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Alan Turing: The Enigma Paperback – March 1, 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 556 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Alan Turing died in 1954, but the themes of his life epitomize the turn of the millennium. A pure mathematician from a tradition that prided itself on its impracticality, Turing laid the foundations for modern computer science, writes Andrew Hodges:

Alan had proved that there was no "miraculous machine" that could solve all mathematical problems, but in the process he had discovered something almost equally miraculous, the idea of a universal machine that could take over the work of any machine.

During World War II, Turing was the intellectual star of Bletchley Park, the secret British cryptography unit. His work cracking the German's Enigma machine code was, in many ways, the first triumph of computer science. And Turing died because his identity as a homosexual was incompatible with cold-war ideas of security, implemented with machines and remorseless logic: "It was his own invention, and it killed the goose that laid the golden eggs."

Andrew Hodges's remarkable insight weaves Turing's mathematical and computer work with his personal life to produce one of the best biographies of our time, and the basis of the Derek Jacobi movie Breaking the Code. Hodges has the mathematical knowledge to explain the intellectual significance of Turing's work, while never losing sight of the human and social picture:

In this sense his life belied his work, for it could not be contained by the discrete state machine. At every stage his life raised questions about the connection (or lack of it) between the mind and the body, thought and action, intelligence and operations, science and society, the individual and history.

And Hodges admits what all biographers know, but few admit, about their subjects: "his inner code remains unbroken." Alan Turing is still an enigma. --Mary Ellen Curtin

Review

   • "Turing's rehabilitation from over a quarter-century's embarrassed silence was largely the result of Andrew Hodges's superb biography, Alan Turing: The enigma (1983; reissued with a new introduction in 2012). Hodges examined available primary sources and interviewed surviving witnesses to elucidate Turing's multiple dimensions. A mathematician, Hodges ably explained Turing's intellectual accomplishments with insight, and situated them within their wider historical contexts. He also empathetically explored the centrality of Turing's sexual identity to his thought and life in a persuasive rather than reductive way..." --Times Literary Supplement 

   • "On the face of it, a richly detailed 500-page biography of a mathematical genius and analysis of his ideas, might seem a daunting proposition. But fellow mathematician and author Hodges has acutely clear and often extremely moving insight into the humanity behind the leaping genius that helped to crack the Germans' Enigma codes during World War II and bring about the dawn of the computer age..." --Wall Street Journal --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (March 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802775802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802775801
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (556 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,386,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Without this book, the real Alan Turing might fade into obscurity or at least the easy caricature of an eccentric British mathematician. And to the relief of many, because Turing was a difficult person: an unapologetic homosexual in post-victorian england; ground-breaking mathematician; utterly indifferent to social conventions; arrogantly original (working from first principles, ignoring precedents); with no respect for professional boundaries (a 'pure' mathematician who taught himself engineering and electronics).
His best-known work is his 1936 'Computable Numbers' paper, defining a self-modifying, stored-program machine. He used these ideas to help build code-breaking methods and machinery at Bletchley Park, England's WWII electronic intelligence center. This work, much still classified today, led directly to the construction of the world's first stored-program, self-modifying computer, in 1948.
Computers were always symbol-manipulators to Alan, not 'number crunchers', the predominant view even to von Neumann, and into the 60's and 70's. He designed many basic software concepts (interpreter, floating point), most of which were ignored (he umm wasn't exactly good at promoting his ideas). By 1948 Alan had moved on to studying human and machine intelligence, as a user of computers, again with his lack of social niceties and radical thinking, some of his ideas were baffling or embarrassing until 'rediscovered' decades later as brilliant insights into intelligence. His 'Turing test' of intelligence dates from this period, and is still widely misunderstood.
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Format: Paperback
It is a pleasure to see that the wonderful biography of Alan Turing by Andrew Hodges is once again available. With loving care, Hodges follows Turing's life from the clumsy child whose largely absentee parents were caught up in maintaining the British imperial presence in India, to the mathematically precocious adolescent facing teachers for whom mathematics imparted a bad smell to a room, finally coming into his own at Cambridge University where he wrote the paper that provided the conceptual underpinnings of the all-purpose computers we all use today. Hodges carefully explains Turing's crucial contributions to breaking the secret codes that the German military used all through the Second World War, confident in the security provided by their "Enigma" machines. Turing's highly successful war-time practical work known only to a few, his efforts after the war to enable the construction of a general purpose electronic computer were frustrated by bureaucratic mismanagement and by a lack of appreciation of the value of his ideas, many of which came to the fore much later. A burglary of his house that a prudent man would have kept to himself, led to Turing's homosexuality coming to official notice when he reported the crime to the police. He was prosecuted for "gross indecency" and sentenced to a course of injections of estrogen intended to diminish his sex drive. We will never know how much this barbaric treatment contributed to his suicide or what he might have accomplished had his life not been cut short. This is a book that will fascinate readers interested in the history of the computer, in the story of how the German submarine fleet threatening to strangle England was defeated, and in the tragic story of the persecution for his sex life of a man who should have been prized as a national hero.
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Format: Paperback
Without this book, the real Alan Turing might fade into obscurity or at least the easy caricature of an eccentric British mathematician. And to the relief of many, because Turing was a difficult person: an unapologetic homosexual in post-victorian england; ground-breaking mathematician; utterly indifferent to social conventions; arrogantly original (working from first principles, ignoring precedents); with no respect for professional boundaries (a 'pure' mathematician who taught himself engineering and electronics).
His best-known work is his 1936 'Computable Numbers' paper, defining a self-modifying, stored-program machine. He used these ideas to help build code-breaking methods and machinery at Bletchley Park, England's WWII electronic intelligence center. This work, much still classified today, led directly to the construction of the world's first stored-program, self-modifying computer, in 1948.
Computers were always symbol-manipulators, to Alan, not 'number crunchers', the predominant view even to von Neumann, and into the 60's and 70's. He designed many basic software concepts (interpreter, floating point), most of which were ignored (he wasn't exactly good at promoting his ideas). By 1948 Alan had moved on to studying human and machine intelligence, as a user of computers, again with his lack of social niceties and radical thinking, some of his ideas were baffling or embarrassing until 'rediscovered' decades later as brilliant insights into intelligence. His 'Turing test' of intelligence dates from this period, and is still widely misunderstood.
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