The Martian's Daughter

A Memoir
Marina von Neumann Whitman
The memoir of Marina von Neumann Whitman


One of the five Hungarian scientific geniuses dubbed "the Martians" by their colleagues, John von Neumann is often hailed as the greatest mathematician of the twentieth century and even as the greatest scientist after Einstein. He was a key figure in the Manhattan Project; the inventor of game theory; the pioneer developer of the modern stored-program electronic computer; and an adviser to the top echelons of the American military establishment. In The Martian's Daughter , Marina von Neumann Whitman reveals intimate details about the famed scientist and explores how the cosmopolitan environment in which she was immersed, the demanding expectations of her parents, and her own struggles to emerge from the shadow of a larger-than-life parent shaped her life and work.

Unfortunately, von Neumann did not live to see his daughter rise to become the first or highest-ranking woman in a variety of arenas. Whitman became a noted academic during the 1960s and '70s, casting her teaching and writing in the framework of globalization before the word had been invented; became the first woman ever to serve on the President's Council of Economic Advisers and participated actively in U.S. efforts to reshape the international monetary and financial system during the early 1970s; pioneered the role of women on the boards of leading multinational corporations; and became the highest-ranking female executive in the American auto industry in the 1980s. In her memoir, Whitman quotes from personal letters from her father and describes her interactions with such figures as Roger Smith of GM and President Nixon. She also details the difficulties she encountered as an early entrant into a world dominated by men and how she overcame the obstacles to, in her words, "have it all."

"Marina Whitman may be the daughter of a Martian but she is an exemplar of the best of America. In the academic world, in public service, in high corporate positions, she pushed the frontiers of female participation and did so by unambiguously demonstrating both competence and character. The book is a fascinating saga of an exceptionally talented family, initially focused on a mathematic genius but ultimately growing in diversity and influence."
—Paul Volcker, formerly Chairman of the Federal Reserve (1979-1987)

"How did a young Hungarian immigrant and his daughter both become leading advisors to Presidents of the United States? This richly detailed memoir not only illuminates Marina von Neumann Whitman's ground-breaking life, but sheds long-awaited new light on her father, bringing us as close as we may ever get to the autobiography that John von Neumann never had the chance to write."
—George Dyson, author of Darwin Among the Machines, Project Orion, and Turing's Cathedral

"A fast-paced, readable, and deeply educational account of how the daughter of a genius made her own brilliant way as a heavily involved top economist and an equally involved wife and mother."
—George P. Shultz, The Hoover Institution, formerly U.S. Secretary of State (1982-1989)

"This is a deeply personal book; some parts painful to read as the author traces her journey through what most would judge a privileged life, but not so privileged, it seems, if you happen to be on the inside looking out."
—Paul O'Neill, formerly U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (2001-2002)

"Marina Whitman draws you into her life with lively anecdotes. She engagingly describes coping with a famous father, the challenges of a young mother with a high level job in the Nixon White House, and combining executive responsibilities at General Motors with a strong marriage and a successful academic career. A fast-paced enjoyable read!"
—Alice M. Rivlin, The Brookings Institution

"The Martian's Daughter is a riveting account of an extraordinary woman—an economist who over a half century has risen to the top of government, academia, and business.  Her wry description of the barriers she met along the way reminds us of a social era quite different from today. Her astute narratives about prominent persons with whom she worked (Presidents, Cabinet Ministers, congressional and business leaders) make this memoir a real page-turner."
—Carla Hills, formerly U.S. Trade Representative (1989-1993) and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (1975-1977)

"Marina Whitman had extraordinary parents who loved her, but also wanted her to choose certain paths. But Marina was extraordinary too and chose her own way. This book charts the progress for a woman who has done it all---with grace and ability. But under all the famous names, fascinating events, and newsworthy achivements emerges the story of a real human being who makes those tough choices and has intelligence and integrity as her watchwords. What a read!"
—Lynn Martin, formerly U.S. Secretary of Labor (1991-1993)

Jacket art: John von Neumann and Marina von Neumann Whitman, age 11, walking down a street in Santa Fe.


Marina von Neumann Whitman is Professor of Business Administration and Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Praise / Awards

  • "Flipping through the pages of Marina von Neumann Whitman’s life…feels like viewing several extraordinary movies in one sitting."
    —Tom Walsh, Detroit Free Press

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News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Interview on Michigan Radio 4/27/17

Listen: Interview: Marketplace Morning Report 9/26/12

Read: Review: Detroit Free Press 8/19/12

Read: Review: Ann Arbor Observer, 10/1/12

Read: Review: Hour Detroit, 1/1/13

Media Kit

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 344pp.
  • 23 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2012
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11842-7

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  • $30.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03564-9

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  • $25.95 U.S.

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  • John von Neumann, the Martians, Manhattan Project, game theory, President's Council of Economic Advisers, General Motors, President Nixon, Roger Smith