The Genius in my Basement

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What to expect

As Aristotle understood it, ‘there is no great genius without a mixture of madness’ and he may well have had a point: Einstein routinely forgot his way home when out walking the streets of Vienna, Nietzsche wound up in an insane asylum and Bobby Fischer, the chess prodigy, now scrambles around the world, seeking residency in any country reckless enough to let him through immigration.

Simon Philips Norton, the subject of ‘The Genius in my Basement’, is not mad – not by a long shot – but he is certainly mixed up. At one time he was considered one of the greatest prodigies of contemporary mathematics, his breakthrough work on a group of numbers nicknamed the ‘Monster’ inspired, and was acclaimed by, the international maths community for many years. These days he spends most of his time colouring in road atlases, tracing the paths of bus routes he has travelled upon all over the country, sheltering amongst a tower of unwashed pans and eating smoked kippers straight from a tin in his ‘messy’ (as Simon calls it) basement flat in Cambridge.

In ‘The Genius in my Basement’, Alexander Masters, the award-winning and best-selling author of ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’, offers a tender, humorous and intimate portrait of genius at its most ordinary and at its most blurred. He enters us into the extraordinary life of one of the would-be contenders – an everyday mastermind – and in doing so, reveals the cruel burdens, as well as the glorious rewards, of a life marked by brilliance.

Critics Review

  • From the reviews of ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’:

    ‘Unique and wonderful’ Daily Mail

    ‘This is a very rare and haunting book … A great first book’ Andrew O’Hagan

    ‘Good books like this appear about once every five years. It’s been years since I’ve been so delighted by a book and so surprised by it … When I’d finished I felt bereft, as if I’d lost an old friend’ Zadie Smith

    ‘I feel so strongly about this strange, funny, sad book that I hardly know where to begin … My enthusiasm feels almost limitless. A page-turner’ Observer

    ‘Funny and original, a startling book … By the end I was doubled up in tears, but throughout I was often doubled up with laughter. It is dazzling’ Vogue

    ‘A remarkable biography. Unforgettably moving. A gripping read’ Tim Lott, Sunday Times

    ‘With his first book, Alexander Masters … has achieved something remarkable. He has, without patronising, given a voice to the “underclass”; at the same time, without preaching, he shows us the value of even the most damaged of human lives … a powerful book, humane, instructive and entirely original’ Sunday Telegraph

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