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on 16 February 2012
For the most part this is not a book about Alan Turing, the man - more a book for the mathematically educated mind; the number of graphically illustrated, mind-boggingly difficult mathematical equations, are numerous, as are references to notes and cross-references to sources; I might as well have been reading Chinese.The actual details of Turing's life and times are spasmodically reavealed in tiny snippets throughout the book.
This is not a biography as normal readers of the genre would surely recognise. It's a book for technicians; a school exercise book; a very disappointing book indeed, which does not remotely do justice to a great man.
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on 13 December 2014
I am only about a 1/4 way through the book. At the moment I am a bit 'bogged down' with the mathematics none of which I understand. I expected the book to be more about the 'man' rather than a 'blow by blow' account of what he did. Hopefully it will get better.
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on 17 January 2015
It's a good read -- extremely well researched and very well written and if you want the detail of the maths and science and his career it's to be recommended. However, it's a long book - some 600 pages - and if like me you're looking for more detail about the man and his character (as I was, having watched the film) it's not going to give you a great insight (perhaps because there's so little information available about his private thoughts). In particular I wanted to know whether it was true that he was intellectually emaciated by the chemical (oestrogen) castration - which the film suggested - but never felt I found out how deeply he was affected.

Overall, certainly worth reading, and it's permissible to skip some of the more technical stages.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 17 April 2015
This is a book that tackles two aspects of Alan Turing's life; his logical thinking and mathematical ability, and his personal life and death. On the former it delves into great detail, and is an excellent account of what Turing did, his lifelong fascination with cyphers and how the Enigma encoded messages were famously cracked, at various stages, with his help, by the workers at Bletchley Park. This stuff requires considerable effort by the reader who wants to understand fully, and many readers will not want to go very far with it, happy to know only the outline facts, but it is good that Hodges, a mathematician, has put it all down for reference. Hodges the mathematician, also does a good job of putting across Turing's thinking and attitude to life. Turing became interested in the problem of life, and the question of whether human beings are machines very early on, after reading a basic book on the subject, and his actions were motivated by his intense need to think in a 'pure' way, without the distractions of everyday life, and human relationships which, to his mind, are too often illogical. This is a better way to see Turing than to simply say, as is current fashion, 'he was Autistic', or 'he had Asperger's', or even 'he was gifted'. I think he just taught himself to think well, and sought to keep his mind uncluttered by everyday modes of thought.

When it comes to Turing's personal life and death though, I think Hodges is the wrong man to listen to. Himself a homosexual, like Turing, it might be thought that he is in a good position to understand the man, and in some ways he is, but it is important to realise that this book was written almost a quarter of a century ago, in a Britain that was perhaps closer to the the Britain Turing knew than the one we now view him from. Ten years earlier, Hodges had written the 'Gay Liberation Pamphlet with Downcast Gays' (available on the internet) - he had a chip on his shoulder and leaves us in no doubt that he considered homosexual men to be downtrodden members of society who needed to throw off their chains. The Alan Turing we are given in the book is largely portrayed as such, and the reader is led to the conclusion that he killed himself as a result of society's unwarranted ill treatment of a man who should be seen as a hero. It's probably largely down to Hodges that Turing came to be given a posthumous royal pardon and apology from Prime Minister Gordon Brown quite recently, and the widely acclaimed 2014 film 'The Imitation Game', appears to be very effectively shaping public perception of Turing as something of a martyr. I think Hodges has given us a very one-sided view of Turing, a view from the world of the resentful homosexual.

I can empathise with Hodges point of view, but it is a blinkered one, and Turing was not like Hodges. Turing, from the evidence available, did not complain, did not concern himself with whether he was oppressed sexually, he just got on with living his life, tackling the many tractable problems that fascinated him, as best he could in a world he did not profess to understand, or particularly care about. What will stand out, I suggest, to most people is the fact that Turing, was careless in forming sexual liasons which were likely to lead him into trouble. We cannot help but wonder what discussions took place between his 'minders' (for surely he must have been carefully watched by the security services he was so vital to) who must surely have regarded him as a huge liability. In his pamphlet, Hodges has much to say about the difficulties faced by homosexual men who were unable to have a sexual life without breaking the law back then, but does not enter into any meaningful discussion about respecting the society they live in and it's values. He tells us that, free from the shackles of marriage rituals and conventions many homosexual men want only to enjoy sex with multiple partners without commitment; that they may keep friendship and sex separate, with different people. This is something many heterosexuals would like too, but the world doesn't work like that, and promiscuity leads to problems, which include jealousy and very real potential for blackmail or leaking of secrets. He also tells us, in this book, that Turing, like many homosexuals, finds himself especially attracted to the mass of working men, and that this was one of the attractions of Manchester. Those watching over him must have been terrified when they saw him, holder of the nation's greatest secrets, getting involved with such men, and then becoming victim to a bizarre break-in involving them.

The official verdict on Turing's death was suicide, but while this was a verdict that suited Hodges, it was one that many who knew him, especially his mother, refused to accept. In a normal case of suicide some supporting evidence of motive would be expected; depression, problems, ill health, but none of these applied. Right up to his death Turing was active and motivated, and jovial with friends. The hormone treatment, which he had chosen rather than prison so that he could get on with life, had been terminated a year previous, and he was working on new projects, some top secret, and running. The possibility that he was murdered seems a very obvious alternative, and the fact that a founder member of the Bletchley Park trust, Roger Bristow, is now claiming that the coroner wrote a note saying, 'death appears to be due to violence' is cause to reconsider Hodges conclusion. Would society still regard a man like Turing, who happened to have the skills it needed to help the war effort, as a hero, even if it turned out that he lead a hedonistic and promiscous life that made him a huge security liability and put the country in danger, while many lesser men, who had not signed the official secrets act, were living quiet lives and heeding the constant message that 'careless talk costs lives'? We may discover more if Bristow publishes his book.

This is a book full of fascinating facts, all the more so for me because, although the name Turing has been well known to me since an early age, I never quite realised how close I came to his legacy. Seeking a job on leaving University, I got an interview with Elliot computers before taking up a job with Ferranti, both early players in computer development. Made redundant the day I was due to start, I joined the Post Office research centre at Dollis Hill, working on AI, pattern recognition for postcodes, with 'Doc' Alan Coombs as joint head of division - he had worked on 'Colossus' after Tommy Flowers but of course we were never told that! Oh for a time machine, to travel back to 1968 and venture more into the the corridors of Dollis Hill, where I wonder if I might have just come across traces of that Colossus work. As an electronics engineer I knew well the work of Shannon (information and noise) and Nyquist (stability criteria), both of whom Turing met in the US. Much later, I would read 'On Agression', by Konrad Lorenz, founder of ethology, who it turns out Turing also met, and my interest would turn to genetics and morphology (Turing's last project). But then, if I had a time machine, I might urge Turing to talk to Lorenz about imprinting, and society, and 'Civilised Man's Seven Deadly Sins'. Turing's ideas about life were very simplistic; he was interested in hormones for example, and their role in sex, but he seems to have lacked any concept of society, altruism, pair-bonding, or imprinting. Lorenz knew all about such things, but would Turing have been receptive to such ideas and able to understand them? If he had, he might have marvelled at Konrad's experiments with geese (they came to regard him as mother and mate), and wondered whether his own homosexuality might be the result of faulty imprinting at key receptive stages in life. He might also have realised that his question, 'can computers think, feel, love' needed more than pure logic to answer - in needed an understanding of drives, instincts, triggers, and the role these played in the evolution of the brain for survival - all Lorenz's domain. Armed with such knowledge he might have gone on to discover far greater things than how to make a computer - that was dependant more on developments in memory and processing than on logic, and was best left to the engineers in the end. He might have been the man to crack the workings of the brain; something we are still a long way from achieving, and he would have been fascinated by developments in morphology based on chemical gradients (which he was experimenting with), and in Epigenetics as a form of temporary storage within the genome. But then, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we have no time machine:-)
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on 4 August 2015
I found this book a riveting read. Yes, there are some complex mathematical, computing a philosophical issues covered, but I found I could follow the drift without always fully grasping all the minute details - which I wouldn't remember anyway!
Whilst the title describes Turing as an enigma, the author has put together and very sensitive and credible view of Alan Turing, the person, portraying him as a man deeply conflicted due to his pivotal position in the secret war effort at a time when male homosexuality was illegal. His position subsequently became even more precarious after WW2 following the UK's intelligence alliance with the USA it is deemed necessary to root out all "sexual deviants" (as homosexuals were perceived) from positions affecting national security, primarily because they are seen as being likely targets for Russian bribery.
Although I personally knew a bit about the Turing universal machine, I didn't appreciate just how central he was in the efforts to breaking the German enigma code(s), or indeed just how far ahead of his time were his ideas on mechanical intelligence (i.e. the computer).
The book concludes by covering his suicide at the age of 41, and also tries to make sense of it, whilst conceding the actual reasons will never be known.

This long book forces you to realise just what an amazing and important man Turing was - and how intolerant a society Turing unfortunately lived in.
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on 25 July 2015
This book is long; 680 pages of densely packed text with explanations of many of Alan Turing's mathematical concepts. This is a comprehensive biography which attempts to document the private and professional life of a truly complex individual. As much of Turing's work was secret and cutting edge we can never truly know if even this immense tome captures everything.

In short; you have to really want to read this book to get all of the way through it. I enjoyed and endured this book at the same time finding much of the content heavy going: though ultimately interesting enough to make it through to the end.

I have not seen the film The Imitation Game so I don't know how much of the essence of Alan Turing and his achievements is lost in making the subject matter more accessible, however much of the essence of Alan Turing and his achievements will be lost by people who simply don't have the time energy or inclination to wade through this book!

Some commentators have speculated on Hodges' motives for writing the book and the colouring that gives to the subject matter; however every history or biography always represents someone's agenda and perhaps his background as a mathematician and gay rights activists has allowed him to filter much of the myth and mystery to show more of the man and his work.
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on 24 January 2013
Just finished this long book - which was both a biography and a treatise about computers and Turing's part in hatching the things that led to the modern computer (and God knows what else in the future!) Incidentally, also his huge part in our winning the Second World War with his ideas. But, at the same time the book needed breaking into a part that dealt with his life and another part that showed us how he put his ideas into practise - then all the (I found weird - but others of a more intellectual nature would find rewarding) technical way it was worked out. Then each part needed chapters to make it readable from a practical sense. This would allow one to easily skip back to refresh one's mind - which one needed to do a lot. By the way, for this reason, I don't know whether it was a book suitable for a Kindle rather than 'a book in hand'.
Turing, born upper middle class, was a shabbily dressed and living man - but brilliant in his mind on work. This, in the book which is drenched in detail, comes out well - as does his (and his friends as well as Society's) attitude to his homosexuality - which was often frowned upon - or simply not spoken of for years. He was never in the closet but never held a banner - he accepted it all as the fact it was - a memorial, no - testament - to us all. This is a good book, subject to the above, very beneficial to us all - if, perhaps, a hard and heavy read.
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on 29 January 2015
An extremely good book, both about Turing himself, and about the politics and social climate of the time. It is amazing to think that all this happened only 50 years ago. Do bear in mind, however, that this book is written about an advanced mathematician, by an academic mathematician, so a good part of the book is very technical. You can either gloss over these pages, or wade through dense passages of mathematical logic. It does take great concentration, but repays the effort with a picture of someone out of tune with his times, and with a society willing to take all and give nothing. The book does raise questions about the part the state played in the final tragedy, and what part the state plays now in all of our lives, in a less obvious ways I was sorry to finish this book, which, for me, is the sign of a good book.
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VINE VOICEon 27 December 2014
I listened to all 30 hours of this and really enjoyed it! I think it's much better as an audiobook than as a normal book - I could imagine many people getting bogged down in the mathematical sections and giving up, whereas with an audiobook you can let it wash over you and carry on when the maths dies down a little! I think the book would have been better if some of the more mathematical sections had been left out, and I say this as somebody who can understand them - it doesn't give a great flavour of Turing himself, and slows down the narrative. Maybe a cut-down version of the book should be released that goes a bit easier on less mathematical readers!
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on 14 October 2015
Fascinating read. Comprehensive too. Yes, the maths are dodgy to read, but the highly detailed reasoning behind Turings visions is incredible. I never realised quite how much of the resolving of enigma saga was down to Turing alone and I was also naive when it came to understanding his huge, solo, contribution to computing. The book, sadly, highlights the usual British reluctance to embrace or envision future projects. It covers Turings awkwardness surrounding his sexuality in an encouragingly sensitive way. This is not the easiest read, but well worth putting a bit of extra effort in to complete the book. Very satisfying and book which really does put Turing on the pedestal he so deserves. Very, very good book indeed.
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