Listed as one of the essential 50 books of all time in The Guardian
Inspired the Academy Award-nominated film, The Imitation Game
It’s 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.
©2012 Andrew Hodges (P)2012 Audible Ltd
"A first-rate presentation of the life of a first-rate scientific mind...it is hard to imagine a more thoughtful and warm biography than this one." (NYT Book Review)
"A superb biography. . . . Written by a mathematician, it describes in plain language Turing's work on the foundations of computer science and how he broke the Germans' Enigma code in the Second World War. The subtle depiction of class rivalries, personal relationships, and Turing's tragic end are worthy of a novel. But this was a real person. Hodges describes the man, and the science that fascinated him--which once saved, and still influences, our lives." (Margaret Boden, New Scientist)
"One of the finest scientific biographies I've ever read: authoritative, superbly researched, deeply sympathetic and beautifully told." (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind.)
"One of the finest scientific biographies ever written." (Jim Holt, New Yorker)
"A first-class contribution to history and an exemplary work of biography." (I. J. Good, Nature)
"An almost perfect match of biographer and subject. . . . [A] great book." (Ray Monk, Guardian)
Let me introduce you to Alan. He is a quiet and shy man, but one who mainly gets along with his colleagues. He is determined to tackle large questions and finds that his understanding of mathematics and logic can be applied to aspects of the universe around him, especially in areas that people would deem too messy and without any logic. He is a great proponent of going back to first principles when approaching problems also.
This book has been on my radar for years now. I found it after one of those tipping points where you finally hit the nth reference to a person or idea and you find your ignorance about it embarrassing. By the way, I find that these instances only increase with the more you act upon them. Ignorance really is bliss. Anyway, along comes the film starring Sherlock himself and I found myself highly entertained by the story and wanting to know more. So it was time to tackle this volume and I chose to tackle it by audiobook.
Firstly I want to cover the book and it's difference to the movie, because looking at the words on the print cover, "The Book That Inspired the Film 'The Imitation Game'", it leads you to a sense that a biopic from a biography should be fairly accurate. It seems that the movie took a lot of liberties and while there were not many huge outright lies, there were plenty of distortions, simplifications and exaggerations. There is a little part of me that is offended, but there is another larger part of me that is not surprised. Alan Turing was not a stereotypical genius nerd in a world that did not appreciate him. He did have a huge battle to overcome adversity due to his work being outlandish and misunderstood. It seems like Hollywood latches onto the 'Beautiful Mind' + Sheldon Cooper cookie cutter a little too much. I feel that I should also say that I did enjoy the movie. As far as movies go it was entertaining and also a bit educational. But I guess going into this book I expected a bit more continuity. Cumberbatch's Turing is not Hodge's biography Turing.
Hodge's biography offers a traditional chronological look at Turing's life, from a short section on his lineage to his cremation on the last page. But there is a lot more in here than what you would bargain for. Turing's work and the work leading up it is is explained in great detail. Using the term 'in depth' may be a gross under- exaggeration. There is also a large section focused upon the laws concerning 'perversion' at the time, which Turing was convicted for. If you were to remove the sections concerning math, engineering and law you'll find a book that weighs only a small percentage of the original.
I guess what I am trying to say is that this book is not for the layman. I can only imagine that there will be a lot of copies of this book abandoned on planes, trains and bookshelves because a fan of the movie picked this book up wanting to know more, just like I did. The large sections on mathematical logic I did follow the gist of somewhat, helped along by my greater understanding of maths than the average person. Large sections of this book would only be completely understandable by people with degrees in mathematics. I chose more mathematics subjects in my science degree than the norm, so I have some sense of what is going on in these passages. I pity anyone trying to make it through without some knowledge of this type of maths. If you are a person who hates 'info-dumps' you are going to loathe this book.
But on the positive side, this was the right book at the right time for the right person. I have often found that there is no better way to learn about a person than to find the highest rated biography of that person on Goodreads that is at least 500 pages long. I have been stung with too many shorter biographies that leave me unsatisfied and finding out more information on the person's Wikipedia page. I wanted to know more about Turing and my god I found out a whole lot more.
Of course it's not all about volume. Both the writer and narrator kept me entertained for just over 30 hours. The writer was sympathetic to his subject and yet portrayed his great failings also. I really do feel that I met a person who I can call a hero (I hate that word and I am sure that there is a far greater compliment). Turing had great determination, a high regard for the truth in his work and personal life, and a scientific approach to everything he undertook. He may be known as being a mathematician, but he was an even greater scientist who straddled fields in a time when fields were clearly defined. He often found that there was no perfect audience for his papers and that some fields would only appreciate some aspects, while other parts would not be understood at all. He was converging the sciences with mathematics.
So despite all the negatives that I noted earlier, for me not only a book to be treasured, but an introduction to a man that is greatly misunderstood and hugely under-appreciated. I want a portrait of him up on my wall alongside my Darwin portrait. I am going to get my hands on some of his writing and try to get my head around more of the maths.
"Tragic story, well told"
Summarizes the loss of a superb intellect to senseless homophobia. In his tragically shortened life, Turing, together with John Von Neumann laid out the architecture still used in all computers today. Where might we be today if this man had lived out a full lifespan?
"On numerous occasions words are misspoken"
The overall performance is actually very good, but if you read the book along with the audio, you'll see that on numerous occasions a word is misread aloud changing the overall meaning of a sentence or making the sentence completely unintelligible.
"Fascinating person but average performance and writing"
Author seemed too intent to draw emblematic meanings throughout Turing's life. Facts alone with emphasis on stories and absent of his psychoanalysis would have sped up the read and been more interesting. And speaking of speed, the narrator read painfully slow. First story I went through at 2x speed pretty much the whole time.
"This is way more than just about Alan Turing!"
This is a very long book, but I never found it a dry biography. It describes everything surrounding Turning as well a good biography of Turing himself. Things I wasn't expecting, but delighted to hear were: Ciphering strategies and not just the Engima, WWII strategies concerning ciphering, an excellent history of the dawn of computers, what it meant to be a homosexual in this time period ... to name a few.
"30 hours and 44 minutes seemed like a lifetime"
I thought this would be a very interesting story. I was hoping to learn about Alan Turing and how he solved the Enigma machine code during WW 2. But as someone else mentioned in their review, I wanted to learn about Turing's life - not relive it.
The level of detail in this book is so tiring and so unrelenting that my mind tended to just wander off. You'll hear details not just about Turing's childhood, adolescents and adulthood, his relationships with almost everyone he'd ever spoken to, and his day to day activities, but the intimate and excruciating details of equations, of encryption, and computer mechanics. Unfortunately, these latter details were not explained in a particularly straightforward and understandable way for the lay reader.
I think it would be interesting to know how these mechanisms work, but the level of detail, at least for me, just tangled my mind, so I still don't really grasp and understand most of the mathematical and mechanical processes described in the book.
The book does not move in a linear fashion through time, but forward and back, so it didn't even come across to me as a good story. It seemed to concentrate on different aspects of Turning's life - his education, his social life, his personality, his homosexuality, his clothing, his military career, his academic career, and the mechanics of his mind -at different points during the book that weren't particularly driven by any story.
Obviously, there was a LOT of effort put into writing this book, and collecting and collating every available detail of Turing's life, as well as details and conjecture about his death. But putting it all together was just too much for me to absorb, or even to maintain an interest in. I stuck it out for the full 30 hours and 44 minutes, but much of it was torture. I kept wishing the book were over.
The narrator did an admirable job with the content.
If you're looking to know every detail about Alan Turing - who, it would seem, made immeasurable contributions toward modern day digital computing, you might enjoy this book. It just didn't work for me. In the end, I didn't find much about his life particularly interesting, and still don't really fully understand his exact role in development of the modern computer.
Perhaps it would be more interesting and appealing to the mechanical or electrical engineer.
"too esoteric for me"
This book should come with a warning - advanced maths a pre-requisite. I suppose I should have known that my high school maths wouldn't get me through a book on Turing, but I had visited Bletchley Park and found it fascinating and was very interested in Turing the man, so I embarked on this new biography with enthusiasm. I enjoyed the early part of the book which dealt with Turing's youth, but when it came to discussion of abstract theories and what he was working on, it might as well have been in Chinese. I tried skipping those parts, but got lost and had to give up. I'm sure it's a fine well-researched book but I suspect it's only for people with a fair knowledge of maths and/or science. Gordon Griffin was doing a fine job of narration, I would love to have been able to stay with him until the end.
"very poetic at points"
Long, but worth it. Likeable narrator. Author is exceptional at drawing big-picture connections.
"No enigma, it is a damned boring book to listen to"
Knew the story through military books but this was the most boring presentation. I nearly sent it back but save that for the worst of the worst.
"disappointing, too long and hard to understand"
I do not like the narrator. It hard to understand. The story is too long.
"Genius Has Texture and Philosophy"
I might differ from most people who listen to this audiobook. I identified deeply with Alan Turing not for his genius but for his social awkwardness. He questioned all accepted conventions from social to scientific to mathematical. Sometimes controversial in unexpected ways. Turing has become a historical figure that I wish I could have met. Give this long book a chance. You might find a friend.
"Very long winded but worth the effort"
Very wordy and detailed covering more than I expect in a biography. A lot of assumption and interpretation. I enjoyed it but it was hard work at times.
Very good. quite technical in some areas but did not lose site of the man.
"A compelling and sophisticated biography"
Andrew Hodges' epic biography tells Alan Turing's story on a number of different levels. This is not just a chronology of facts and events in Alan Turing's life, but also an examination of some of the mathematical theories and the political background to the events that shaped and ultimately contributed to Turing's demise. It is a remarkable achievement. Stripped of sentimentality and coming across as scrupulously non-judgemental, it is a masterpiece of research and a recording that I will come back to.
It is difficult for any audio book narrator to cover the variety of accents that are thrown up by the narrative. In previous audio books, I've had the joy of listening to Crispin Redman reading Patrick Leigh-Fermor's travelogues, and the despair of listening to the extended voicemail message that is SPQR voiced by Phyllida Law. Gordon Griffin sounds slightly odd as a young exciteable Alan Turing, but his Malcolm Muggeridge is utterly brilliant, and you ended up wishing there were more Muggeridge quotes in the book. However overall it's a gripping narrative tale which Gordon Griffin enhances.
It gives you a far greater understanding of the cracking of the Enigma code and makes you realise that any previous documentary you have seen has only been skimming the surface.
"A struggle all the way through."
this book was such hard work. could have been half as long which may have made it bearable! wouldn't recommend
"hard going, but with some moments of brilliance."
hard going, but with some moments of brilliance. I enjoyed it but was glad when I got to the end
"Too much needless information"
When the book talked about Alan and what he was like it was fantastic, when the book talked about maths, the inner workings of maths, the theory of maths, sets, types etc I didn't care, if i wanted to know this i would have bought understanding pure mathematics by aj sadler. I wanted to know about Alan Turing, not the background to maths that didn't seem to have any direct relevance to Alan.
I would try another, just mainly to see if it was filled with fluff or actually sticks to the subject at hand.
It was the film that made me get the book.
Too maths intensive at the start.
"very good, if a little wordy towards the end."
Well researched and provided a lot of context that gave a lie to many of the preconceptions about Turing. Recommended.
"Very interesting but a shameful treatment of a genius"
Having seen the film, I wanted to hear more of this eccentric boffin. The prose is sometimes turgid and complex to understand but the period after the war is fascinating in the way that attitudes changed towards gay men after the beginning of the Cold War. A true enigma!
didn't finish it found it boring the narrator wasn't good at all made me tired
"A wonderful book that can't be rushed"
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It goes into a lot of detail so I read it in chunks over time. It's a fascinating and moving book.
Alan Turing had an incredible brain, he was a man who was true to himself and he helped to shape the world as we know it today. He was a real hero but, I don't think he would have liked that label or the attention that when with it.
All I can say is thank you Alan Turing - I am very proud of you.
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