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Man Who Knew Too Much by David Leavitt
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Man Who Knew Too Much (edition 2006)

by David Leavitt

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3971426,945 (3.43)6
Member:ghefferon
Title:Man Who Knew Too Much
Authors:David Leavitt
Info:WEIDENFELD & NICOLSO (2006), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:turing, computers, artificial intelligence, enigma machine, cryptography, mathematics

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The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Not at all sure why this was written. As the author acknowledges, he has used the books by Simon Singh (on code breaking) & the **much better** biography by Andrew Hodges as source material. Having read both of those I don't really see anything substantially new. There are a few bits that extend the analysis of Turing's homosexuality but not enough to warrant a new book. Even the trauma of his trial & "treatment" are dealt with in a few pages, & not developed into a polemic on gay rights. So there's no really strong axis to the book - code breaking, maths, life as a homosexual in mid 20thC England - are all present, just not strongly put, apart from making me want to go back to Singh & Hodges..
  AndrewCapey | Jul 17, 2014 |
Interesting and usually very readable biog of Turing which concentrates on his identity as a gay man and how this may have influenced aspects of his work. During his time at Cambridge, homosexuality was tacitly accepted and there was a significant, though of course rather underground, community of gay academics - including E.M. Forster - and students. This would of course contrast with the secrecy and shame he was subjected to later.

Naturally there are some pages of equations and mathematical description. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to switch gears into being able to understand them all in the way I could with similar books when I was younger, but the presentation is quite clear and they shouldn't trouble most bright all-rounders.

Bletchley is covered in quite an exciting manner (still kind of suspenseful even though we know how it turned out), and the account includes the contributions of a good number of other people as well as Turing. I enjoyed reading more about them online as well. The American author could improve his grasp of London geography, however.

Not that much space is given to the story of Turing's arrest and demise, but it was still very moving and left me quite angry and sad.

Years ago, I had a copy of a much longer biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma. I never got close to finishing it. 700+ pages was probably a bit much for me on this topic, and I was lucky enough to chance upon this book when I was away at Christmas. I would recommend it as an alternative to the other biography for people who aren't CS specialists, especially those with any interest in LGBT issues. (It is a shame to see a number of first-page GR reviews hostile to the gay slant of the book.) I gather from reviews here and elsewhere that the maths is all sound, so those with more technical knowledge should find it satisfactory too. ( )
  antonomasia | Jun 3, 2014 |
I'm a huge fan of Alan Turing's. A FAN. And god, if he isn't completely tragic.

I liked this biography especially because the author sat down and worked out some of the math, and spent time explaining decoding. But really, the important part was that they didn't gloss over the fact that--shock--Turing was gay.

Even for someone that likes to read nonfiction anyway, I was REALLY into this book. Only reason it took so long to get to it was school (since I bought this in the summer).

Great biography. Really.

( )
  cendri | May 30, 2014 |
I didn't know much about Turing as a person, or about much of his work beyond the most famous, so this was interesting from that perspective.

Two major complaints:

* The author kept making connections between Turing's homosexuality and his professional work. While those connections seem reasonable later in his career, and are very interesting and thought-provoking there, the ties to his earlier work are tenuous at best, and completely unsupported by the author.

* At the end of the book -- literally the last several pages -- the author drops the suggestion that the British government had Turing killed. Though it apparently gave the book its title, the speculation is again completely unsupported and speculative, and weakened the book. ( )
  sben | Feb 11, 2014 |
Turing was a fellow at King's College, Cambridge, in 1936, when he confronted what might be called the mathematician's nightmare: the possibility of blindly devoting your life to what, unbeknownst to anyone but God, is an unsolvable problem. If only there were a way to know beforehand, a procedure for sifting out and discarding the uncrackable nuts.

Turing's stroke of genius was to recast the issue - mathematicians call it the decision problem - in mechanical terms. A theorem and the instructions for proving it, he realized, could be thought of as input for a machine. If there was a solution, Turing's imaginary device would eventually come to a stop and print the answer. Otherwise it would grind away forever. Although it was not his primary intention, he had discovered, in passing, the idea of the programmable computer.
  Fred_Wilson | Sep 12, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393052362, Hardcover)

The story of the persecuted genius who helped create the modern computer.

To solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary programmable calculating machine. But the idea of actually producing a "Turing machine" did not crystallize until he and his brilliant Bletchley Park colleagues built devices to crack the Nazis' Enigma code, thus ensuring the Allies' victory in World War II. In so doing, Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, formulating the famous (and still unbeaten) Turing Test that challenges our ideas of human consciousness. But Turing's postwar computer-building was cut short when, as an openly gay man in a time when homosexuality was officially illegal in England, he was apprehended by the authorities and sentenced to a "treatment" that amounted to chemical castration, leading to his suicide.

With a novelist's sensitivity, David Leavitt portrays Turing in all his humanity—his eccentricities, his brilliance, his fatal candor—while elegantly explaining his work and its implications.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:51 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"One of the most important openings in the path to the modern computer was made by the British mathematician Alan Turing - remarkably, while he was solving an entirely different problem. Shy and insecure about his middle-class origins, considered eccentric by those who did not know him well, Turing could show those close to him sly humor and bracing candor - even about his homosexuality. He also had one of the keenest minds of the twentieth century." "Turing's famous 1936 doctoral dissertation tackled one of the great mathematical challenges of the time, the "decidability problem, " by proposing and imaginary programmable calculating machine. The idea of actually producing such a "Turing machine" did not crystallize until Turing and his brilliant Bletchley Park colleagues built devices to crack the Nazis' Enigma code, thus ensuring the Allies' victory in World War II. Along the way, Turing crossed paths with some of the greatest minds of his time, including John von Neumann and Ludwig Wittgenstein." "After the war, Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, formulating the famous Turing Test that challenges our ideas of human consciousness. But Turing's postwar computer-building was cut short when he was arrested for violating antihomosexuality laws and sentenced to a "treatment" that amounted to chemical castration." "As he explains Turing's work and its implications, David Leavitt never loses sight of Turing's humanity, using a novelist's sensitivity to enter Turing's world and tell his extraordinary story."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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