by Alexander Masters


I’m not entirely sure where to file this book. It’s not a biography, exactly, it seems to lie somewhere between a scrapbook and a series of letters from another country called Simon Norton.

I enjoyed the delightful, cartoonish illustrations, loved the often-terse communications between the subject and the author; I even enjoyed the attempts to put Simon’s mathematical thinking into layman’s terms (mostly lost on me, I’m very sad to admit). Simon sounds a charming character, with his marathon bus trips, his obsession with public transport. My only reservation is that The Genius in my Basement seemed to determined to stay resolutely on the surface of its subject – the untidy flat, the odd diet, the quirks and eccentricities, I would have liked to have gone deeper into what makes a man like Simon Norton function, his mathematical thinking and work routine – the work, especially; we hear a great deal about what Simon did, but nothing like enough about what he does. Simon adamantly rejects claims he’s lost any of his genius, he‘s still thinking, still working; I would have liked to have read more about that.

But perhaps that wasn’t the intention? It is called ‘The Genius in my Basement’, after all, it’s an account of Alexander Master’s thoughts and feelings about his friend Simon, a largely imperceptible, hard-to grasp, probably even harder to capture in words, character. What we get, in the end, is a fascinating, charming, touching and very likeable account of a man and his relationship with a genius, that I enjoyed very much.