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نقد و بررسی
January 9, 2012
Masters (Stuart: A Life Backwards) adds to his biographical gallery of English eccentrics with this sprightly portrait of a math prodigy matured into squalid serenity. He profiles Simon Norton, his erstwhile Cambridge landlord and a once famous mathematician who made pioneering contributions to group theory, now the picture of uncouth, unworldly genius. Writing in a droll, quirky style festooned with cartoons, diagrams, and candid snapshots, the author wallows in Simon’s splendid oddities: the cave-like basement apartment (or “excavation”) crammed with trash, paperbacks, and expired transit timetables; the grungy clothes, shaggy hair, and revolting fish and rice diet; the articulate grunts and bizarre non sequiturs; the stealthy approach and fixed gaze that make women shriek in startlement; the obsessive traveling on, mapping of, and campaigning for the British bus and rail system. (The book includes engaging chapters on the rudiments of group theory, but Simon’s mathematical theories are too abstruse for laymen and the author merely gestures at them to convey his blinkered brilliance.) Masters mines what is clearly a galloping case of Asperger’s for insights into the nature of genius, with only limited success. Still, his hilarious and supple prose, vivid observations, and exasperated affection for Simon make for a fascinating study of an improbably happy life. Photos. Agent: George Lucas.
February 15, 2012
The breezy biography of a highly eccentric mathematician. Masters (Stuart: A Life Backwards, 2006) does a solid job of portraying Simon Phillips Norton as a peculiar, once-reputable math prodigy with immense intelligence who devolved into a disheveled recluse---and the author's live-in landlord. With droll undertones, Masters depicts Norton as a brilliant child who amazed educators with a 178 IQ, penned a sonata at age 10 and excelled as a teenager in the development of mathematical group theory at Eton College in the 1960s and then at Trinity College. After co-authoring a seminal text, The Atlas of Finite Groups, Norton botched a mathematical equation in the presence of peers, and a systematic collapse of genius ensued from which he never quite recovered. Years later, the author found himself a tenant sharing physical space in Cambridge with Norton, who shuffled around in a cavernous basement flat cluttered with garbage and transit timetables. This residential arrangement afforded Masters copious face time with the cosseted mathematician and his lifestyle oddities, including a penchant for odorous canned kippers, grunting communication and a scruffy, unkempt appearance--much akin to Russian math genius Grigori Perelman. Writing with uncanny delight and wonder, Masters offers a hectic amalgam of comical drawings, complex numerical calculations, photographs, articles and letters, all contributing, in one quirky way or another, to the elevation of Norton's hyperactive intellect. A rarefied glimpse at bizarre brilliance.
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September 1, 2011
When still in his early twenties, math prodigy Simon Norton published the hugely significant The Atlas of Finite Groups. He's well known to the author, not because Masters studied math and physics but because Norton is Masters's landlord, living in the basement of his building. How Norton got there after his early triumphs is a story Masters can tell; he wrote Stuart: A Life Backwards, a Guardian First Book award winner about a homeless man.
Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
February 15, 2012
Simon Phillips Norton, one of the leading experts in a branch of mathematics so complex that (despite the author's best efforts) we really only get a vague sense of it, makes a wonderful subject for this unique biography. The author, who lives in the same house as his subject, calls this an excavation, and that's probably the most accurate word for it: it isn't a straightforward, beginning-to-end life story but, rather, a sort of biographical archaeological expedition. Describing the book is about as tricky as describing Norton himself, a brilliant but highly idiosyncratic man, a child prodigy who, as he grew to adulthood, seems to have retreated into himself so much so that the rest of the world is more like an abstract concept than an actual reality. It's a portrait of a deeply fascinating man, but it's also a story about writing the book itself (in which Norton functions not only as the author's subject but also his coauthor, editor, and critic). A portrait of genius at work, operating on many levels.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2012, American Library Association.)