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Alan Turing: The Enigma Paperback – 5 Mar 1992

4.3 out of 5 stars 320 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (5 Mar. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099116413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099116417
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (320 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 33,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"One of the finest scientific biographies I’ve ever read: authoritative, superbly researched, deeply sympathetic and beautifully told" (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind)

"Andrew Hodges' book is of exemplary scholarship and sympathy. Intimate, perceptive and insightful, it’s also the most readable biography I’ve picked up in some time" (Time Out)

"A first-rate presentation of the life of a first-rate scientific mind" (New York Times Book Review)

"One of the finest scientific biographies ever written" (New Yorker)

"A first-rate presentation of the life of a first-rate scientific mind…it is hard to imagine a more thoughtful and warm biography than this one" (Douglas Hofstadter New York Times Book Review)

Book Description

The full story behind the persecuted genius of wartime codebreaking and the computer revolution - now an Oscar-winning film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is an immense book; a staggeringly thorough biography; the author appears to have left no stone unturned in his search for the real man behind the 'enigma'. Alan Turing emerges as a man who was ahead of his time in his ideas of machine intelligence and his understanding of his own sexuality; but one who was paradoxically also 'born too late', for the breadth of his interests might have sat better in the Victorian era than within the twentieth century cult of the expert.

It is definitely worth reading if you can commit the necessary time and attention to it (I read it while recovering from surgery). Not only is it a thick volume with very small print, but it abounds with highly technical descriptions of Turing's work. Otherwise, wait a couple of years from the time of this review and there will no doubt be a profusion of potted biographies to celebrate Turing's centenary year in 2012.
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Format: Paperback
This is a lengthy book and, unfortunately, not the easiest on the reader. It is a story of brilliance intermixed with moments of tragedy and success, all of which contributed towards Turing's personality.

Essentially, Turing was a mathematician who was found to have a talent for solving complex mathematical problems, a talent much needed at the critical point just before WWII and during it. For the reader it is not necessary to understand the mathematics in order to help understand the man. Unfortunately the writer appears also to be a mathematician who deems it necessary to delve into the principles of the complex equations needed to solve the Enigma problem. These complicate the book and the story within.

I had tried to read this book on more than a single instance and each time I get a little further but the central portion is the most complex and seems insurmountable, thanks to the maths. I had previously read other authors' attempts at Turing's story, some possibly pre-dating the 1970's release of the Enigma secret and without the mathematic content, which made them easier to understand Turing's life and lifestyle choices.

This is probably the most complete telling of Turing's life, but certainly not the easiest for many potential readers. It may incidentally interest those studying mathematics at degree or higher levels.
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Format: Paperback
I cannot recall my first meeting with Alan Turing (in books) but I have been fascinated since, on two levels; firstly, Bletchley Park was so shrouded in secrecy (still seems to be to some extent) that many people do not fully appreciate the role its people played in bringing the war to an early end, with fewer lives lost. Secondly, Alan Turing's genius is still not understood by many of us who benefit from it in many ways, e.g. he pioneered computing and helped to ensure our lives are lived in our current freedom.

Excessive praise? I think not.

Having worked with gifted people at one time, I came to understand many of their differences and the difficulty some people had with them and their strange expectations of their normality while being gifted. Alan Turing suffered in similar ways. There is a clear logic in cycling with a gas mask on while suffering from and trying to prevent hay fever - after all, he was trying to crack a complex code. In a large organisation, I should imagine tea mugs annoyingly went missing all the time, especially when time wasted looking for one was lives lost. Solution? Simple - chain it to the radiator.

This is an excellent biography which sheds a great deal of light on Turing's unusual character and some of the technical issues involved in code-breaking and early computer building, both of which the author explains well.

The post-war social complexities are dealt with too, making this a fascinating book. In some ways, it helps to explain Gordon Brown's partial apology many years later; when one considers the services for which knighthoods are awarded now, it leaves one seriously wondering about some post-war decisions.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The `troubled genius' as a character is something of a cliché but in the case of Alan Turing it's an accurate description. His influence on the world was profound, even if acknowledgement only came years after his death. As the central member of the code-breaking team at Bletchley Park in WWII, he, more than anyone, was responsible for breaking the German `enigma' codes and consequently perhaps saving Britain from defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic. He was also, relatedly, responsible for the development of some of the first computers ever to be built; a professional interest that carried on into the post-war years.

However, while those two towering achievements are what posterity remembers him for, they were far from the whole story, as Andrew Hodges makes clear in this fascinating and detailed book. Turing had already made a significant mark on the mathematical world by his mid-twenties, including the development of the concept of what's now known as a `Turing machine', which together with other related work, laid the foundations for electronic computing and programming. Similarly, he was still pushing at the boundaries of maths and science when his untimely death cut short that work.

That whole life story is fascinating and Hodges doesn't short-change the reader by concentrating excessively on the famous bits; the book is at least as much about understanding the man as understanding his work. That's a good thing as the detail of both the maths and the code-breaking can be hard to follow at times and while written for the layman, it will certainly help if the reader is familiar with maths through to at least A level.

The man himself is not quite the enigma of the book's title.
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