Benjamín Labatut — The MANIAC with Emily Esfahani Smith — at the Wharf

Upcoming Event
Wednesday, April 3, 2024 - 7:00pm

Benjamín Labatut's When We Cease to Understand the World electrified a global readership. A Booker Prize and National Book Award finalist, and one of the New York Times' Ten Best Books of the Year, it explored the life and thought of a clutch of mathematicians and physicists who took science to strange and sometimes dangerous new realms. In The MANIAC, Labatut has created a tour de force on an even grander scale.

A prodigy whose gifts terrified the people around him, John von Neumann transformed every field he touched, inventing game theory and the first programable computer, and pioneering AI, digital life, and cellular automata. Through a chorus of family members, friends, colleagues, and rivals, Labatut shows us the evolution of a mind unmatched and of a body of work that has unmoored the world in its wake.

The MANIAC places von Neumann at the center of a literary triptych that begins with Paul Ehrenfest, an Austrian physicist and friend of Einstein, who fell into despair when he saw science and technology become tyrannical forces; it ends a hundred years later, in the showdown between the South Korean Go Master Lee Sedol and the AI program AlphaGo, an encounter embodying the central question of von Neumann's most ambitious unfinished project: the creation of a self-reproducing machine, an intelligence able to evolve beyond human understanding or control.

A work of beauty and fabulous momentum, The MANIAC confronts us with the deepest questions we face as a species.

Benjamín Labatut is a Chilean author born in the Netherlands in 1980. He was raised in The Hague before settling in Chile, where he lives and works. He is the author of Antarctica starts here (2009), a short story collection; After the Light (2016), a series of scientific, philosophical, and historical notes on the void; The Stone of Madness (2021), a diptych on madness, chaos, and modernity; and When We Cease to Understand the World (2021), a book that explores the ecstasy and agony of scientific breakthroughs and has been translated into over thirty languages.

Labatut will be in conversation with Emily Esfahani Smith. Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of The Power of Meaning, an international bestseller that has been translated into 16 different languages. The former managing editor of The New Criterion, Smith’s articles and essays about psychology and culture have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and other publications. In 2019, she was a Poynter Journalism Fellow at Yale University. Smith is also a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at the Catholic University of America, where she is training as a therapist.

This event is free with first come, first serve seating.

610 Waters St SW
Washington, DC 20024
The Wharf
Fiction & Poetry
The MANIAC By Benjamin Labatut Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780593654477
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Penguin Press - October 3rd, 2023