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

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To solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary computer. Then, attempting to break a Nazi code during World War II, he successfully designed and built one, thus ensuring the Allied victory. Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, but his work was cut short. As an openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was ill To solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary computer. Then, attempting to break a Nazi code during World War II, he successfully designed and built one, thus ensuring the Allied victory. Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, but his work was cut short. As an openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England, he was convicted and forced to undergo a humiliating "treatment" that may have led to his suicide. With a novelist's sensitivity, David Leavitt portrays Turing in all his humanity—his eccentricities, his brilliance, his fatal candor—and elegantly explains his work and its implications.


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To solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary computer. Then, attempting to break a Nazi code during World War II, he successfully designed and built one, thus ensuring the Allied victory. Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, but his work was cut short. As an openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was ill To solve one of the great mathematical problems of his day, Alan Turing proposed an imaginary computer. Then, attempting to break a Nazi code during World War II, he successfully designed and built one, thus ensuring the Allied victory. Turing became a champion of artificial intelligence, but his work was cut short. As an openly gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal in England, he was convicted and forced to undergo a humiliating "treatment" that may have led to his suicide. With a novelist's sensitivity, David Leavitt portrays Turing in all his humanity—his eccentricities, his brilliance, his fatal candor—and elegantly explains his work and its implications.

30 review for The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    Alan is five years old and taking a bite out of an apple for the first time. Human life is rich with such firsts, as we well know and make known with our various rituals and markings, preservations and engravings. First tooth. First step. First word. First day of school. First kiss. But many firsts go uncelebrated, unmarked, fail to be photographed or scrapbooked, and countless sums pass by human sensors unknown, even to those who personally bear them. No one—neither parents nor Alan or otherwis Alan is five years old and taking a bite out of an apple for the first time. Human life is rich with such firsts, as we well know and make known with our various rituals and markings, preservations and engravings. First tooth. First step. First word. First day of school. First kiss. But many firsts go uncelebrated, unmarked, fail to be photographed or scrapbooked, and countless sums pass by human sensors unknown, even to those who personally bear them. No one—neither parents nor Alan or otherwise—could’ve realized the somber significance of this as he happily tore the meat of the commonly blossomed fruit away from its seed-laden axis, his jaw working the tart mouthful into a swallowable sweetness and repeated in between the beaming smiles and clear dancing eyes of satisfaction. The verdant freshness of childhood innocence harmoniously converges with the surrounding organic hustle and bustle of firsts smattering the flora and fauna. The bite’s unknowable meaning radiates silently amid the pastoral scene of the Turing family picnic. The not all too frequently unclouded light of the Scottish sun warmly contributes to the gorgeous weather and blankets the feelings of time-halting serenity and familial love that mingle and gently swirl about this moment, in this clime, in this fraction of a fraction of the world. Palpable glimmers of Alan’s remarkable intelligence perched upon the early signposts. His mind grasped the landscape of the idyllic family picnic as not merely a series of pleasant impressions bleeding into one another and lapping at his mind-as-center-of-it-all, but as composed of distinct pathways and trajectories, not exactly upon an actual visualized grid—as might some cartoonish version of a mathematics genius as a child—but as things that adhere to deeper principles of space and movement. Urged by an offhand remark about how nice it would be to have some honey with their biscuits, he traced the flight patterns of the nearby bees and intuitively calculated them into a hunch that, if followed, could bring their sweet secretions into the already plentiful spread that his family’d been enjoying. Within minutes he’d scampered to the central hub of the hive, exhilarated not as much by the possibility of snatching up a syrupy comb or two, but by the series of gratifying clicks within the mind of being able to anticipate and accurately predict the workings of the world—a complex feeling of exerting power and mastery, tempered by the simultaneously humbling sense that his own workings as a person could likewise be anticipated, predicted and uncovered, and as such fall into place with their own satisfying clicks. He both looked out upon the world and felt himself to be its kin, all of course in ways that a child, and most people beyond childhood, could not articulate. Alan had a conductor car toy that he rolled around so regularly that, within a year since the Christmas he’d received it, the model vessel and even the miniature conductor himself had worn away significantly—human hands and entropy. When a wheel had fallen off, his impulse was to dig a shallow grave for the toy in the backyard. His parents discovered this and thought that he’d tried to hide the evidence of misusing their gift, but in fact his unusual manner of thinking had given him the idea that a proper burial would allow for some sort of magical rejuvenation of the object, causing it to rise from the soil, Phoenixlike, reborn anew. In general, children are prone to magical thinking, yes, but his particular form of it was unique—a vision of causality quite fenced off from others—a self-contained logic churning within the young boy’s mind that was perhaps a sign of revolutionary leaps to come.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Halfway done and totally disappointed in this book. It skips between being an overblown gay biography of Alan Turing (being gay does define one's existence, but does it have to define EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE, too?) and a hopelessly confusing history of how math become computer science. I'm still slogging through, but my hopes are dashed.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lil

    A fascinating perspective into the life of an eccentric genius. I probably should not have looked at other reviews first, because it's disheartening to see so many of them complaining "too gay." What I found so striking about this book was that Leavitt evidences how Turing's identity as a gay man was an essential part of his life, not just in the act of sexuality but in his thinking. There's the view of the outsider, the partition of "other" that coloured so much of his thinking about machines, A fascinating perspective into the life of an eccentric genius. I probably should not have looked at other reviews first, because it's disheartening to see so many of them complaining "too gay." What I found so striking about this book was that Leavitt evidences how Turing's identity as a gay man was an essential part of his life, not just in the act of sexuality but in his thinking. There's the view of the outsider, the partition of "other" that coloured so much of his thinking about machines, there's the idea of "imitating a man" and trying to fool others that Turing proposed as a test of a computer's intelligence... the book is full of these foundational ideas that can't be separated from Turing's thought process, no matter how much a privileged heteronormative culture wants them to whitewash them out. Turing is an especially good candidate to show the importance of identity on thought in that he was never just a pure mathematician. In his lectures, debates, letters, even the short story he was writing before he died, he is constantly making reference to it; these passing remarks could be just ignored, leaving Turing probably looking like someone who just went off on tangents, but Leavitt does an amazing job in teasing them out and putting them into context. And in that context, it's obvious that the question of who he was, of what machines were, of what made computers and human brains different and the same, was a question that was constantly on Turing's mind.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    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 d 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.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Yfke

    Though containing a lot of information, this book is a dry mess, making it difficult to read and slightly frustrating to anyone who isn't particularly gifted at mathematics to begin with. What bothered me most though, is the trouble Leavitt seems to have separating the scientist from his sexuality. The way he connects the two throughout the book is irritating and often far fetched. I think anyone interested in learning more about Alan Turing should take Leavitt's own advice and go for Andrew Hod Though containing a lot of information, this book is a dry mess, making it difficult to read and slightly frustrating to anyone who isn't particularly gifted at mathematics to begin with. What bothered me most though, is the trouble Leavitt seems to have separating the scientist from his sexuality. The way he connects the two throughout the book is irritating and often far fetched. I think anyone interested in learning more about Alan Turing should take Leavitt's own advice and go for Andrew Hodges' The Enigma, and I haven't even read that yet.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I expected more of a biography. Instead, it's an awkward combination of sketchy biography and layman's explanation of Turing's technical contributions. It's not bad, just not very good.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ^

    I lost interest and gave up on page 26. So early! Feeble really; but I've just not been able to get back into it, despite trying. The author's narrative reads too much like a first draft, a rough, barely-ordered laying out of sources without the subsequent necessary review, re-review, and knitting-together into a text that engages its reader as it flows. Was the sub-editor asleep at the time? I am disappointed. After several deeply engrossing visits to the Bletchley Park site, and The National Mus I lost interest and gave up on page 26. So early! Feeble really; but I've just not been able to get back into it, despite trying. The author's narrative reads too much like a first draft, a rough, barely-ordered laying out of sources without the subsequent necessary review, re-review, and knitting-together into a text that engages its reader as it flows. Was the sub-editor asleep at the time? I am disappointed. After several deeply engrossing visits to the Bletchley Park site, and The National Museum Of Computing, I'd really looked forward to reading this book; especially as I borrowed it from Hampshire (public) Library Services, whose staff are normally superb at selecting books.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Surreysmum

    I found this a fascinating book, even though the mathematical concepts in the middle chapters were a bit of a hard slog. Still, even if I didn't fully follow the explanations, it was entirely helpful to get a sense of the territories in which Turing's mind was working. And the bit about the Enigma machines was utterly absorbing. I raised an eyebrow when I saw David Leavitt as the author of the book, wondering whether an author mostly known (or at least mostly known to me) as a writer of gay-centr I found this a fascinating book, even though the mathematical concepts in the middle chapters were a bit of a hard slog. Still, even if I didn't fully follow the explanations, it was entirely helpful to get a sense of the territories in which Turing's mind was working. And the bit about the Enigma machines was utterly absorbing. I raised an eyebrow when I saw David Leavitt as the author of the book, wondering whether an author mostly known (or at least mostly known to me) as a writer of gay-centred novels would tip the balance of the whole thing, making it a "poor abused gay hero" biography. Possibly there are readers out there who are disappointed he didn't do just that. I thought he maintained the balance between the intellectual and the emotional quite admirably. His analysis of a short story fragment Turing wrote towards the end of his life is, as one would expect, full of insight. Turing died by biting into a cyanide-poisoned apple, suicide being the generally accepted explanation, though his family steadfastly maintained it was an accident. Leavitt is quite scientific in presenting all the evidence for the two theories. This book is part of a series, "Great Discoveries", and I suspect it had an upper word limit imposed by the publisher. That may in fact have been to its advantage. Turing was not a man who would be easily understood even with thousands of pages of description and analysis - but I came away from this feeling I had at least gained some sense of the man.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alicja

    rating: 4/5 This is a biography of Alan Turing, the man who was critical in decoding and building the computer (and the theoretical basis of the computer) used to decode the German Enigma machine and who pioneered AI theory. The tragic end of his life had me in tears at the injustice, a life and a genius lost (and a loss to society). His end was also poetic, (view spoiler)[suicide by a poisoned apple (hide spoiler)] . The book is a bit dry, especially during the difficult math parts, but it is nec rating: 4/5 This is a biography of Alan Turing, the man who was critical in decoding and building the computer (and the theoretical basis of the computer) used to decode the German Enigma machine and who pioneered AI theory. The tragic end of his life had me in tears at the injustice, a life and a genius lost (and a loss to society). His end was also poetic, (view spoiler)[suicide by a poisoned apple (hide spoiler)] . The book is a bit dry, especially during the difficult math parts, but it is necessary to be able to get into Turing's head and understand the way he thought. I didn't get more than half the math, I tried. Despite the challenge, we end up exploring the mind of an extraordinary man and genius. The author did a great job and breaking down the influences in his early life and the way they effected his personality, psychology, and work. And of course we end with a tragedy, we end with his arrest for the crime of homosexuality, his subsequent emotional turmoil, depression and early death. ----------------------- 3/8/14: Recently, January 2014, the Queen issued an official pardon for Turning (http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/24/world/e...). Great for its symbolic value but over 60 years too late to actually make a difference in his life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    Turing is a tragic figure who has always fascinated me both the father of the computer and indispensable in cracking the Enigma code of the Germans in World War II. He was brought down by his openly gay lifestyle and his obliviousness to danger of his out behavior in 1950s Britain where such behavior was illegal and thought to be a "security risk". He was arrested and forced to go through humiliating hormone treatments and publicly maligned. No one from the security service stepped forward to de Turing is a tragic figure who has always fascinated me both the father of the computer and indispensable in cracking the Enigma code of the Germans in World War II. He was brought down by his openly gay lifestyle and his obliviousness to danger of his out behavior in 1950s Britain where such behavior was illegal and thought to be a "security risk". He was arrested and forced to go through humiliating hormone treatments and publicly maligned. No one from the security service stepped forward to defend him even though his secret work probably saved Britain during the war. He committed suicide in 1953. His story and his ideas have always interested me and although Hodges in "Alan Turing: The Enigma" does a more thorough job this is a good introductory work to life and thought of Alan Turing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Excellent book! Some parts might be challenging if you don't have a working knowledge of imaginary numbers, math proofs and theoretical math. But if you don't understand that part just skim it and get back to the story. Don't let it stop you from enjoying the book. Must read!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Familiar with and generally admiring of David Leavitt's fiction I was impressed by his attempt to tell this story. Lest I sound equivocal [pun?], I'll say I would have enjoyed this book more by reading it on the page/e-ink screen than by listening to the audiobook as I did - though that's no fault of the reader, Paul Michael Garcia. But every number of every binary string was read: one one one one one one one one zero ellipses (yes, even the word "ellipses" was voiced) and I repeatedly "zoned" o Familiar with and generally admiring of David Leavitt's fiction I was impressed by his attempt to tell this story. Lest I sound equivocal [pun?], I'll say I would have enjoyed this book more by reading it on the page/e-ink screen than by listening to the audiobook as I did - though that's no fault of the reader, Paul Michael Garcia. But every number of every binary string was read: one one one one one one one one zero ellipses (yes, even the word "ellipses" was voiced) and I repeatedly "zoned" out and lost the context. I'm not innumerate, but I was busy this week, and I am a visual thinker, and that was too much to absorb. I loved George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral and listened to the audiobook in unceasing fascination; I took a lot of enjoyment from Brian Christian's The Most Human Human; say the words "Bletchley Park" or "Enigma" and you have my immediate attention. So perhaps it was the equations and also something restrained in Leavitt's handling of the material that kept causing me to lose the thread. I do think this was fine examination of Turing's life, mathematics, milieu, and tragic death (it might have been accidental suicide? Apple denies that their logo is inspired by Turing?). Note: need to read Andrew Hodges on Turing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Matt Dean

    I read this in order to lead a book group discussion. The book provided fodder for a long and interesting discussion. (We went overtime by half an hour or so.) It's worth noting, though, that the book doesn't have quite the emphasis that I was expecting. Many, many, many more pages are spent on the mathematics than on the man. A lengthy explanation of the operation of a series of hypothetical Turing machines runs to 30 pages. On the other hand, it was a shock to learn that Turing was briefly eng I read this in order to lead a book group discussion. The book provided fodder for a long and interesting discussion. (We went overtime by half an hour or so.) It's worth noting, though, that the book doesn't have quite the emphasis that I was expecting. Many, many, many more pages are spent on the mathematics than on the man. A lengthy explanation of the operation of a series of hypothetical Turing machines runs to 30 pages. On the other hand, it was a shock to learn that Turing was briefly engaged to be married, and even more of a shock that his fiancee was "unfazed" when he revealed that he was gay—and yet all of that happened in a single sentence. The Man Who Knew Too Much is part of a series (Great Discoveries). As an admirer of Leavitt's other work—including The Indian Clerk an excellent novel based on the life of another mathematician and contemporary of Turing's, G.H. Hardy—I have to assume he was somewhat constrained by his charter. That is to say, he was compelled to favor Turing's work over his life. Leavitt does a fine job of it, but I'm no math geek, and I would have preferred that the emphasis be reversed.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    This book is uneven. 2.5 stars rounded to 3 because of a few good parts. The first half of the book seems padded. Leavitt spends way too much time describing other homosexual scholars at Cambridge with whom Turning had no interactions. It seemed bizarre to write about men Turing might have met if only he had been less shy. A section of Turing's WWII work to break the code of the German's Enigma machines is interesting and written in a way that a lay person feels like she almost understands how th This book is uneven. 2.5 stars rounded to 3 because of a few good parts. The first half of the book seems padded. Leavitt spends way too much time describing other homosexual scholars at Cambridge with whom Turning had no interactions. It seemed bizarre to write about men Turing might have met if only he had been less shy. A section of Turing's WWII work to break the code of the German's Enigma machines is interesting and written in a way that a lay person feels like she almost understands how the machines work. Leavitt's descriptions of Turning's work and philosophy writings after WWII are less compelling but at least they are about Alan Turing.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    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. 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Seth Kramer

    As a gay computer scientist and mathematician I have to agree with several reviewers. I feel the author has overemphasized Turing's homosexuality. Lots of conjecture about his feelings that is unsupported by any documentary evidence. Also there is a whole chapter or two devoted to the minutiae of the original Turing "machine" that really offers little insight into his life and is quite dull. The book as a whole is an interesting read, but there are better Turing biographies.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Stanislavskij

    Quite informative to someone uninitiated in the details of Turing's contibution to computers, the deciphering of the enigma-machine and the development of artificial intelligence. Leavitt draws some ridiculous conclusions at times, though, even suggesting at one point that Turing wanted to build an intelligent machine because he could never find "true homosexual love."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    A fascinating guy, but perhaps too complex for any biography to allow you to have a sense of who he really was. I was also hoping for a better idea of how a theoretical machine became a real computer, but I'm blaming that on myself.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    A fascinating story of a fascinating life. This is the second book I've read about Alan Turing and both taught me much about this extraordinary man. I only wish I could understand the mathematics better!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    Full of scientific equations and formulas, and much less information on Turing's life, disappointing for what was supposed to be a biography. I hope the author sticks to writing fictional works, most of those I've read by him I enjoyed very much.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    This was a really interesting book, however, listening to mathematical computations and numbers written in binary is not the most interesting thing in the world. In fact, it was quite tedious at times. I did enjoy learning more about Turing, so I guess the bit of boredom was worth it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ollie Ford

    An interesting account, though does contradict itself in places. Could definitely be longer - becomes far less detailed as it progresses.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Ferriter

    ** 2.5 stars ** Leavitt presents a mostly cohesive biography of Alan Turing's life and major work/accomplishments from early life to his apparent or accidental suicide (Leavitt also hints around that it's possible Turing was murdered, but gives no evidence for this theory). I did learn more about Turing than I knew when I started the book, which is good, but the book has a couple of major flaws that kept me from enjoying it more. First, Leavitt devotes several chapters early on to explaining Turi ** 2.5 stars ** Leavitt presents a mostly cohesive biography of Alan Turing's life and major work/accomplishments from early life to his apparent or accidental suicide (Leavitt also hints around that it's possible Turing was murdered, but gives no evidence for this theory). I did learn more about Turing than I knew when I started the book, which is good, but the book has a couple of major flaws that kept me from enjoying it more. First, Leavitt devotes several chapters early on to explaining Turing's mathematical work at King's College (Cambridge) and Princeton. Contra the blurb on the back of the book from Publishers Weekly stating that Leavitt explains Turing's work in a way that is "accessible to any reader," I definitely did not feel this to be the case with the math. Perhaps it would be accessible to someone with a basic understanding of higher-order mathematics, but as someone whose greatest mathematical skill is being able to calculate a 20% tip at restaurants, my eyes pretty much just glazed over whenever Leavitt launched into complicated explanations of concepts like Goldbach's conjecture and Turing's computational work on the zeta function of the Riemann hypothesis. In these chapters, Leavitt also explains more than seems necessary or useful to Turing's personal story, including mathematical problems that Turing didn't work on and people he never worked with. To his credit, Leavitt does a better job of explaining types of ciphers and the workings of the Enigma in later chapters when he gets to Turing's work in crypto-analysis during WWII. I felt like I had a better handle on how codes and ciphers worked, even if I didn't understand everything discussed. Second, I agree with some other reviewers who have complained that Leavitt is doing too much reaching when he attempts to center Turing's homosexuality in explanations of Turing's academic papers or work on machines. Certainly, I think one's sexuality and sexual orientation will play a significant role in one's identity and sense of self, but Leavitt simultaneously argues that Turing was largely apolitical in his actions (that is to say, he wasn't out fighting against injustices) AND that when Turing discusses machine learning and intelligence, he's somehow obliquely referencing social mistreatment of gay men. I don't regret having read this book and do feel that I learned some valuable information about Turing, but I also wonder if I wouldn't have learned just as much or more by reading Andrew Hodges's book Alan Turing: The Enigma (which Leavitt cites throughout this book). If you're willing to slog through the math chapters and suspend some disbelief about how much of a role Turing's sexual orientation played in his work, then you may enjoy this biography.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jina

    While I did find this book interesting, it was full of details that only someone truly obsessed with the life of Alan Turing would care about. I think this was due in part to the fact that (admitted by the author) there really isn’t much available on his life, so David over explained things or provided too much side story when the opportunity presented itself in an effort to lengthen his piece. For example, a transcript was kept of a philosophy class Turing took, so David provided pages of dialo While I did find this book interesting, it was full of details that only someone truly obsessed with the life of Alan Turing would care about. I think this was due in part to the fact that (admitted by the author) there really isn’t much available on his life, so David over explained things or provided too much side story when the opportunity presented itself in an effort to lengthen his piece. For example, a transcript was kept of a philosophy class Turing took, so David provided pages of dialog between Turing and his professor. David also went to great lengths to explain the history of the Principia Mathematica and the Entscheidungsproblem, to the point I forgot what it even had to do with Turing. David even spends much of first chapter linking Turing's homosexuality to seemingly all of his early life choices. I, myself, don’t recall my sexual preferences having that much influence over my childhood and therefor found these suggested connections, more often then not, a bit reaching. The structure of the chapters also confused me at first as they are split into multiple sections, without any real indication as to why - I think it’s just how David decided to slightly change the topic or mark the telling of a new tale that fell under the larger umbrella title of the chapter. In conclusion, I didn’t really feel that Alan Turing played that huge of a part in the invention of the computer. Artificial Intelligence, however, most definitely. He had lots of ideas and published a lot of thought provoking, bold papers that influenced other scientists, but he never actually made something himself. He always left projects unfinished. He was a brilliant mathematician and played a vital role in aiding the British during World War II, but the title implies (as does the author) that Turing played a major role in the -invention- of the computer and I can’t say that I agree - especially after reading Computing: A Concise History.

  25. 4 out of 5

    zachary

    "Certainly it would have been a comfort to him to imagine that Christopher Morcom's spirit, in some sense, had not just outlived his body but remained in the same "universe" as Turing." Yeah, okay, so... damn. If anything, this book sure confirmed my deep love for Alan Turing. Because I really do. He was truly a wonderful man, and quite cool in his own weird way. As for the book, I did feel a bit peeved that it focused so much not only on Turing's work but also the work of others within his field. "Certainly it would have been a comfort to him to imagine that Christopher Morcom's spirit, in some sense, had not just outlived his body but remained in the same "universe" as Turing." Yeah, okay, so... damn. If anything, this book sure confirmed my deep love for Alan Turing. Because I really do. He was truly a wonderful man, and quite cool in his own weird way. As for the book, I did feel a bit peeved that it focused so much not only on Turing's work but also the work of others within his field. I do understand why this was partly necessary but while it's interesting, it takes up most of the book in a way that introduces Turing only like, twenty pages into the book. If I purely wanted to learn about his work, I would've gone for one of his reports or any paper discussing his works. Because as much as a book about Alan Turing wouldn't be complete without it... a person is more than just their hobby/interest and Leavitt seemed to have forgotten that. I felt as if he got carried away when he realised he probably would have to explain some of the basics surrounding Turing's work... and ended up with a book partly made up by the work and research by other people. That'd be like spending half a Tolkien biography purely on examples of linguistics and the creation of complex fictional languages. But there were a lot of glimpses that made the read more than worth it; and I certainly did get to know Turing better by the end of it. As complex as he was, he was quite beautiful and his refusal to be anyone but himself made me feel more safe in refusing to be anyone but myself too.

  26. 4 out of 5

    David

    One of my less enjoyable reads. I guess the title implies there's a lot about Alan Turing in the book but I found that there are some serious math details having to to with early developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence and (as noted in the title) the Invention of the Computer. There was definitely a lot about the designing of computers and, being an electrical engineer with a major in computer design and languages, I was able to follow much of the technical discussion. I think for t One of my less enjoyable reads. I guess the title implies there's a lot about Alan Turing in the book but I found that there are some serious math details having to to with early developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence and (as noted in the title) the Invention of the Computer. There was definitely a lot about the designing of computers and, being an electrical engineer with a major in computer design and languages, I was able to follow much of the technical discussion. I think for the average person with reasonable intelligence and at least comfortable with high school level math most of this book should be understandable. I did learn some elementory techniques used to make and therefore break codes. That may be of interest to many amateur code breakers. During WWII the main target was the Nazi Enigma machine that was probable one of the most complex encoding and decoding schemes being used at that time. I guess I was expecting to read much more about the life of Alan Turing, the key individual who put it all together and shortened the war by at least two years. Mainly for that reason I went with a lower score.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    I ran hot and cold on this book. For the most part it's well written and engaging, including (especially!) the comprehensive explanations of Turing's theories and work. My only complaint is that it veers wildly into speculation -- the kind of florid speculation you'd expect from a high school English essay -- in certain aspects of Turing's personal life. Yes, I ABSOLUTELY want to read about his personal life, and I'm glad the author didn't shy away from discussing Turing's sexuality, but it didn I ran hot and cold on this book. For the most part it's well written and engaging, including (especially!) the comprehensive explanations of Turing's theories and work. My only complaint is that it veers wildly into speculation -- the kind of florid speculation you'd expect from a high school English essay -- in certain aspects of Turing's personal life. Yes, I ABSOLUTELY want to read about his personal life, and I'm glad the author didn't shy away from discussing Turing's sexuality, but it didn't need to be done by constantly comparing his psyche to some play with a gay main character. The same for the author's treatment of Turing's death/suicide; he fixates on his own personal, unsupported theories about Turing's motivations and throws out the opinions of basically everyone who knew Turing personally. One star for the high school English essay cum first chapter, four stars for most of it, three stars for the end where it gets a little too speculative.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dellos

    I am a study of WWII and history. This book illustrated Alan Turing's role during WWII regarding his theory of computing and his skill in cryptoanalysis. Alongside the illustration of his impact on breaking the Enigma code, the book dove heavily into his life in and around the relatively short stint of his wartime work. I discovered many things about him, his colleagues and his life. The way the book was written allowed me to map many of his theories onto my life, given my love for math and tech I am a study of WWII and history. This book illustrated Alan Turing's role during WWII regarding his theory of computing and his skill in cryptoanalysis. Alongside the illustration of his impact on breaking the Enigma code, the book dove heavily into his life in and around the relatively short stint of his wartime work. I discovered many things about him, his colleagues and his life. The way the book was written allowed me to map many of his theories onto my life, given my love for math and technology. It is amazing the depth of thought regarding artificial intelligence (AI) back in the 30's and 40's relative to where it is today. I recommend this book if you are intrigued by history, math, computing and a mans life that was dedicated to understanding the world and impacting it in his own way.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ji

    I felt really sad after finishing this book, because of the last chapter. Thinking about how such a genius died of such an incredibly unfair cause makes me sad, or angry, probably both. It feels even worse compared with the ending of Oscar Wilde, who more or less have achieved his best before his death. If Alan Turing didn't die so young, then how'd the human history look like? This is a hard question to consider. Whenever we condemn certain types of people because of certain types of behavior, I felt really sad after finishing this book, because of the last chapter. Thinking about how such a genius died of such an incredibly unfair cause makes me sad, or angry, probably both. It feels even worse compared with the ending of Oscar Wilde, who more or less have achieved his best before his death. If Alan Turing didn't die so young, then how'd the human history look like? This is a hard question to consider. Whenever we condemn certain types of people because of certain types of behavior, considering how their wrong doings are against the "human standard" as of now - we'd better consider a world where things are considered differently, and think about the consequences of condemning people according to a standard that is likely contemporarily instead of based on human natures. - I'd like to warn myself of such biases (even if explainable due to circumstances).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael Schiaparelli

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I really wanted to like this book, but, while it was a pretty quick read, it seemed to lack focus. Some sections (the description of his Universal Machine and his interactions with Wittgenstein) seemed more detailed than necessary. The opening comparison between Turing and the 1952 film ‘The Man in the White Suit’ didn’t add much to my understanding of his life or motivations. On the other hand, I expected more biographical information than I really got. And the tragedy that brought about his un I really wanted to like this book, but, while it was a pretty quick read, it seemed to lack focus. Some sections (the description of his Universal Machine and his interactions with Wittgenstein) seemed more detailed than necessary. The opening comparison between Turing and the 1952 film ‘The Man in the White Suit’ didn’t add much to my understanding of his life or motivations. On the other hand, I expected more biographical information than I really got. And the tragedy that brought about his untimely (and theatrical) death seemed... rushed. Was it worth reading? Sure - but maybe look elsewhere if you want a true biography.

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