Her father, John von Neumann, was one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century. Born in Hungary, he immigrated to the United States in 1933 to join Albert Einstein on the founding faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study. "Pure mathematicians tell you that his greatest achievements were things that I'm not even sure I know the phrases of," Whitman admits. "'Mathematicization of quantum mechanics'-that's already too applied for a pure mathematician. From a pragmatic point of view, there is his very major role in the modern stored-program computer. And the other is his invention of-he really did invent-game theory."
Marina was born in 1935, and her parents divorced two years later. She says her memoir "really is about a clash of expectations, and then how that clash ultimately was resolved." On one side was her father, "who felt that your big obligation was to use the brains God gave you." On the other was her mother, who "felt the most important thing was to be attractive and marry early-because after college, your chances of meeting a man were greatly reduced."
As a seventeen-year-old freshman at Radcliffe-then the women's counterpart to all-male Harvard College-she met twenty-seven-year-old English instructor Bob Whitman. They married four years later. By then her father was dying of cancer-and she remembers him being "so upset, because he felt my early marriage would destroy my chances of my own professional achievement and development.