Strange Brains and Genius

The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen
By Clifford A. Pickover

Learn about the obsessive and bizarre personalities of some of the greatest geniuses of our time: Tesla, Einstein, Bentham, Kirwan, Heaviside, Johnson, Galton, Pyke, and so many more. Is there a link between genius and madness? What role does the brain play in alien abduction, religious experience, UFOs, and cryonics? Where is Einstein's brain?

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Scroll down for more on Tesla.

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Filled with 200 years of eccentric geniuses, this delightful collection of profiles assembles an eclectic and fascinating sampling of scientists (as well as some artists and writers) with a far-ranging assortment of phobias, compulsions, odd belief systems and extraordinarily weird habits. Chief among the scientists is Nikola Tesla, father of alternating current and countless other electrical devices, who could be seen on New York City streets covered in pigeons, was obsessed with the number three, and repulsed by jewelry, particularly pearls. Then there is Oliver Heaviside, a Victorian mathematician and electrical researcher who painted his nails bright pink, signed his correspondence "W.O.R.M.", and cruelly kept the woman charged with his care a virtual prisoner in her own house, later driving her into catatonia. Also explored are the lives of Samuel Johnson, van Gough, and legendary mathematician Paul Erdos, among others. Pickover, a high-tech inventor and researcher at IBM and a prolific author (TIME -- A TRAVELER'S GUIDE, reviewed Apr 20) shows genuine fondness for his subjects and an appreciation of their accomplishments, which he explains clearly and succinctly. More than simply cataloging unusual traits, Pickover also speculates on causes and diagnoses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and temporal lobe epilepsy. This is a lively and immensely enjoyable scientific history. Photos throughout." - Publisher's Weekly, May 25, 1998 

New Scientist Review

"Clifford Pickover in Strange Brains and Genius provides more than enough evidence to show that an astounding intellect can be a passport to insanity. Pickover has gone deep to uncover the sordid, and frequently tragicomic, lives of some of history's most notorious eggheads.... Nikola Tesla is merely the tip of the iceberg. Electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside replaced his conventional furniture with granite blocks and insulated his loft with vast swathes of unpublished, yet brilliant papers. His low self-esteem manifested itself in his idiosyncratic signature: WORM. Pickover has sympathetically exposed the mental weaknesses which may accompany many of these people's amazing intellectual strengths. We see that most of these people contributed more in an afternoon than us dunces achieve in a lifetime. For that, we should be thankful." - NEW SCIENTIST, May 1998 

Other Praise

"Who else but the maestro of mathematical creativity, Clifford Pickover, to curate a museum of Strange Brains and write biographies of the scientific geniuses who formerly owned them? I'll never look at a pigeon, a pearl, or a Wheatstone bridge the same way again."
- Mark Frauenfelder, WIRED magazine

"Do geniuses tend to have strange beliefs and to exhibit bizarre behavior? Read this fascinating account of nine such men and decide what you think. Before you put the book down -- not easy to do! -- you will also learn a lot about the human brain and its major disorders. One cannot but wonder: Does Pickover, himself a genius in explaining mathematics and science in clear, entertaining ways, have any eccentricities?"
- Martin Gardner, Author of LAST RECREATIONS

"Pickover's originality has found itself the perfect topic....A compulsive account of minds just this side of the thin edge of madness -- and possibly beyond it."

"Given his prolific nature and endless supply of ideas, Pickover would have been justified in adding a self-referential entry to this book. He certainly deserves to be described by the word genius, and this fascinating book is a testament to that fact."

"An extraordinary wealth of bizarre details about the life and behavior of many well-known scientists and others....Leaves one in awe of the variety and complexity of the human mind."
- Julien Clinton Sprott, Author of STRANGE ATTRACTIONS, Professor of Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Pickover presents a fascinating mix of scientists, inventors, and philosophers. Besides learning about the profound impact their works have had on our lives, we get a look at their darker sides. Most informative and entertaining."
- Theoni Pappas, Author of MATHEMATICAL SCANDALS

"Delightful descriptions of wonderfully peculiar people....Pickover is the first to bring an insider's view to such a list, and he does so with authority, but also with a light touch. It puts our Uncle Albert in context for us, too!"
- Dr. Jack Cohen, author of FIGMENTS OF REALITY

Jacket Blurb:

In this unusual and penetrating work, Clifford Pickover -- internationally recognized science popularizer -- takes us on a wild ride through the bizarre lives of brilliant, but eccentric geniuses who made significant contributions to science and philosophy. Unveiling the hidden secrets of a number of the most intelligent and prolific real-life mad scientists, Pickover delights us with unexpected stories of their obsessive personalities and strange phobias. These common threads lead us to wonder if creativity and genius are inextricably linked to madness.

A highly entertaining collection of oddity and mischief, this original new work playfully uncovers the scandalous details that lurk behind the unseemly lives of these geniuses. We discover the "Unabomber", Ted Kaczynski, a mathematical whiz with an IQ of 170, was pathologically shy, had an uncontrollable obsession with loud sounds, especially earthy bodily noises, and enjoyed playing practical jokes in high school, such as creating homemade gadgets that would pop loudly and emit a stream of violet smoke amid class -- a compulsion that may have turned deadly.

Then there was the great inventor Nikola Tesla who had a peculiar love for pigeons, particularly white ones, and was terrified of women's pearls. Plenty of other surprises abound, including the statistician and world explorer Francis Galton who quantified anything he saw -- including the curves of women's bodies, and then there are others who all lived exceedingly unusual sexual or celibate lives.

Moreover, a fascinating "curiosity smorgasbord" to whet our appetites teases us with provocative questions to ponder along the way... How does manic depression affect the creativity of artists? How does epilepsy effect religious and alien abduction experiences? Where is Einstein's brain? Is it true that humans use only 10% of their brain capacity? What is IQ? What is obsessive-compulsive disorder? Also, find out how you would fit into the astonishing results of Pickover's human mind survey on intelligence, memory, and the brain, which he conducted exclusively over the Internet.

This whimsical romp through mad obsessions, compulsive rituals, and brilliant theories will allow you to gaze unrestrained into the secret lives of extraordinarily brainy but peculiar people. An illuminating page-turner, it will surely satisfy anoyone's curiosity as Pickover opens the doors to a disturbingly alluring realm of geniuses, eccentrics, and madmen.

More on Tesla

"I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." - Nikola Tesla

"I do not think you can name many great inventions that have been made by married men." - Nikola Tesla

"Mr. Marconi is a donkey." - Nikola Tesla

Fact File

Terms Indexed in Strange Brains and Genius

(This is meant to give a clearer indication of topics covered.)
Aesop, 258
Alcohol, 41
Alexander the Great, 258
Alien abduction, 266-267
Alternating current, 10, 13, 28
Alzheimer's disease, 202
Amnesia, 28
Anafranil, ix, 188, 189, 307
Archimedes, 258
Aristotle, xvii, 258
Asimov, Isaac, 257
Attention-deficit disorder, 303
Attila the Hun, 258
Auditory hallucinations, 24, 26-27, 308
Autism, 303
Beauty index, 138
Beethoven, 259
Bentham, Jeremy, ix, 98-103
Bentinck-Scott, 191, 252
Berryman, John, 2
Bibliomania, 194-195
Bierce, Ambrose, 259
Bipolar disorder, ix, 2, 184, 188, 265, 273, 297
Blake, William, 258
Body dismorphic disorder, 307
Boulard, M., 194
Boxing, 203
Boyle, 258
Brain shelter, 201-203
Brain, 3, 209-213, 219, 300; see also Questionnaire, human mind
Breakthroughs, 298-310
Buddha, 267, 297
Burton, Clive, 202-203
Byron, 272
Carroll, Lewis, 262
Cavendish, Henry, 3, 104-112, 252, 258, 261
Celibacy, 10, 52, 105, 155, 158, 259; see also Women
Cerenkov radiation, 52
Chemistry, 92, 104
Cheney, Margaret, 20
Cholesterol, 309
Claustrophilia, x
Clomipramine hydrochloride, ix
Clothing, 31
Collyer brothers, 191
Corpses, x, 103
Corsellis, Nick, 202
Cryonics, 3-4, 311
Cyberspace, 197
Darkness: see Scotophilia
Darwin, Charles, 116, 258, 288-290
de Maupassant, Guy, 271
Deformities, 258
Demosthenes, 258
Depression: see Unipolar disorder
Descartes, 259
Diamond, Marian, 205
Dick, Philip K., 271
Diets, 48
Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 154, 262, 267
Earth cracker, 38
Edison, Thomas, 10, 14, 28, 70, 259-260
Einstein, Albert, viii, 25, 204-208, 257, 260
Einstein's brain, 204-208
Einstein's children, 208
Electricity, 10, 13; see also Tesla, Nikola; Heaviside, Oliver
Electroplating, 4
Epilepsy, ix, 142, 154, 188, 262-270, 297, 303, 317-318
Epilogue, 251-243
Erdos, Paul, 280-285
Eugenics, 114, 132
Ezekiel, 269
Father figures, 261
Fear of Germs: see Germs
Fears: see Phobias
Feynman, Richard, 257, 286-288
Fielding, Amanda, 294
FitzGerald, George, 66
Flaubert, 259, 262, 271
Fleming, Alexander,  258
Fluoxitine hydrochloride: see Prozac
Fluvoxamine, 188
Fly man: see Kirwan, Richard
Flying, 21-22
Food, 48, 70-73, 105, 142, 154, 178
Freudians, 313
Galileo, 259
Galton, Francis, 3, 113-140, 260
Geissler tubes, 31
Genetics, 301, 303, 306, 308, 309
Geology, 94
Germs, 30, 84, 90, 96-97, 182, 292
Gleick, James, 287
Glial cells, 206, 212
Hair-pulling, 189-190, 316-317
Hallucinations: see Visual hallucinations
Hand-washing, 30
Happiness, 309-310
Harvey, Thomas, 205
Harvey, William, 191, 252, 296
Heat loving, 57
Heaviside, Oliver, viii, 3, 51-79, 82, 260, 264
Heber, Richard, 195
Height, 258
Hemingway, Ernest, 2
Hesse, Herman, 2
Hoarding, 190-194
Homosexuality, 306; see also Celibacy
Hotels, 20
Hughes, Howard, 184, 291-293
Hunter, John, 258
Hydrocephalus, 212
Hyperacusis, 26
Hypergraphia, 152, 155, 264-265, 271
Hyperreligiosity, 263
Hypochondria: see Germs
Immune system, 303
Inheritance of intelligence, 127
Ionosphere, 60
IQ and race, 128
IQ, 117, 165, 216-221; see also Questionnaire, human mind
Jamison, Kay, 273, 297
Jewelry, 21, 31, 34
Jews, 10, 132, 142, 147
Johnson, Samuel, 80-89, 154, 185
Joyce, James, 259
Kaczynski, Theodore, 157-182, 314-315
Kennedy, Susanna, 296-297
Kennelly-Heaviside layer, 60
Kirkegaard, 259
Kirwan, Richard, 90-97
Language, 304
Lasher, 219
Laxative, 3, 11
Leedskalnin, Edward, 293-295
LePlante, Eve, 258, 262-269, 275
Lister, Joseph, 258
Lorber, John, 212
Ludwig, Arnold, 260-261
Luvox: see Fluvoxamine
Mahler, Gustave, 2
Major depression: see Unipolar disorder
Manic depression: see Bipolar disorder
Marconi, Guglielmo, 10
Mars, 36, 39
Maxwell, James, 53, 57, 107, 260
Measuring: see Galton, Francis
Mellen, Joey, 294
Memory, photographic, 29
Memory, 219
Michelangelo, 317
Mill, John, xi
Mineralogy, 94
Mingus, Charles, 2
Mohammed, 267-268
Moses, 268
Motors, 13
Mozart, 260
Multiples of 3, 20
Music, 304
Musicians, 297
Nahin, Paul, 63, 65, 76, 79; see also Heaviside, Oliver
Nelson, 258
Neurons, 3
Neurosis, 308
Newton, Isaac, 2-3, 56, 109, 258, 260, 312-313
Nollekens, Joseph, ix
Numbers, 130, 186
O'Keefe, Georgia, 2
Obesity, 309
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, 20, 82-84, 183-200, 262-265, 275, 292, 300
Ogden, Charles, x
Oscillator, 38
Out-of-the-body experiences, 266
Panic disorder, 320
Paul (Saint), 259, 268-270
Pearls: see Jewelry
Persinger, Michael, 266
Philosophers, 297
Phobias, 31; see also  Germs
Pickover, Clifford, 326-327
Pigeons, 10, 41-44, 67
Plath, Sylvia, 2
Poe, Edgar, vii, 2
Pope, 258
Porter, Cole, 2
Pound, Ezra, 2
Priapism, 158, 182
Prozac, ix, 97, 188, 307
Pyke, Geoffrey, 26, 141-156, 216, 264, 271
Pykrete, 142, 149
Quaternion, 51, 174
Questionnaire, human mind, 214-250
Race and IQ, 128
Radio, 19
Radiometer, 34
Rapoport, Judith, 183, 185
Ratsr: see Bentham, Jeremy
Rawlinson, Thomas, 194
Reading disability, 303
Religion, 40, 47, 53, 66, 81, 114, 128, 136, 263-270, 275
Richards, Ruth, 274
Rock furniture, 62
Rothko, Mark, 2
Runners-up list, 279-297
Scheibel, Arnold, 205
Schizophrenia, 275, 301-302, 308, 318
Scotophilia, 40
Serotonin, ix, 188
Sexton, Anne, 2
Sexual abuse, 306
Sexuality: 259, 264; see also Women; Celibacy;
Shakespeare, William, 259
Shyness: see Cavendish, Henry; Bentham, Jeremy; Kaczynski, Theodore
Smith, Adam, 258
Smith, Anthony, 261
Speaking problems, 258
Stammers, 258
Stieglitz, Alfred, 259
Strieber, Whitley, 266-267
Superluminal radiation, 52
Swallowers, 299
Synesthesia, 21
Temporal lobe epilepsy: see Epilepsy
Tennyson, Alfred, 271
Tesla, Nikola, viii, 5, 9-50, 63, 67, 82, 184, 258, 259
Thermophilia, 57, 90
Thoreau, Henry, vii
Thought photography, 46
Transhumanism, 219
Trazodone, 158, 181
Trepaning, 294
Trichotillomania: see Hair-pulling
Twain, Mark, 2
UFO, 266-269
Unabomber, 157-182, 314-314
Unipolar disorder, ix, 142, 297, 305, 309
Updates, 298-310
van Gogh, Vincent, 2, 154, 262-264, 270
Venusian, 30
Victorian age, 256-257
Virgil, 258
Virus, 305
Visual hallucinations, 23, 25, 135, 263-265
Visualizing numbers, 130
vos Savant, Marilyn, 215
Waterton, Charles, x
Wheatstone, Charles, 56, 49
Whitman, Walt, 2
Wiener, Norbert, 261
Williams syndrome, 26
Williams: Tennessee, 2
Women, 44, 54, 155, 259
Woolf, Virginia, 2
Worm Man: see Heaviside, Oliver
Wren, 258
Writers, 297
X-rays, 34

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