Before he was denounced as a thief and cast out of the hedge fund industry, before he was a Goldman Sachs banker or a math prodigy, Ke Xu was a little boy in Hubei province, China, who loved puzzles. His parents, junior government clerks, didn’t have much money, so Xu would scour the house to find old algebra and science textbooks. He spent hours with the series 100,000 Whys, children’s brainteasers with a Maoist flavor. The commune wants to build 40 tractors—how many wheels should it buy?
When Xu was 16, his head teacher identified him as a gifted student and recommended him for a scholarship at the Raffles Institution in Singapore, a prestigious British-style boarding school with the Latin motto Auspicium melioris aevi (Hope of a better age). Xu mastered English and cruised through his classes, if not the school’s extracurricular activities. Cricket was a mystery he could never solve.