My Nature review of the Siobhan Roberts biography of John Conway suggested that
His ways of being in the world, in Roberts’s telling, amount to a class of adjectives yet to be invented, to join his mathematical innovations.
Since I didn’t have time to invent the new adjectives before Nature‘s deadline, I resorted to a few already in the dictionary, among them loquacious, joyous, playful, famous, mercurial, untidy, and outlandish, and reproduced some choice adjectives I found in the book (high-maintenance, generous, emotional, impassive, etc.). Nature‘s Books and Arts editor settled on The Mercurial Mathematician) for the title. (I had suggested All Play, No Work, which is obviously a wonderful and terrible advertisement for our profession — to quote a famous paper by Roger Howe out of context.)
And so John Conway, instead of being offered freshly-minted adjectives worthy of his uniqueness, is subjected to the indignity of joining Google’s astonishingly long and varied list of mercurial mathematicians, including (in Google rank order) Sydney Chapman, Norbert Weiner, Hypatia (in a poem, not for the first time), John Nash, George Eshiwani, Lionel Snell, Jack Edmonds, Alan Turing, Isaac Newton, Major General Sir Frederick Maurice, and the anonymous author of this blog, as well as a few others I didn’t have time to follow up.
To add to the confusion, the Guardian published an excerpt from Genius at Play as a “long read” under the title
The world’s most charismatic mathematician
One friend wrote to suggest I hold a copyright on the keyword charisma but I’ll let the Guardian use it as they see fit; MWA is mainly concerned with the word’s Weberian connotation. Meanwhile, the contest to find a new adjective truly befitting Conway is still wide open.