Which is the "best" biography of von Neumann available to the casual reader (math undergrad)? Also, other than the Ulam book, which other good biographies of physicists/mathematicians can be recommended?
Here are a few biographies of von Neumann.
Giorgio Israel, Ana Millán Gasca, The world as a mathematical game. John von Neumann and twentieth century science. Science Networks. Historical Studies, 38. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel, 2009. xii+207 pp. ISBN: 978-3-7643-9895-8
Norman Macrae, John von Neumann. The scientific genius who pioneered the modern computer, game theory, nuclear deterrence, and much more. Reprint of the 1992 original. American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, 1999. x+406 pp. ISBN: 0-8218-2064-8
Steve J. Heims, John von Neumann and Norbert Wiener. From mathematics to the technologies of life and death. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.-London, 1980. xix+547 pp. ISBN: 0-262-08105-9
Richard Feynman's books:
- Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman.
- What Do You Care What Other People Think?
A bit of a meta-answer: for biographical searches on mathematicians, a very good way it to visit the Mathematical Biographies maintained by University of St Andrews, find the guy, scroll to the bottom, and click on the link to the list of bibliographic references.
To name a few,
Halmos: I want to be a mathematician
Shimura: The map of my life
Weil: The Apprenticeship of a Mathematician
Wiener: I am a mathematician
Surprised it hasn't been mentioned yet:
- Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers (1998)
is a biography of Paul Erdős, and is one of the most endearing biographies I've read of any person in any field.
"Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges
I can recommend Mark Kac's autobiography, Enigmas of Chance.
Since you ask for more than one mathematician/physicist I would like to add to the list the following excellent book.
- Red Regis. Who Got Einstein's Office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study. Basic Books. 1988. http://www.amazon.com/Einsteins-Office-Eccentricity-Institute-Advanced/dp/0201122782
It is a really entertaining book. Each chapter is devoted to a different person. I remember the first three chapters are devoted to Albert Einstein, Kurt Gödel and John von Neumann.
I've enjoyed these very much:
The autobiography of Bertrand Russell is a fascinating read. Only the beginning really deals with mathematics but is prose is a real pleasure to read. Follow the life of this great thinker and confront his views through the last century here : Russell's autobiography.
If you are more interested into the math the comic book Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth is another lively biography of Russell, focused on his contribution to logic.