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The Genius in My Basement

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Alexander Masters tripped over his first book subject on a Cambridge sidewalk, and the result was the multi-award-winning bestseller Stuart: A Life Backwards. His second, he’s found under his floorboards.
One of the greatest mathematical prodigies of the twentieth century, Simon Norton stomps around Alexander’s basement in semidarkness, dodging between stalagmites of bus timetables and engorged plastic bags, eating tinned kippers stirred into packets of Bombay mix. Simon is exploring a theoretical puzzle so complex and critical to our understanding of the universe that it is known as the Monster. It looks like a sudoku table—except a sudoku table has nine columns of numbers.
The Monster has 808017424794512875886459904961710757005754368000000000 columns.
But that’s not the whole story. What’s inside the decaying sports bag he never lets out of his clutches? Why does he hurtle out of the house in the middle of the night? And—good God!—what is that noxious smell that creeps up the stairwell?
Grumpy, poignant, comical—more intimate than either the author or his quarry intended—Simon: The Genius in My Basement is the story of a friendship and a pursuit.  Part biography, part memoir, and part popular science, it is a study of the frailty of brilliance, the measures of happiness, and Britain’s most uncooperative egghead eccentric.

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly Review

Jan 09, 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.
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Feb 28, 2012
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Random House, LLC
  • Print Length: 368 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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