William James Sidis


He took a job working on an adding machine, but blew his cover when, a co-worker recalled, “Somebody showed him a new set of tables… prepared by some of our top experts as an aid in solving certain complicated statistical problems. … Sidis studied them for a while and suggested a simple way of eliminating all the difficulties. It was obvious that he had forgotten nothing . After that brilliant demonstration, the pressure on Sidis to conform increased, he began to look and behave like a trapped animal, and finally he resigned.”

In 1937 a correspondent for The New Yorker found him. “The very sight of a mathematical formula makes me physically ill,” Sidis said. “All I want to do is run an adding machine, but they won’t let me alone.” The correspondent mentioned Professor Comstock’s sanguine prediction of nearly thirty years before, and Sidis grinned. “It’s strange,” he said, “but, you know, I was born on April Fools’ Day.” When the article came out, Sidis sued The New Yorker for invasion of privacy. In the hall bedroom of a shabby South Boston rooming house, he scribbled out his own briefs, advancing the pathetic argument that he was no longer a genius. He had become an ordinary man, he said, and would take intelligence tests to prove it. The lawsuit was thrown out of court, and Sidis continued his solitary wandering from job to job, picking up streetcar transfers along the way. He was forty-six years old and had just been forced from a clerk’s post in the State Department of Unemployment Compensation in the summer of 1944 when a cerebral hemorrhage brought his long, inverted childhood to an end.