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Alan Turing: The Enigma

by Andrew Hodges

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,994286,448 (3.95)64
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades--all before his suicide at age forty-one. This classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. A gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges's acclaimed book captures both the inner and outer drama of Turing's life. Hodges tells how Turing's revolutionary idea of 1936--the concept of a universal machine--laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing's leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic story of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program--all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.… (more)
  1. 31
    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (infiniteletters)
    infiniteletters: Science fiction, but portions are about Turing, and large portions are about codes and encryption.
  2. 10
    The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan by Robert Kanigel (jeroenvandorp)
  3. 10
    Enigma by Robert Harris (souloftherose)
    souloftherose: Historical fictional/thriller set in Bletchley Park during WWII
  4. 00
    Alan Turing by Rolf Hochhuth (JuliaMaria)
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» See also 64 mentions

English (26)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Thought it was brilliant

Big Ship ( )
  bigship | Nov 24, 2021 |
Fascinating, and devastating story. ( )
  dualmon | Nov 17, 2021 |
Deep and dense and thoughtful analysis of Turing, his work and life. This book is already a historical record in its own right as it was researched through the ‘70s and ‘80s before Turing and Bletchley’s current renown, but when some of the people or sources in the story were still at hand. Hodges’ complex exposition of analytical areas (maths, logic, cryptography, submarine warfare, digital encoding and transmission, policing of sexuality) makes this a very weighty read, and I took some years before getting to the end. This approach and his cautiousness, as a biographer, whilst proper, mean this is not a dramatic telling. Ottaviani’s graphic novel version (reviewed here 2019) or the well known film The Imitation Game, give more accessible and entertaining accounts. Both were made drawing on Hodges’ book, suggesting it does have definitive status. ( )
  eglinton | Aug 15, 2021 |
Alan Turing, the enigma. And what an enigma he is. After listning to Hodges book I feel I know him much better and I still think I don't really know him. He was truly one of a kind and he was the square peg for the round hole but his ideas and insights were at times ground breaking. Still he was not the excellent engineer, not the fantastic mathematician, not the wonderful talker, but he was able to step out of those boxes and see a bigger picture than other people.

The book consists of four more or less equal sized parts. His young life, his war life, his post-war computer science life and his life after he moved beyond computers. His early life was dominated by school, first boarding school and then Kings College at Cambridge. During the war he was at Bletchley Park, where he contributed to the machines that broke codes. Exactly what went on there seems to be forever lost, but his contribution was major. After the war he ended up in a resource strapped economy that suddenly focused on administration, not execution, and he was not a good player of that game.

All through this his libido and homosexuality forms a red thread. From losing his first, and maybe only love, as a teenager, to the broken engagement with someone that was more friend than lover, to the hysteria surrounding security risks that cut him off from government work, and of course his conviction in a court for indecent behaviour. Still I get the feeling he never really found anybody who he loved and that loved him back. His private self he kept well guarded.

I would, given my background, have liked more information about his early research, but I guess anybody can look up that. The paper "On Computable Numbers" is available online for instance. I also suspect parts were edited out of the audio book edition because it couldn't have been communicated verbally. It was probably a mistake to not read the paper (or ebook?) version of this work.

All in all I think Hodges has done a good job putting together what information there is to a plausible description of the man. He has clearly read a lot of letters from him and to him, but the amount of people that actually knew him is not that large anymore so first hand accounts was probably hard to get so you get to hear about the quirks, those things that stick in your mind, and not about the ordinary day events. ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
This outstanding biography of a unique, outstanding and challenging human being is full of integrity and insight. The author is himself a mathematician / logician, and is able to communicate Turing's work and scientific principles in an accessible yet rigorous way. Plus, the author's broad knowledge of the modern social history of homosexuality brings a good mix of depth, objectivity and empathy to his view of Turing and the essential dilemmas of Turing's life. To label one's subject an "enigma" might seem at first a cop-out. But here it is a forthright statement of the stubborn and mysterious existential inner conflict and puzzle of the man's life, which his genius could not solve. Turing prized truth above all, but had the same subjective longings as all of us, that defeat logic at every turn. One of Turing's achievements was to prove the uncomputability of certain values; this book does the same for a life. ( )
  oatleyr | Aug 22, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Andrew Hodgesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Silverman, RobertCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To thee old cause! [from Walt Whitman]
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A son of the British Empire, Alan Turing's social origins lay just on the borderline between the landed gentry and the commercial classes.
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It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades--all before his suicide at age forty-one. This classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. A gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges's acclaimed book captures both the inner and outer drama of Turing's life. Hodges tells how Turing's revolutionary idea of 1936--the concept of a universal machine--laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing's leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic story of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program--all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.

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Contents:

ONE: The logical -- Esprit de Corps: to 13 February 1930 -- The spirit of truth: to 14 April 1936 -- New men: to 3 September 1939 -- The relay race: to 10 November 1942 -- Bridge passage: to 1 April 1943 -- TWO: The physical -- Running up: to 2 September 1945 -- Mercury delayed: to 2 October 1948 -- The Greenwood tree: to 7 February 1952 -- On the beach: to 7 June 1954 -- Postscript.
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