John von Neumann: Computing's Cold Warrior

Virtually all computers today, from $10 million supercomputers to the tiny chips that power cell phones and Furbies, have one thing in common: they are all "Von Neumann machines," variations on the basic computer architecture that John von Neumann, building on the work of Alan Turing, laid out in the 1940s. Men have become famous for less. But in the lifetime of this Hungarian-born mathematician who had his hand in everything from quantum physics to U.S. policy during the cold war, the Von Neumann machine was almost the least of his accomplishments.

Born to prosperous Jewish parents in Budapest in 1903,...