop in the land.” I was warming to my subject now.
“Um, why?”
“Well, this morning I saw that Brian Grazer had secured the rights to this book. And Brian Grazer is Ron Howard’s favoured producer. So it’s very likely that this movie will make it big.”

And it was true, I had seen that piece of news that morning on the internet before I had gone out shopping. It was an incredible co-incidence, and for a time I believed that perhaps some ambitious bookseller had realised the rights had been sold and had started stocking the book. But then why only 1 copy? How so fast? It must just have been a co-incidence.

Anyway despite all of this the teller looked sceptical. I paid my money. And I left the shop.

Three years later I returned. Well I had probably returned in between but I don’t remember any of those times. Anyway as I was paying for my purchases this time the sales person suddenly said to me, “hey you’re that beautiful mind guy”.

How odd, I thought, this girl has confused me with John Nash, a septuagenarian of some repute. You see although these incidents have been brought together in this article at the time they did not seem connected at all. In fact I am pretty sure that I hadn’t thought of the incident since it had occurred.

She could clearly see the confusion in my eyes so she added, “No you’re the guy who came in here and told me that ‘A beautiful mind’ was going to be a big seller. And you were right. It was”.

Suddenly the original incident came back to me. The improbability of the whole set of coincidences on top of other coincidences seems astronomical. Although I’m sure if we were to ask Mr Nash he would be able to show that actually wasn’t as unlikely as all that.

One thought on “Mathematical biography

  1. […] out the original article: Mathematical Biography and let me know what you […]

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