These days, a lot more people have heard of John Nash than had back when I was learning about game theory. John Nash is the Nobel prize winning economist whose life story is told in the film ‘A Beautiful Mind’.
At the time I was learning about him, I had discovered that a biography of him had been written. I was suddenly far more interested in him. Now I just needed to lay my hands on the book. At this stage buying books on the internet wasn’t a common event. So I had to roam around central London to purchase it.
The reason I had found out about the biography was that I had seen in the movie press that Ron Howard had optioned the book. For some reason, I expected to see this book available in “all good bookshops”. In fact, nowhere had it. Finally, in a random Waterstone’s, I gave up looking and asked if they had a copy anywhere in London. They directed me to a different shop across town and told me that I would find this book in the “mathematical biography” section.
Off I went to this book shop at the top end of the Charing Cross Road*. Once in the shop it was hard enough to find the mathematical biography section, but suddenly there it was… And the book was there. There was only one copy and I grabbed it.
I took it back to the counter and I was confronted by one of the ladies that had helped me find the mathematical biography section.
“So did you find your ‘book’ then?”
There was something about the way that she asked the question which made me start. I was about 17 and male and she was about 17 and female. I didn’t want her to think I was the kind of guy who was into ‘mathematical biography’. But I didn’t really have a good way of making that point, considering I had a mathematical biography in my hand, so I just said, “yes, thanks”.
As the till mechanics were getting underway, I decided to have another stab. “It’s amazing that you don’t have more copies of this in stock.”
“Of a mathematical biography?”
“Well, it’s more than just that.”
“Is it?,” she sounded decidedly unconvinced.
“Yes. I bet you that one day you’ll have this downstairs in the best seller category and maybe then you’ll remember this.”
“Books don’t normally leap down there just because one person bought them.”
“Oh I know that, but you see Ron Howard just optioned this book this morning. It’s going to be a big film with people, you know, stars in it.”
“Really?,” she still seemed utterly unconvinced.
We finished the transaction and I left the shop and pretty much forgot all about it. I read the book, I saw the film; the book’s a lot better.
Then, one day, I was walking through the very same bookshop when I suddenly hear, “Oi! Beautiful mind”. I turn, thinking that perhaps the deodorant adverts are more accurate than I previously thought, and somebody has mistaken me for Russell Crowe. But no, it was the girl from a year and a half before. And with a jerk of her head, she revealed that indeed ‘A Beautiful Mind’ had made it downstairs.
*It was that strange Waterstones that was about five different shops that they hadn’t bothered combining into one.