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Alan Turing: The Enigma Paperback – 5 Mar 1992
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"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)
The full story behind the persecuted genius of wartime codebreaking and the computer revolution - now an Oscar-winning film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira KnightleySee all Product description
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The book considers Turing's life from childhood through to his tragic death, some have criticised the length of the sections covering his childhood and school days but these are essential in trying to understand Turing the human being. Turing's sexuality is a theme running through the book and unlike many studies which downplay his homosexuality and prefer not to dwell on it beyond offering the usual platitudes on his persecution this book sees it as absolutely essential to any effort to understand Turing as a human being. There are two qualities which raise this book above any others on Turing in my view, one is the fact that the author is not afraid of Turing's sexuality, the other is that the book actually tries to explain Turing's mathematical and computer science ideas. There is a danger that unless readers have a certain understanding of maths and logic these passages may be intimidating and incomprehensible however it is a real pleasure to read a book on Turing which does not reduce explanations of his work to a lowest common denominator such as to render it valueless. As a general comment, this book is not the easiest book to read, that may sound like a criticism but I do not mean it to be so. The book demands attention and the reader will have to invest a certain effort in reading it, that means iot is not the sort of passive absrorption experience of some biographies but the result is a vastly more rewarding experience that genuinely informs and educates.
The book shows that Turing's work was both much more and mmuch less than the popular conception. Much less in that his work at Bletchley Park was absolutely not the story of Turing's genius single handedly breaking German codes,the book acknolwedges the work of others at Bletchley Park such as Newman and Flowers and Turing's role in developing Colossus and breaking the Lorenz code was minor. Indeed after early 1943 Turing faded into the background. That is not to denigrate his contribution which was absolutely critical but it is important to recognise that Bletchley Park was much, much more than just Alan Turing. Much more in that the theory of computable numbers and the universal machine are placed in a much wider context and his post war work with NPL and at Manchester are given due attention.
This really is a wonderful book, it treats Turing as a human being and presents a rounded, complete picture.
So why 5 stars? I have read more than my fair share of biographies over the years and in order for the author to receive their rightful praise and for the subject to be recorded, it is often appropriate for the author to leave no stone unturned and that is what I believe Andrew Hodges has done. I have no idea if he has missed anything out about Alan Turing's life, but from what I have read, this is a very thorough recording of this incredible man's life.
It is very thought provoking and removed some of my stereotypical prejudices and hopefully by watching the film, visiting Bletchley Park and listening to his dad going on and on about what a hero Alan Turing was, I hope that my 14 year old son has learned that not all heroes are involved in brave acts and that as a nation we have much to be grateful to this truly wonderful man. It is sad that our "establishment" drove this poor man to suicide and thankfully my son is growing in a more liberal society than the one that I grew up in as a child and therefore I would hope that we never persecute a man to the depths of despair and then sought to erase his achievements from the nation's history. Well done Andrew Hodges; I would like to see an abridged copy prepared for schools, not only would it allow children to see that not all heroes wore rows of medals, but that there is a place for everyone in our society whatever their views or persuasions.
The book is a scholarly, well researched book and gives a fascinating insight into the life of this genius and his contribution to the creation of computers and computing. It is absolutely comprehensive in all aspects of Alan's life and in particular the different intellectual areas he explored. There are parts of the book I had to 'skip read' as I don't have the mathematical/scientific knowledge to understand the debate between the various theories explored.
However absolutely a worthwhile read. He was a genius and a polymath - at time misunderstood and ignored but made a huge contribution to the technology that is part of our lives
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