by Jimmie Sonni and Rob Goodman
Despite likely being the most brilliant man you’ve never heard of with the most comprehensive unknown impact on the advancement of technology, Claude Shannon, star of Jimmie Sonni and Rob Goodman’s A Mind at Play (Simon and Schuster 2017), was by all accounts a normal kid through high school and college. Sure, he could send Morse code with his body (you’ll have to read the book to see how that’s accomplished) and he had a passion for solving complex math problems most people couldn’t even read, but that changed when he was discovered by a string of mentors who helped him focus his intellect.
“…who could neither explain himself to others nor cared to.”
It didn’t hurt that he lived contemporaneously with such brilliant minds as Alan Turing, George Boole (of Boolean Logic fame), Albert Einstein, and anthropologist Levi Strauss. By the time he died, Shannon had produced a wide variety of groundbreaking research, taught at MIT, would be known as the Father of Information Theory, and was remembered for his prominence in engineering, mathematics, and cryptography.
“Prone to writing down stray questions on napkins at restaurants in the middle of meals.”
Understanding this book is easier though not necessary if you have a basic understanding of algebra. The authors share a limited number of formulas and do an admirable job of simplifying them to easily understood terms.
“Switches aren’t just switches but a metaphor for math [I get this one but not too well].”
“Logic just like a machine was a tool for democratizing force: built with enough precision and skill it could multiply the power of the gifted and talented.”
The fact that the book is at times long-winded and meandering (like discussing the history of the now-defunct Bell Labs) is a reflection of the authors’ successful effort to decode a man who is often distracted and chaotic in his personal and professional life.
Overall, if you like Isaacson’s biography of Einstein or Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind about John Nash, you’ll love this book. If you like stories of the genius mind at play, how it unravels puzzles and solves life’s unique challenges, you’ll want to read this story.
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Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.