“Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one,” says E.B. White. The list below appears to confirm that, with stories about geniuses who disappeared, geniuses who vanished and some geniuses who seem to be just plain crazy.
1. William Sidis
William James Sidis was an American child prodigy with exception mathematical and linguistic skills. He is notable for his 1920 book “The Animate and the Inanimate,” in which he postulates the existence of dark matter, entropy and the origin of life in the context of thermodynamics.
Sidis was raised in a particular manner by his father, psychologist Boris Sidis, who wished his son to be gifted. Sidis first became famous for his precocity and later for his eccentricity and withdrawal from public life.
Eventually, he avoided mathematics altogether, writing on other subjects under a number of pseudonyms. He entered Harvard at age 11 and, as an adult, was claimed to have an extremely high IQ, and to be conversant in about 25 languages and dialects.
Some of these claims have not been verifiable, but peers such as Norbert Wiener supported the assertion that his intelligence was very high.
2. Grigori Perelman
Grigori Yakovlevich Perelman is a Russian mathematician. He has made contributions to Riemannian geometry and geometric topology. In 1994, Perelman proved the soil conjecture.
In 2003, he proved Thurston’s geometrization conjecture. The proof was confirmed in 2006. This consequently solved in the affirmative the Poincare conjecture.
In August 2006, Perelman was offered the Fields Medal for, “his contribution to geometry and his revolutionary insights into the analytical and geometric structure of the Ricci flow,” but he declined the award, stating: “I’m not interesting in money or fame; I don’t want to be on display like an animal in a zoo.”
On December 22, 2006, the scientific journal Science recognized Perelman’s proof of the Poincare conjecture as the scientific Breakthrough of the Year, the first such recognition in the area of mathematics.
On March 18, 2010, it was announced that he had met the criteria to receive the first Clay Millennium Prize for resolution of the Poincare conjecture. On July 1, 2010, he rejected the prize of one million dollars, saying that he considered the decision of the board of CMI and the award very unfair and that his contribution to solving the Poincare conjecture was no greater than that of Richard S. Hamilton, the mathematician who pioneered the Ricci flow with the aim of attacking the conjecture.
He had previously rejected the prestigious prize of the European Mathematical Society, in 1996. At present, the only Millennium Prize problem to have been solved is the Poincare conjecture.
3. J.D. Salinger
Jerome David Salinger was an American writer known for his novel “The Catcher in the Rye.” He was raised in Manhattan and began writing short stories while in secondary school. His father urged him to learn about the meat-importing business; he went to work in Europe but was so disgusted by the slaughterhouses that he decided to embark on a different career path.
He left Austria one month before it was annexed by Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938. In 1942, he began to date Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. He found her self-absorbed, yet he called her often and wrote her long letters. Their relationship ended when Oona began seeing Charlie Chaplin, whom she eventually married.
In 1948, his story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which also published much of his later work. “The Catcher in the Rye” was published in novel form in 1951, having been serialized earlier. Many adolescent readers appreciated his depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in protagonist Holden Caulfield.
The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 per year. The success of “The Catcher in the Rye” led to public attention and scrutiny, and Salinger became reclusive and led an obsessively private life for more than a half-century. He published his final work in 1965, and gave his last interview in 1980. He died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire.
4. Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon Jr. is an American novelist. A MacArthur Fellow, he is noted for his dense and complex novels. His fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, genres and themes, including history, music, science, and mathematics. For “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Pynchon won the 1973 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.
Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon served two years in the United States Navy and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known: “V.”, “The Crying of Lot 49”, and “Gravity’s Rainbow.”
His 2009 novel “Inherent Vice” was adapted into a feature film of the same name by director Paul Thomas Anderson in 2014. Pynchon is notoriously reclusive; few photographs of him have been published, and rumors about his location and identity have circulated since the 1960s. Pynchon’s most recent novel, “Bleeding Edge,” was published on September 17, 2013.
5. Chaim Soutine
Chaim Soutine was a Russian-French painter of Jewish origin. Soutine made a major contribution to the expressionist movement while living in Paris.
Inspired by classic painting in the European tradition, exemplified by the works of Rembrandt, Chardin and Courbet, Soutine developed an individual style more concerned with shape, color and texture over representation, which served as a bridge between more traditional approaches and the developing for of Abstract Expressionism.
Soutine once horrified his neighbors by keeping an animal carcass in his studio so that he could paint it. The stench drove them to send for the police, whom Soutine promptly lecture on the relative importance of art over hygiene.
His carcass paintings were inspired by Rembrandt’s still life of the same subject, “Slaughtered Ox,” which he discovered while studying the Old Masters in the Louvre. Soutine produced the majority of his works from 1920 to 1929. From 1930 to 1935, the interior designer Madeleine Castaing and her husband welcomed him to their summer home, the mansion of Leves, becoming his patrons, so that Soutine could hold his first exhibition in Chicago in 1935.
He seldom showed his works, but he did take part in the important exhibition “The Origins and Development of International Independent Art” held at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in 1937 in Paris, where he was at last hailed as a great painter.
Soon afterwards, France was invaded by German troops. As a Jew, Soutine had to escape from the French capital and hide in order to avoid arrest by the Gestapo. He moved from one place to another and was sometimes forced to seek shelter in forests, sleeping outdoors. Suffering from a stomach ulcer and bleeding badly, he left a safe hiding place for Paris in order to undergo emergency surgery, which failed to save his life. On August 9, 1943, Chaim Soutine died of a perforated ulcer. He was interred in Cimetiere du Montparnasse, Paris.
6. Barbara Newhall Follett
Barbara Newhall Follett was an American child prodigy novelist. Her first novel, “The House Without Windows,” was published in January 1927, when she was 12 years old. Her next novel, “The Voyage of the Norman D.,” received critical acclaim when she was 14.
In late 1933, Follett married Nickerson Rogers. The couple traveled throughout Europe and the United States before eventually settling in Brookline, Massachusetts. The marriage was initially happy, but Follett soon came to believe that Rogers was being unfaithful to her and became depressed.
According to her husband, on December 7, 1939, Follett left their apartment after a fight with $30 in her pocket and was never seen again. Rogers didn’t report Follett’s disappearance to police for two weeks, claiming that he was waiting for her to return. Four months after notifying the police, he requested a missing persons bulletin be issues. As the bulletin was issued under Follett’s married name of “Rogers,” it went largely unnoticed by the media, who did not learn of her disappearance until 1966.
7. Margie Profet
Margaret J. “Margie” Profet is an American evolutionary biologist with no formal biology training. She created a decade long controversy when she published her findings on the role of Darwinian evolution in menstruation, allergies and morning sickness. She argued that these three processes had evolved to eliminate pathogens, carcinogens and other toxins from the body.
Profet vanished from Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to friends and colleagues, in 2005; according to family members, prior to 2005. Her whereabouts were unknown for more than seven years until she was found in Boston, Massachusetts, after a long ordeal with poverty and illness.
She was reunited with her family in Southern California on May 16, 2012, as a result of nationwide attention from a May 2012, Psychology Today article.
8. Ettore Majorana
Ettore Majorana was an Italian theoretical physicist who worked on neutrino masses. On March 25, 1938, he disappeared under mysterious circumstances while going by ship from Palermo to Naples. The Majorana equation and Majorana fermions are named after him. In 2006, the Majorana Prize was established in his memory.
Majorana disappeared in unknown circumstances during a boat trip from Palermo to Naples on March 25, 1938. Despite several investigations, his body was not found and his fate is still uncertain. He had apparently withdrawn all of his money from his bank account prior to making his trip to Palermo.
He may have traveled to Palermo hoping to visit his friend Emilio Segre, a professor at the university there, but Segre was in California at that time. On the day of his disappearance, Majorana sent the following note to Antonio Carrelli, Director of the Naples Physics Institute:
“Dear Carrelli, I made a decision that has become unavoidable. There isn’t a bit of selfishness in it, but I realize what trouble my sudden disappearance will cause you and the students. For this as well, I beg your forgiveness, but especially for betraying the trust, the sincere friendship and the sympathy you gave me over the past months.
I ask you to remember me to all those I learned to know and appreciate in your Institute, especially Sciuti: I will keep a fond memory of them all at least until 11 PM tonight, possibly later too. E. Majorana.”
9. David Thorne
Architect David Thorne received so much attention for his work on jazz giant Dave Brubeck’s house in 1954, he changed his professional name in the 1960s, got an unlisted phone number, and didn’t resurface until the 1980s. Brubek’s mid-century modern house in Oakland was considered a brilliant early example of the dramatic, steel-supported homes that would later fill the Hollywood Hills.
Tired of attention from rich developers, Thorne changed his professional name to Beverley Thorne and largely dropped out of sight, quietly doing work that went largely unnoticed. In the 1980s, his profile increased on account of work he did in Hawaii. By 2006, he once again began speaking openly about his 1950s work.
10. Nick Gill
At just 21, Nick Gill was the youngest ever British chef to win a Michelin Star. He seemed destined for a life of fame and fortune, and was hailed as a culinary genius. By the time he disappeared, at 42, he had been jailed for attacking his ex-wife and lost contact with his two young children. He was reportedly a heavy drinker and drug user.
In 1998, he told his older brother, writer and critic A.A. Gill, “I’m going to go and disappear. Please don’t look for me.” The elder Gill obliged, and Nick hasn’t been seen since. Strangely, a pencil sketch of Nick done by A.A. showed up for auction at Christie’s in 2014, but A.A. says it’s not a sign, “I don’t know where it came from. I didn’t pursue it. If Nick wanted to get in touch with me, I’m not hard to find.”