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About the Book


Growing up in a communist country, it was far more desirable to blend in, than to stand out. As a descendant of a very prominent Hungarian family, I had a strange relationship with my heritage. Uneasy and proud in equal parts. Decades after moving to the United States as an adult, I slowly started exploring my roots.

From a corner store in Transylvania, an industrial conglomerate came to life. My ancestors rose to fame, fortune, and the ranks of nobility, becoming an exceptionally successful dynasty in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  


Wealthy, influential barons lived in palaces surrounded by ancient artifacts and one of the most admired collections of impressionist paintings in Europe. They made their mark on early twentieth-century Hungarian history and culture as progressive political thinkers, accomplished writers and painters, and legendary philanthropists.


Rampant anti-Semitism in the 1930s prompted some family members to leave their homeland. A celebrated playwright started a new career as a movie-screen writer in Hollywood. Her sister cofounded the American Arbitration Association and met Eleanor Roosevelt in New York, and their brother joined the French resistance. Those who stayed in Hungary, had to face fascism and Nazi terror.


My father, József Hatvany, enjoyed a privileged childhood in a lavish mansion in Budapest. In 1938, his life drastically changed when he was sent to an English boarding school at the age of twelve. He spent his most formative years alone in exile, cut off from his family for the duration of World War II. Soon after the war, József returned to Hungary with a dream of building a new world. His dream turned into a nightmare when he was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned by the Stalinist regime of the 1950s.


Miraculously, he emerged into a new reality in the following decades as a pioneer of computer science at the dawn of the digital revolution. He rose to international acclaim in the field of computer-aided design and manufacturing, and also as a visionary, foreseeing the effects of automation on our lives.


As I realized, my father's legacy is more than accolades and achievements. His biggest impact was on the lives of those around him, especially my own.


Editorial Reviews

A rare, exquisite glimpse into the lives of the lost Jewish aristocrats of Hungary, Dreams, Nightmares, and Reality is also the story of the love of a woman for the brilliant, tempestuous figure of her father. Helga Hatvany's book starts and finishes with the taste of salt, but between the pages there is much that is both sweet and bitter. It is meticulously researched. She gains access to old friends, colleagues, research papers, and personal letters of her father and other close relatives to fill in the missing pieces of her own story. The result is a deeply honest, often tragic, often funny, and finally inspiring memoir. 

Nick Thorpe, Central Europe Correspondent for BBC News, author, and award winning documentary filmmaker

A daughter paints a loving but not uncritical description of the background, life, and times of her father, József Hatvany, who became a larger-than-life pioneering engineer-scientist despite having been imprisoned by the communist regime of post-World War II Hungary. A fascinating and highly readable book that made me appreciate even more the deep friendship I had with this gifted, charming, driven, extraordinarily complex man, flaws and all. 

Andries van Dam, Thomas J. Watson Jr., University Professor of Technology and Education and Professor of Computer Science, Brown University 

A magnificent and thought-provoking book that illustrates the interplay of history, society, family, humanity, and technology, and takes us on a journey of discovery. The author solves the mystery of how József Hatvany became the extraordinary man she knew as her father. Dreams, nightmares, and reality–a recurring pattern that shaped everyone's life in the family–served as the foundation for József's groundbreaking theorem of innovation, which remains one of the most important design concepts in engineering today. 

Hiroyuki Yoshikawa, Member of the Japan Academy, Professor Emeritus and former President of the University of Tokyo

In The Press

About the Author

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As a Hungarian baroness growing up behind the Iron Curtain, Helga Hatvany's early life was shaped by conflicting worlds. Reciting Lenin's biography in Russian at school was as much a part of her childhood as visiting her grandfather in Paris and her grandmother in Rome. These luxurious summer vacations gave her a glimpse of the capitalist West, and a window to her aristocratic roots. In her early thirties, she moved to California with her American husband she had met in Budapest. They have been living in Canada since 2018. When not writing or translating, Helga can be found running along Vancouver's beautiful Seawall. 


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