Mind and Matter

A Life in Math and Football

Mind and Matter book cover
Add Mind and Matter to Goodreads

John Urschel, mathematician and former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens--with biographer Louisa Thomas--tells the story of a life balanced between two passions

For John Urschel, what began as an insatiable appetite for puzzles as a child quickly evolved into mastery of the elegant systems and rules of mathematics. By the time he was thirteen, Urschel was auditing college-level calculus courses. But when he joined his high school football team, a new interest began to eclipse the thrill he once felt in the classroom. Football challenged Urschel in an entirely different way, and he became addicted to the physical contact of the sport. Accepting a scholarship to play football at Penn State, Urschel refused to sacrifice one passion for another, and simultaneously pursued his bachelor's and then master's degrees in mathematics. Against the odds, Urschel found a way to manage his double life as a scholar and an athlete, and so when he was drafted to the Baltimore Ravens, he enrolled in his PhD at MIT.

Weaving together two separate yet bound narratives, Urschel relives for us the most pivotal moments of his bifurcated life. He explains why, after Penn State was sanctioned for the acts of former coach Jerry Sandusky, he turned his back on offers from Ivy League universities and refused to abandon his team, and contends with his mother's repeated request, at the end of every season, that he quit the sport and pursue a career in rocket science. Perhaps most personally, he opens up about the correlation between football and CTE, and the risks he took for the game he loves. Equally at home with both Bernard Riemann's notion of infinity and Bill Belichick's playbook, Urschel reveals how each challenge - whether on the field or in the classroom - has brought him closer to understanding the two different halves of his own life, and how reason and emotion, the mind and the body, are always working together. He asks why, "So often, people want to divide the world into two. Matter and energy. Wave and particle. Athlete and mathematician. Why can't something be both?"


 “The most creative people are those who can embrace very different disciplines: Einstein loving music and physics, Leonardo da Vinci with his art and engineering. John Urschel, in this delightful memoir written with Louisa Thomas, describes his passion for both football and mathematics. He makes Joe Paterno’s fall and Newton’s three-body problem of moving objects equally interesting. But this book is about something much deeper: the importance of grit and determination in all fields of endeavor. Urschel has mastered that in his life, and he can inspire all of us to do so as well.”  —Walter Isaacson, author of Leonardo da Vinci

“Meet ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’: John Urschel. Having reached the highest level in football, he’s on his way to doing the same in math. His beautifully written memoir is a fun, fast-paced look at the route to excellence, and a tribute to old-school virtues like hard work, determination, and curiosity.”—Steven Strogatz, professor of mathematics at Cornell University and author of The Joy of x


From the author of Mind and Matter, an intimate portrait of Louisa Catherine Adams, the wife of John Quincy Adams, who witnessed firsthand the greatest transformations of her time    … More


It was a time of testing and uncertainty. Even before World War I, there was a sense that country was changing. As Louisa Thomas reveals in Conscience, for the Thomas… More