Monday, March 9, 2009

Five best books on the brilliantly disturbed

Joshua Kendall is the author of The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus, now available in paperback.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of "books on the brilliantly disturbed."

Number One on the list:
A Beautiful Mind
by Sylvia Nasar
Simon & Schuster, 1998

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are no second acts in the lives of schizophrenics. Once entrenched, paranoia rarely lifts. Thus the resurrection of mathematician and economist John Nash is a tale for the ages. While Nash's conversation as a young man had "always mixed mathematics and myth," by the late 1950s the MIT professor was going far beyond eccentricity. He talked of becoming the emperor of Antarctica; he also insisted that aliens were communicating to him through the New York Times. Nash spent the next three and a half decades as a revolving-door psychiatric in-patient and aimless wanderer. But after receiving the 1994 Nobel Prize for his long-ago dissertation on game theory, the former boy wonder miraculously regained his appetite for scientific study. Sylvia Nasar's "A Beautiful Mind" is less schmaltzy and tidy than the Oscar-winning movie based on it. The Hollywood version suggests that Nash benefited from new medications, but as Nasar reports, Nash actually stopped taking antipsychotics in 1970 and relied solely on his potent mind. "Gradually," Nash recalled, "I began to reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking.
Read about the other four titles on Kendall's list.

--Marshal Zeringue