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Biographies: John von Neumann, 1903-1957

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129391D
Original Publication Date: 1982-Apr-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-05

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

S. Ulam: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Just one year after John von Neumann -- an almost legendary figure of twentieth-century mathematics -- died on February 8, 1957, his friend and associate Stanislas Ulam submitted a biography to the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. We are reprinting the article here, first because con Neumann made significant contributions to the early history of high-speed computing machines and to the mathematics on which they are used and, second, because the paper is an outstanding example of a classic scientific biography.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1982 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Biographies: John von Neumann, 1903-1957

S. Ulam

    (Image Omitted: Reprinted from S. Ulam, "John von Neumann," Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, Volume 64, Issue 3, Part 2, pages 1-9, by permission of the American Mathematical Society. 7copy; 1958 by the American Mathematical Society. Categories and Subject Descriptors: A.0 [General] -- biographies, J. can Neumann; K.2 [History of Computing] -- people, J. von Neumann. General Terms: Human Factor. AFIPS 0164-1239/82/02157-1 81/00)

Editor's Note

Just one year after John von Neumann -- an almost legendary figure of twentieth-century mathematics -- died on February 8, 1957, his friend and associate Stanislas Ulam submitted a biography to the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society. We are reprinting the article here, first because con Neumann made significant contributions to the early history of high- speed computing machines and to the mathematics on which they are used and, second, because the paper is an outstanding example of a classic scientific biography.

Ulam starts with a short chronological lid history, followed by a few words on his friend's personal characteristics. The bulk of the biography is an account of von Neumann's diverse achievements, in which each contribution is described, analyzed, and its ultimate importance and influence explained. The breadth of con Neumann 's interests and accomplishments was such that this paper reviews "a large part of the whole scientific development" of the three decades preceding his death.

The biography is remarkable for the grace, skill, and comprehensiveness with which Ulam shows con Neumann's accomplishments and puts them into the appropriate scientific and historical context. Ulam is in a unique position to do this: he writes extremely well, he has the ability to make difficult things understandable, and he knew con Neumann for 26 years. He is also a leading mathematician and has the background and ability to comment on con Neumann's work.

Ulam's paper is indeed remarkable, but we emphasize that each biographer will have an individual style. Thus the biographies that appear in the Annals will reflect not only the work and personality of the subjects but also the perspectives of the authors. --Eric A.Weiss

In John von Neumann's death on February 8, 1957,11 the world of mathematics lost a most original, penetrating, and versatile mind. Science suffered the loss of a universal intellect and a unique interpreter of mathematics, who could bring the latest (and develop latent) applications of its methods to bear on problems of physics, astronomy, biology, and the new technology. Many eminent voices have already described and praised his contributions. It is my aim to add here a brief account of his life and of his work from a background of personal...