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Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Penguin Press Science) by [Dyson, George]
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Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Penguin Press Science) Kindle Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Review

"Dyson combines his prodigious skills as a historian and writer with his privileged position within the [Institute for Advanced Study's] history to present a vivid account of the digital computer project . . . A powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era . . . Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al."
--Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"A fascinating combination of the technical and human stories behind the computing breakthroughs of the 1940s and '50s . . . It demonstrates that the power of human thought often precedes determination and creativity in the birth of world-changing technology . . . An important work."
--Richard DiDio, "Philadelphia Inquirer"
"Dyson's book is not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange."
--Josh Rothman, Braniac blog, "Boston Globe"
" "
"Beyond the importance of this book as a contribution to the history of science, as a generalist I was struck by Dyson's eye and ear for the delightfully entertaining detail . . . Turing's Cathedral is suffused . . . with moments of insight, quirk and hilarity rendering it more than just a great book about science. It's a great book, period."
--Douglas Bell, "The Globe and Mail"
"The greatest strength of Turing's Cathedral lies in its luscious wealth of anecdotal details about von Neumann and his band of scientific geniuses at IAS. Dyson himself is the son of Freeman Dyson, one of America's greatest twentieth-century physicists and an IAS member from 1948 onward, and so Turing's Cathedral is, in part, Dyson's attempt to make both moral and intellectual sense of his father's glittering and yet severely compromised scient

"An expansive narrative . . . The book brims with unexpected detail. Maybe the bomb (or the specter of the machines) affected everyone. Godel believed his food was poisoned and starved himself to death. Turing, persecuted for his homosexuality, actually did die of poisoning, perhaps by biting a cyanide-laced apple. Less well known is the tragic end of Klari von Neumann, a depressive Jewish socialite who became one of the world's first machine-language programmers and enacted the grandest suicide of the lot, downing cocktails before walking into the Pacific surf in a black dress with fur cuffs. Dyson's well made sentences are worthy of these operatic contradictions . . . A groundbreaking history of the Princeton computer."
--William Poundstone, "The New York Times Book Review"
"Dyson combines his prodigious skills as a historian and writer with his privileged position within the [Institute for Advanced Study's] history to present a vivid account of the digital computer project . . . A powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era . . . Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al."
--Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"A fascinating combination of the technical and human stories behind the computing breakthroughs of the 1940s and '50s . . . It demonstrates that the power of human thought often precedes determination and creativity in the birth of world-changing technology . . . An important work."
--Richard DiDio, "Philadelphia Inquirer"
"Dyson's book is not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange."
--Josh Rothman, Braniac blog, "Boston Globe"
" "
"Beyond the importance of this book as a cont

"The best book I've read on the origins of the computer. . . not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange."
--"The Boston Globe"
"A groundbreaking history . . . the book brims with unexpected detail."
--"The New York Times Book Review"
"A technical, philosophical and sometimes personal account . . . wide-ranging and lyrical."
--"The Economist"
"The story of the [von Neumann] computer project and how it begat today's digital universe has been told before, but no one has told it with such precision and narrative sweep."
--"The New York Review of Books"
"A fascinating combination of the technical and human stories behind the computing breakthroughs of the 1940s and '50s. . . . An important work."
--"The Philadelphia Inquirer"
"Vivid. . . . [A] detailed yet readable chronicle of the birth of modern computing. . . . Dyson's book is one small step toward reminding us that behind all the touch screens, artificial intelligences and cerebellum implants lies not sorcery but a machine from the middle of New Jersey."
--"The Oregonian"
"Well-told. . . . Dyson tells his story as a sort of intellectual caper film. He gathers his cast of characters . . . and tracks their journey to Princeton. When they converge, it's great fun, despite postwar food rationing and housing shortages. . . . Dyson is rightly as concerned with the machine's inventors as with the technology itself."
--"The Wall Street Journal"
"Charming. . . . Creation stories are always worth telling, especially when they center on the birth of world-changing powers. . . . Dyson creatively recounts the curious Faustian bargain that permitted mathematicians to experiment with building more powerful computers, which in turn helped others build more destructive bombs."
--"San Francisco Chronicle "
"The story of the invention of computers has been told many times, from many different points of view, but seldom as authoritatively and with as much detail as George Dyson has done. . . . "Turing's Cathedral" will enthrall computer enthusiasts. . . . Employing letters, memoirs, oral histories and personal interviews, Dyson organizes his book around the personalities of the men (and occasional woman) behind the computer, and does a splendid job in bringing them to life."
--"The Seattle Times"
"A powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era . . . Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al."
--Cory Doctorow, "Boing Boing"
"No other book about the beginnings of the digital age . . . makes the connections this one does between the lessons of the computer's origin and the possible paths of its future."
--"The Guardian"
"If you want to be mentally prepared for the next revolution in computing, Dyson's book is a must read. But it is also a must read if you just want a ripping yarn about the way real scientists (at least, some real scientists) work and think."
--"Literary Review"
"More than just a great book about science. It's a great book, period."
--"The Globe and Mail"

The best book I ve read on the origins of the computer. . . not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange.
"The Boston Globe"
A groundbreaking history . . . the book brims with unexpected detail.
"The New York Times Book Review"
A technical, philosophical and sometimes personal account . . . wide-ranging and lyrical.
"The Economist"
The story of the [von Neumann] computer project and how it begat today s digital universe has been told before, but no one has told it with such precision and narrative sweep.
"The New York Review of Books"
A fascinating combination of the technical and human stories behind the computing breakthroughs of the 1940s and 50s. . . . An important work.
"The Philadelphia Inquirer"
Vivid. . . . [A] detailed yet readable chronicle of the birth of modern computing. . . . Dyson s book is one small step toward reminding us that behind all the touch screens, artificial intelligences and cerebellum implants lies not sorcery but a machine from the middle of New Jersey.
"The Oregonian"
Well-told. . . . Dyson tells his story as a sort of intellectual caper film. He gathers his cast of characters . . . and tracks their journey to Princeton. When they converge, it s great fun, despite postwar food rationing and housing shortages. . . . Dyson is rightly as concerned with the machine s inventors as with the technology itself."
"The Wall Street Journal"
Charming. . . . Creation stories are always worth telling, especially when they center on the birth of world-changing powers. . . . Dyson creatively recounts the curious Faustian bargain that permitted mathematicians to experiment with building more powerful computers, which in turn helped others build more destructive bombs.
"San Francisco Chronicle "
The story of the invention of computers has been told many times, from many different points of view, but seldom as authoritatively and with as much detail as George Dyson has done. . . . "Turing s Cathedral" will enthrall computer enthusiasts. . . . Employing letters, memoirs, oral histories and personal interviews, Dyson organizes his book around the personalities of the men (and occasional woman) behind the computer, and does a splendid job in bringing them to life.
"The Seattle Times"
A powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era . . . Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al.
Cory Doctorow, "Boing Boing"
No other book about the beginnings of the digital age . . . makes the connections this one does between the lessons of the computer s origin and the possible paths of its future.
"The Guardian"
If you want to be mentally prepared for the next revolution in computing, Dyson s book is a must read. But it is also a must read if you just want a ripping yarn about the way real scientists (at least, some real scientists) work and think.
"Literary Review"
More than just a great book about science. It s a great book, period.
"The Globe and Mail""

The best book I ve read on the origins of the computer. . . not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange.
The Boston Globe
A groundbreaking history . . . the book brims with unexpected detail.
The New York Times Book Review
A technical, philosophical and sometimes personal account . . . wide-ranging and lyrical.
The Economist
The story of the [von Neumann] computer project and how it begat today s digital universe has been told before, but no one has told it with such precision and narrative sweep.
The New York Review of Books
A fascinating combination of the technical and human stories behind the computing breakthroughs of the 1940s and 50s. . . . An important work.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Vivid. . . . [A] detailed yet readable chronicle of the birth of modern computing. . . . Dyson s book is one small step toward reminding us that behind all the touch screens, artificial intelligences and cerebellum implants lies not sorcery but a machine from the middle of New Jersey.
The Oregonian
Well-told. . . . Dyson tells his story as a sort of intellectual caper film. He gathers his cast of characters . . . and tracks their journey to Princeton. When they converge, it s great fun, despite postwar food rationing and housing shortages. . . . Dyson is rightly as concerned with the machine s inventors as with the technology itself."
The Wall Street Journal
Charming. . . . Creation stories are always worth telling, especially when they center on the birth of world-changing powers. . . . Dyson creatively recounts the curious Faustian bargain that permitted mathematicians to experiment with building more powerful computers, which in turn helped others build more destructive bombs.
San Francisco Chronicle
The story of the invention of computers has been told many times, from many different points of view, but seldom as authoritatively and with as much detail as George Dyson has done. . . . Turing s Cathedral will enthrall computer enthusiasts. . . . Employing letters, memoirs, oral histories and personal interviews, Dyson organizes his book around the personalities of the men (and occasional woman) behind the computer, and does a splendid job in bringing them to life.
The Seattle Times
A powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era . . . Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al.
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
No other book about the beginnings of the digital age . . . makes the connections this one does between the lessons of the computer s origin and the possible paths of its future.
The Guardian
If you want to be mentally prepared for the next revolution in computing, Dyson s book is a must read. But it is also a must read if you just want a ripping yarn about the way real scientists (at least, some real scientists) work and think.
Literary Review
More than just a great book about science. It s a great book, period.
The Globe and Mail

"

Review

A wise and meticulously researched account of a vital period in our technological history, peopled by remarkable characters painted in the round -- Peter Forbes Independent Fascinating ... the story Dyson tells is intensely human, a tale of teamwork over many years and all the harmonies and rows that involves -- Jenny Uglow This wide-ranging and lyrical work is an important addition to the literature of the history of computing Economist A beautiful example of technological storytelling ... much more than a chronicle of engineering progress: it includes fascinating digressions into the history and physics of nuclear weapons, the fundamentals of mathematical logic, the mathematical insights of Hobbes and Leibniz, the history of weather forecasting, Nils Barricelli's pioneering work on artificial life and lots of other interesting stuff -- John Naughton Observer It is a joy to read George Dyson's revelation of the very human story of the invention of the electronic computer, which he tells with wit, authority, and insight. Read Turing's Cathedral as both the origin story of our digital universe and as a preceptive glimpse into its future -- W. Daniel Hillis At long last George Dyson delivers the untold story of software's creation. It is an amazing tale brilliantly deciphered -- Kevin Kelly The world he re-creates will enthral scientific romantics ... an entertaining starting point for anyone wanting to understand how Turing's astonishing ideas became a reality, and how they continue to shape the world we live in today The Sunday Times An engrossing and well-researched book that recounts an important chapter in the history of 20th-century computing -- Evgeny Morozov Observer Rich in historical insight ... a timely reminder of why we should care about computers and the endless possibilities they hold The Times

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 6466 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (1 Mar. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0076O2VXM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #199,695 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My first encounter with digital computers was in the late 1960s when I headed up a small design team working in the development of a computer-based remote control/telemetry system to replace the earlier electromagnetic/discrete component systems used by the public utilities. In the ensuing years - although I've occasionally tried - I've never managed to escape completely from the digital universe...

Because of - or perhaps in spite of - this background I found it extremely difficult to review George Dyson's book. The claim on the back cover that the book 'can be read as literature whether or not you have any interest in computers and machine intelligence' is, in my view, grossly misleading and dangerously inaccurate.

For example, we learn on page 301 that (verbatim) "the codes spawned in 1951 have proliferated, but their nature has not changed. They are symbiotic associations of self-reproducing numbers (starting with a primitive alphabet of order codes) that were granted limited, elemental powers, the way a limited alphabet of nucleotide sequences code for an elemental set of aminio acids - with polynucleotides, proteins, and everything else that follows developing from there."

This, I submit, is hardly something that can be read as literature. Although I have a reasonable scientific background I had similar difficulties with sections dealing with Monte Carlo statistical techniques, chaos theory in meteorology and with the theory of self-reproducing automata.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Unlike other reviewers, I was not worried by the fact that this book is not another rehash of the same source material about Alan Turing. Setting his famous paper in some, maybe not the entire, context of the time was illuminating.

I skimmed sections that seemed dense in technical details of valves and command lines, but the stories of wives and women working on computer hardware and programmes, plus the vibrant "work hard, play hard" atmosphere in the various campus-type living arrangements were fascinating. Klari von Neumann's narrative was one of the most engaging for me. I also quite like stories of how institutions are shaped, so I wasn't put off by this strand.

A stand out comment related to the power of computer processing keeping men honest, because we've all seen how powerful computer models can be created and used dishonestly.

The Manchester University Small Scale Experimental Machine or Baby was repeatedly referred to in the same breath as Colossus and thus was a bit confusing. For instance "the core of the computing group from Bletchley Park were continuing from where their work on Colossus had left off". I (unlike the author who counts Max Newman as the core) imagine that the core of the computing group were the ones who actually designed and built the machine; Williams, Kilburn and Tootill who had all been based at the Telecommunications Research Establishment in Malvern. It isn't the most straightforward of family trees, but these vague references don't help to give people their proper credits or to understand why things came about in the way they did.

Kindle-wise, quite a few of the photos at the end seemed to have become separated from their captions on the following page which is a bit annoying, but I don't remember any particularly awful lay out issues.
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Format: Hardcover
The focus of George Dyson's well-written, fascinating but essentially misleading book,'Turing's Cathedral', is curiously not on celebrated mathematician, code-breaker and computer theorist Alan Turing but on his equally gifted and innovative contemporary John von Neumann. Von Neumann, whose extraordinarily varied scientific activities included inter alia significant contributions to game theory, thermodynamics and nuclear physics, is especially associated with the early development of the electronic digital computer (i.e. the 'EDC'), an interest apparently sparked by reading Turing's seminal 1936 paper 'On Computational Numbers' which attempted to systematize and express in mathematical terminology the principles underlying a purely mechanical process of computation. Implicit in this article, but at a very theoretical level, was a recognition of the relevance of stored program processing (whereby a machine's instructions and data reside in the same memory), a concept emanating from the work of mid-Victorian computer pioneer Charles Babbage but which demanded a much later electronic environment for effective realization.

What Mr Dyson insufficiently emphasizes is that, despite a widespread and ever-growing influence on the mathematical community, Turing's paper was largely ignored by contemporary electronic engineers and had negligible overall impact on the early development of the EDC. Additionally, he omits to adequately point out that von Neumann's foray into the new science of electronic computers involved a virtual total dependence on the prior work, input and ongoing support of his engineering colleagues.
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