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The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (Great Discoveries) Hardcover – 17 Jan 2006
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a painful and slightly deranged story, a case history to illustrate Freud's notion that modern man is a 'prosthetic god', immortailised by his technological appliances. It is guaranteed to make you feel tenderly towards the martyred Turing (Peter Conrad THE OBSERVER )
[Leavitt's] description of Turing's great paper on computable numbers really does explain what it was about and why it was important. (THE TIMES )
Leavitt's biography will give even the most innumerate reader an idea of the beautiful and fascinating world he is missing. (THE ECONOMIST )
Turing... showed that no mathematical system can provide a general method for testing the truth or falsehood of its theorems. (THE SPECTATOR )
A thoroughly compelling read. (CITY A.M. )
Leavitt provides a sympathetic novelist's take on a brilliant eccentric... a picture of the fragility of human genius. (THE GUARDIAN )
Alan Turing's story will still fascinate those who come to it through this book. (THE INDEPENDENT )
a peculiarly British tragedy, where genius is subordinate to the status quo and conformity prized above all. (TIME OUT ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The story of the persecuted genius who helped create the modern computer. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
David Leavitt has written an overdue appraisal of Turing that gives him credit for his successes, rather than ascribe the kudos to others because it was safer to do so. This continues the re-acclimatisation of this pioneer into a place of prominence in two fields - the research background surrounding origins of computing, and the code breaking activities that took place in Bletchley Park during World War II.
It would be untrue to intimate that Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park "won the war", but their efforts were nevertheless of huge significance. Leavitt gives a broad overview of the activities, and points the reader to further sources. The account is perhaps romanticised, with the place of pure luck glossed over somewhat, but the scale of the code-breaking operation is realised.
The description of the `Turing machine' is well presented, although not for the faint-hearted as it is necessarily very abstract thinking (again, Turing was ahead of his time). Leavitt successfully weaves Turing into a position both as a man ahead of his time, and as a man of his time (influenced by the Hilbert program in mathematics, and Kurt Gödel's revolution in logical consistency or otherwise). The seeds of what are underlying concepts of the digital age (programmable machines, stored values held digitally, and indeed binary numeric representation) are well presented. The result is to raise the stature of Turing, no longer overshadowed by the likes of John Newman.
With the hindsight of more than 50 years, it is hard to imagine the treatment of Turing by not just those around him, but by `society'. Attitudes to homosexuality have changed beyond recognition, and "things would be different now". Where Leavitt is weak is not leading the reader in regard to Turing's death. However, whether suicide or an accident, Turing's death locked his ideas into a time-box from which they took time to be unpacked. Leavitt helps readers to see that they are TURING's ideas.
Peter Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
If you are a pure mathematician, you will already know most of the technical matters; if you are not, you may have to read some chapters two or three times and still not understand all the detail. Even so, you will at least understand why Turing can be described as one of the most important pioneers (perhaps the most important pioneer) of modern computers.
There are some irritating errors in the book, e.g., the word 'principle' instead of 'principal' and some missing words. Computer spell checkers are no substitute for a good proof reader.
The author seems to take great pains to interpret many things that Turing wrote, said or did as evidence of his homosexuality. Maybe this is because the author himself is described in a website as "a gay author". There is no doubt that Turing was homosexual but he was also an "oddball". From the descriptions of him in this book it seems to me that he exhibited some (but not all) of the symptoms of Aspergers Syndrome.
If Turing had been born in 1942 instead of 1912, he might still be alive today and living a happier life. But then, who else would have done the work he did at Bletchley Park to beat the Enigma code? Who else would have written about the Universal Machine which formed the foundation of the modern computer? Without Turing, we could now be living in a very different world.
Thanks to Churchill and other well known leaders, we won World War II. Without Turing, we might have lost it. But there are no statues to Turing. He deserves more than our grateful thanks.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Too much math, too little man behind the math.
Turing's best-known accomplishments, his work in code breaking and in developing the computer, were not as dramatically presented in this book as I would have liked. I was hoping for the book to promote Turing; to bring him forward and upward into the limelight. Instead it leads the reader down into the minutiae of Turning's mathematics and his homosexuality. Consequently the co-tragedies of his persecution and suicide, the ultimate irony of a society killing the man who saved it, were not as strongly or as dramatically presented as they might have been.
In fairness to the author, Mr. Leavitt probably told Alan Turing's story as Mr. Turing would have told it, himself. Rather than writing the promotional piece for Turning that I expected and wanted, Mr. Leavitt emphasized the mathematical challenges, achievements and social forces that shaped this brilliant man. Someone picking up this book to read about a mathematician and his work should find great interest in the details, the very details that for me were more of a distraction.
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