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.
"A Fantastic Biography For The Patient Listener"
I really enjoyed this biography of Alan Turing. I agree with others that the book is very long with extremely complicated ideas and concepts presented. To me it could not have been made shorter without damaging the author's ability to really get the story across. We could not come to know the man, Turing, without going through all the detail of his childhood, education, books read that influenced his thinking and perceptions, and his general take on life. I agree that this occasionally felt a bit laborious at times in the reading, but it was necessary. Further, the author's insights offered great depth to the experience of life in Europe, India, Great Britain and America in the first fifty years of the 1900s. The culture, biases, prejudices and scandals of the time are brought into high relief through Turing's life and experiences.
I usually hate epistolary novels but in this case I loved hearing the letters exchanged between Turing and his family, friends and other scholars. It allowed us to hear Turing's own words and voice. This really brought the story to life for me.
I thought that the narration was gently done with great care. I did not find issue with mis-speaking or stumbles other reviewers have commented on here in reviews. Yes it was plodding and careful, but I thought it went well with the subject matter.
Recommended if you love a really good biography and want to know more about the origins of the computer and the experience of code breaking in WWII. Patience is required to let the story unfold, but I just loved it.
"An insight into the birth of the modern age"
While Mr. Turing's personal life became an issue in the early 1950s, the impact of his contribution to modern technology and the advent of computers cannot be underestimated.
This book takes us from the very beginning where mathematics and computation led to the development of computers.
Alan Turing was one of the great intellects of his day.
"Very technical but informative and well performed"
In this book we meet a fellow human being that is gay. We learn to respect him for his intellectual abilities and see the pain a society inflicts when primitive beliefs supersede reason.
I am not a mathematician and was not familiar with the mathematical language. BUT this was so well written, explanation and description so perfectly executed, I felt confident with my ability to understand.
I saw the movie, Imitation Game first. Not only does this book illicit a greater appreciation for the writing of the screenplay it also encompasses a great deal more philosophy, history and emotion than I expected.
It took me longer to get through this than similar lengthy reads. This is only because of the amount of information to digest. It did not take away from the enjoyment.
This book was completely self contained and perfect for audio. There are no references to charts, illustration, diagrams or such.
"Long yet engrossing"
Objective and comprehensive of turing's life special attention paid to turing's sexuality especially in the context of its time. Less dramatic but more realistic than the movie
This seems to me to be two stories, one technical, the other human. The human story makes my guts hurt. The technical story is in my opinion quite flawed. Perhaps the author tries to overwhelm with words what is not quite understood. The book is very long. There are endless technical discussions that more often than not poorly tied to any underlying thread or understanding of Alan Turing.
I am technical and I long suspected that subjects described in length and with which I was not so familiar were gummed up, not quite on the mark and poorly related to telling us of the genius of A. Turing. When the topic turned to one with which I am quite familiar, this indeed proved to be the case.
There are endless passages where there is no "thread". Topics are jumped back and forth through time with little coherency.
The confusion of the story is increased by the faltering delivery of the reader. The reading is quite bad in the first 1/3 or so. The reader often hesitates where he should continue and continues which he should pause. You can try this yourself by reading a few sentences with the wrong inflections, pauses, etc and simple english will be rendered into nonsense. I found myself often jolted as sentence delivery was just "off".
Thankfully, the reader got much better by the end. Of course, he had lots and lots and lots of practice.
I think what I learned in this book will help me to quickly go to other sources and get a better understanding of Turing's technical contributions.
However, it seems to me that the author misses almost completely the incredibly important point that Turing cut his way through previously unknown jungles of ideas. Many of the ideas discussed, at length, are long now, a daily reality of people's lives, so much so, that the ideas no longer seem remarkable. The book needed not just a discussion but a creative device to not just explain this but to make the innovative thought and problem solving significant to the twenty-firth century reader.
Perhaps that's the most damning thing to say about this book, with its endless pages about the work of a truly creative man, is that the book showed no creativity in it's delivery of a very very long story.
This book, with all its words, is not all bad. It just doesn't inspire - at least it did not inspire me.
"So much more than "The Imitation Game""
I had heard of Alan Turing and his involvement with the Enigma, and I saw the film, The Imitation Game -- I did not expect such a compelling story of a man's life and work. This is a wonderful book , and the performance is pitch perfect. I highly recommend it!
"Long, Detailed But Excellent Listen"
This book is especially interesting after having listened to George Dyson's Turing Cathedral, which paints the picture of what happened on the US side of the Atlantic during that time period and the very different but equally brilliant John Von Neumann.
Alan Turing The Enigma is long, very detailed and is some places drags. But it IS meant to be a "definitive biography" so such is to be expected.
The technical material presented was not too deep nor too shallow for me - an electrical engineer and programmer.
In my opinion, you can not know Alan Turing without knowing his homosexuality and what he endured because of his independent nature. If such matters turn you off, then that's an intellectual loss for you.
I can only say that I am delighted I chose to spend the hours listening to this book, especially given that I will soon be seeing the movie based on it.
The general story is one of interest, but the book is painfully, painfully long. I am 7 hours into listening to the story and I am bored to tears. He is all of 21 years old at this stage. Rather than touching on some highlights about his upbringing we are being forced to listen to every detail about his childhood. Additionally, rather than paraphrase the mathematical steps in his early learning, we are forced to listen to lengthy dry, mathematical theories written longhand.
I wanted to learn about the life of Turing,not relive each minute of it. There are almost 25 hours of listing to go... Someone needs to edit this book down to some thing more readable. And I am not opposed to long stories. I really enjoyed the Steve Jobs story. Fortunately, in that book, they did not read each and every letter home that he wrote before the age of 21. We desperately need an abridged version!!!
"WAY too technical !!"
I wanted the biography of Alan Turing, now this book has his biography but well over HALF the book is just technical math stuff about the various projects he worked on throughout his life.
If you are a math enthusiast and are interested in hearing a good 7 hours of it, this book is for you.
"Very well written but too long"
Very well written but too long. Despite the author's self indulgent rambling frequently losing focus on his subject this is an excellent book. A ruthless editor could have made it a great book. The reader did a fine job although his American accent needs some work!
"Great performance. Major flaw in the story."
The bits I understood were very well written. But the huge chunks of mathematics left me totally floundering. I'm not a scientist nor am I much good at maths. I very nearly gave up on this book during the maths parts.
The book is excellently narrated by a gent with a very commanding yet soothing voice. His American accent leaves a lot to be desired though :-)
All in all, if you don't mind zoning out from the tech stuff, or you understand it, then it's a good listen.
"Turing an enigma."
Great story superbly read. My only criticism is that the writer could have reduced its length by half without loss of quality.
Then I would have had to give it 5 stars.
"Great scholarship, but not a great audio book"
No, not even if the friend wanted to know everything there is to know about Turing. It just doesn't feel focused enough. A lot of the time, it's about Turing's work, rather than his life, or the work of someone who knew him, or the work of someone who did related stuff, such as Charles Babbage. There's nothing wrong with that, but...
A lot of the work described is mathematics, and cryptology, both of which interest me immensely (I've studied both with the Open University) but as a linear spoken description without diagrams, I found it a bit blah and hard to follow. Heaven knows what people with a casual (or no) interest in these subjects would make of it!
Then there's the metaphors, and allusions to works of literature. I couldn't make head or tail of the references to the characters in the Alice books, and these are characters I know well!
Then there's Turing's trip to the Land of Oz. This is not the fictional country that features in L. Frank Baum's series of novels, nor is it the colloquial name for Australia - it is in fact America. It's not clear if it's Turing or the author who thinks of America as Oz.
Greatly abridge the "work of" parts; instead of trying to cram it all in, just tell us the relevant-to-Turing stuff, and perhaps suggest a "for further study" for those of us who want a complete-with-diagrams explanation of how an Enigma machine works.
Occasionally remind us who characters are when they haven't been mentioned for the past six hours. It is, after all, practically impossible for the listener to check back.
Make adaptations appropriate to the change of medium. There's one bit that goes on about the umlaut in the person's name - perhaps you could tell us which person, and which letter the umlaut appears with!
And abridge the stuff after Turing's death. Keep the facts in, but the endless stream of metaphors come across as platitudes.
Dear lord no. In the early years he gave Turing a little boy's voice which had me saying aloud, "I hope he grows up soon!" Often it was hard to tell at first if something was the author's text, something Turing himself had said, or a commentary from someone else. I'd suggest taking a leaf from Richard Dawkins' Selfish Gene for clarity in this area.
I want to know more about Bletchley, and I did in fact download an audiobook on the topic, but I'll probably concentrate on paper books.
As a lecturer in computer programming, I feel better equipped to do my job. I certainly have a better appreciation of computers than I did.
Whilst not the most enjoyable audiobook, it is in places very edifying. It does give a sense of what the British were up against during the war, and how little regarded "those do-nothings at Bletchley Park" were at the time. Being a gay man wasn't a barrel of laughs back in Turing's day, but I doubt anybody will be surprised by that. More shocking was the use of "corrective" chemicals on males as young as 14, and how it was accepted that you didn't need the subject's consent.
In short, the book was not much fun but I am glad I persevered. Next up, something frivolous...
"One for the intellectuals"
A couple of things stood out in this book. The first is that I am too stupid to fully appreciate this book. The second is that while being brilliant and an influential person in computing, Turing didn't have an interesting enough life to justify such a long autobiography. That isn't to say he doesn't deserve to have his life documented, just that it doesn't make for the best listen. Again this is a personal thing of enjoying lighter biographies like Steve Jobs.
If you are more knowledgeable about computing and maths then you will get a lot more from this book as you will be ale to understand the finer details which made up so much of the bulk of the material. For me it went right over my head and there would be hours when I just switched off.
This book is also a biography of computing and maths as well as Turing. Sadly my maths doesn't go beyond GCSE and I felt I was missing out on a lot while listening.
The narrator was perfect in my opinion. It deserves pointing out.
"Insight into a genius and a man"
I enjoyed this book because it made me understand as Alan Turing's interests in various branches of science led him to start the era of the computer, to figure out a machine could be developed to have an intelligence which is a wonderful tool for human intelligence and can even challenge it. And also this book portrays Alan's personal life, explains his love for freedom, truth and integrity, how he stood up to prejudices of society until he died. The listening was wonderful and involving, I loved it.
It was always going to be a hard story to listen to - should have tried the abridged version - far too much maths and science altogether for a layperson to take in. Did finish it though - now can watch the film version with a greater understanding and appreciation of a much wronged genius.
"Unless your a super geek don't listen"
I really thought this was going to be a good listen however it is so technical you really need to be a super geek to enjoy it.
"To much for a leisure listener!!"
I saw the movie which was brilliant and was left wanting more. I'm afraid this book didn't give it. There were just too many lists of mathematics and not much story. My husband told me he just skipped huge chunks. I didn't do that because I wanted the story to flow. But I'm afraid I just gave up. I'm still interested in his story so maybe a less Mathematical one would be more to my liking!!
"Alan Turing's Big Idea Gave Us Our Modern World"
Moving; informative; compassionate.
Andrew Hodges’ biography of the British mathematician, Alan Turing (1912-1954) is listed as ‘one of the essential 50 books of all time’ in The Guardian. This biography is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand 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. A very engaging story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges' book involves the listener in both the inner and outer drama of Turing's life. It is very moving as well as informative.
The narration by Gordon Griffin is very good. However, why not ask Andrew Hodges to narrate his version next time.
The film of Turing’s life, ‘The Imitation Game’ is due for release in 2014 and starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead playing Alan Turing.
I would have called the film 'The Big Idea that Saved the 20th Century'.
The book is written as a true labour of love and was published in 2012 to mark the centenary of Turing’s birth. It may seem a little like hero-worship, but it describes how this one man saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer, invented the concept of artificial intelligence, and possibly anticipated gay liberation by decades; this was all before his suicide at the age forty-one. But, in terms of ‘big ideas’ Turing ranks alongside Darwin.
This book is destined to be the definitive work about Turing’s life. All this from an Oxford mathematician whose students and colleagues may have known him best for his own work on ‘Twistor Theory’ and for his teaching at the Maths Institute and Wadham College, Oxford. Such a revelation to know that a modern mathematician can also write so movingly and so clearly.
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