This is the story that science writer Ananyo Bhattacharya tells with great deftness in The Man from the Future, giving von Neumann his rightful place among such better-known giants as Albert Einstein or J Robert Oppenheimer ... Bhattacharya tells the story tremendously well, situating von Neumann’s work — in fields from quantum mechanics to game theory to cellular automata — as comfortably as I’ve ever seen it done. He’s also good at deadpan humour.
... a lucid and rewarding new biography of von Neumann that otherwise visibly quivers from the noble effort to not use too many von Neumann anecdotes. Truth to tell, Bhattacharya, a physics scholar turned science writer, is less biographer than cartographer. The book doesn’t reveal many new details of von Neumann’s life and character, and our hero himself vanishes for pages at a time. Instead, Bhattacharya composes a rich intellectual map of von Neumann’s pursuits, shading in their histories and evolutions, and tracing the routes and connections between them. He recruits every ounce of your attention: Quantum physics, nuclear bomb-making, and computer architecture are all gnarly subjects. But through his narrative, we attend the raucous birth of these disciplines, with von Neumann hovering like a fussy midwife ... One of the finest aspects of Bhattacharya’s book is his delineation of how the nuclear bomb and the modern computer flowered in parallel, and how von Neumann buzzed between the two, cross-pollinating and nurturing until one now seems inconceivable without the other.
The Man From the Future is an apt title for Ananyo Bhattacharya’s brisk exploration of the products of this astonishingly fruitful mind, and where his glittering array of contributions to such diverse fields have taken us since ... Mr. Bhattacharya...is a first-rate guide to the dauntingly complex nuts and bolts of these abstruse subjects. Although I am skeptical that any attempts at popular explanations of quantum mechanics can succeed, the author’s crystal-clear prose and his keen ability to relate the essence of mathematical and physical problems in understandable terms work just about everywhere else, making for a tour de force of enjoyable science writing ... Mr. Bhattacharya...relies entirely on secondary sources, not even consulting the von Neumann papers at the Library of Congress ... This necessarily narrows Mr. Bhattacharya’s portrait of his subject; it also leads him into some inaccuracy and injustice to von Neumann and others ... It is, however, a marvelously bracing biography of the ideas of John von Neumann, ideas that continue to grow and flourish with a life of their own.