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Customer Review

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dense in parts, but a sense of character shines through, 16 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Alan Turing: The Enigma (Paperback)
This comprehensive biography is certainly detailed. It is, perhaps, the most thorough biography I've read. This allows a great insight into the character and intelligence of Turing, but it did quickly become unnecessarily dense in parts, and felt like it was veering off at a tangent by placing Turing's academic work in a wider context than was really necessary. I don't think the book needed to explain some of the mathematical concepts in quite the detail it did, nor did it need to explain in fine detail the sequelae of those concepts as discovered by others.

I was also a little uncomfortable with the degree of subjectiveness in this description of his life. Clearly, it is impossible for any biography to be written from a totally objective stand-point, but it is clear that Hodges stands in awe of Turing, and constantly tries to explain and justify anything that could be seen as a fault in him. There were times when motives and opinions seemed to have been assigned to Turing's actions without a clear explanation given as to how Hodges had derived these, which made me question their veracity. I'm also awed of Turing and think he's a giant of our age, but even I found the warmth, bordering on sycophancy, of this book a little overbearing. I think the point would have actually been made more strongly had the reader been left to draw their own conclusions from a more objective description of the events.

I was disappointed with some of the omissions of this book. Turing was clearly a man with a strong sense of morality and ethics, and yet cryptography - perhaps his best-known skill - has inherent within it the ethical complexity of choosing when to act on intelligence, and when to ignore it and effectively sacrifice people in order to maintain the illusion that the code has not been broken. This, to me, is one of the most profoundly interesting parts of the work completed at Bletchley, and of cryptography, yet this is given relatively short shrift in this biography. I feel sure that Turing would have reflected on this point, and probably had interesting things to say about it, so it seems a shame that they aren't discussed here. Perhaps this reflects a wider criticism of the book - it's difficult at times to pick out Turing's character amongst the reams of detailed mathematical and computational theory. That said, I think the story and an impression of the character of Turing does manage to shine through over the course of the book as a whole, even if it is hard-going in parts.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Dec 2014 00:33:12 GMT
What on earth is "subjectiveness"?? I suggest you re-examine your own subjectivity before attempting to impose an "objectivity" that does not exist on readers.
This is the kind of nonsensical review that says more about the reviewer than the work that is reviewed.

Posted on 15 Apr 2015 18:08:36 BDT
Lindosland says:
My thoughts exactly, regarding the 'subjectiveness'. I feel that this book is more about Hodges interpretation from rather meagre evidence than about Turing. Yes, all biography has some subjective interpretation, but this is a thick book with something of an agenda. It has led many people to believe that Turing was hounded to his death for being homosexual, when the evidence by no means supports that view. If it is true that the coroner added a note to his findings that said 'death appears to have been caused by violence', as is now being claimed, then everything changes, and murder becomes more likely, by security services or by his crazy friends. I wish that I could see a filmed documentary of interviews with those who knew him - that would be the best way to get to the facts and weigh them up without wading through 700 pages of opinion written by a gay liberation activist in the midst of a struggle for recognition thirty years ago.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Apr 2015 01:10:07 BDT
Lindosland says:
Subjectiveness is the quality of being subjective. Subjectivity is the state of being subjective. I think the use of the word subjectiveness, referring to content not a person, was entirely appropriate here.
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Location: Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

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