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The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine [Paperback]

Charles Petzold
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 16, 2008 0470229055 978-0470229057 1
Programming Legend Charles Petzold unlocks the secrets of the extraordinary and prescient 1936 paper by Alan M. Turing

Mathematician Alan Turing invented an imaginary computer known as the Turing Machine; in an age before computers, he explored the concept of what it meant to be computable, creating the field of computability theory in the process, a foundation of present-day computer programming.

The book expands Turing’s original 36-page paper with additional background chapters and extensive annotations; the author elaborates on and clarifies many of Turing’s statements, making the original difficult-to-read document accessible to present day programmers, computer science majors, math geeks, and others.

Interwoven into the narrative are the highlights of Turing’s own life: his years at Cambridge and Princeton, his secret work in cryptanalysis during World War II, his involvement in seminal computer projects, his speculations about artificial intelligence, his arrest and prosecution for the crime of "gross indecency," and his early death by apparent suicide at the age of 41.

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The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine + Alan Turing: The Enigma The Centenary Edition
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Before digital computers ever existed, Alan Turing envisioned their power and versatility...but also proved what computers could never do.

In an extraordinary and ultimately tragic life that unfolded like a novel, Turing helped break the German Enigma code to turn the tide of World War II, later speculated on artificial intelligence, fell victim to the homophobic witchhunts of the early 1950s, and committed suicide at the age of 41. Yet Turing is most famous for an eerily prescient 1936 paper in which he invented an imaginary computing machine, explored its capabilities and intrinsic limitations, and established the foundations of modern-day programming and computability.

This absorbing book expands Turing's now legendary 36-page paper with extensive annotations, fascinating historical context, and page-turning glimpses into his private life. From his use of binary numbers to his exploration of concepts that today's programmers will recognize as RISC processing, subroutines, algorithms, and others, Turing foresaw the future and helped to mold it. In our post-Turing world, everything is a Turing Machine — from the most sophisticated computers we can build, to the hardly algorithmic processes of the human mind, to the information-laden universe in which we live.

About the Author

English mathematician Alan Turing (1912–1954) is the author of the 1936 paper "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem" that introduced the imaginary computer called the Turing Machine for understanding the nature and limitations of computing. His famous 1950 article "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" introduced the Turing Test for gauging artificial intelligence.

American writer Charles Petzold (1953–) is the author of the acclaimed 1999 book Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software, a unique exploration into the digital technologies of computers. He is also the author of hundreds of articles about computer programming, as well as several books on writing programs that run under Microsoft Windows. His Web site is

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (June 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470229055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470229057
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The kind of book I wish I'd written July 3, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Some books entertain, some inform; some confirm what you already knew, some make you change your mind about something. But then there are some books that just make you think "wow! I wish I'd written that".

For me, Charles Petzold's The Annotated Turing falls into that last category (as well, of course, as the informational category). It's a book worth reading not only for the topic itself but the way it's presented.

Petzold provides the necessary background before working through Turing's famous 1936 paper "On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem" with rich annotations at every stage, including biographical details.

If you are interested in the foundation of mathematics, computability, Turing's work, or even just ways of explaining mathematics in a historical context, I highly recommend this book.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars should be on every aspiring mathematician's bookshelf October 20, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
this is a fantastic book. It manages to explain simply and clearly the entirety of turing's landmark paper and providing a thorough grounding on the base mathematical knowledge. though I had taken some set theory in college, I am fairly confident that even a devoted highschooler with some experience in geometry proofs could understand and follow this book. Of course, I should also mention that this book is written extremely well such that at no point did I feel bored. when was the last time you found a math book completely riveting?
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This is one of those books that you'll love if you're into mathematics or hard-core computer science, but you'll become somewhat of a skimmer if you don't have the chops to keep up with theory and proofs.. The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine by Charles Petzold. And in case you're wondering, I fall into the second category. :)

Part 1 - Foundations
This Tomb Holds Diophantus
The Irrational and the Transcendental
Centuries of Progress
Part 2 - Computable Numbers
The Education of Alan Turing
Machines at Work
Addition and Multiplication
Also Known as Subroutines
Everything Is a Number
The Universal Machine
Computers and Computability
Of Machines and Men
Part 3 - Das Entscheidungsproblem
Logic and Computability
Computable Functions
The Major Proof
The Lambda Calculus
Conceiving the Continuum
Part 4 - And Beyond
Is Everything a Turning Machine?
The Long Sleep of Diophantus
Selected Bibliography

In order to give the reader a better understanding of Turing's paper on computing machines, Petzold takes each section of the original paper and adds commentary and background. The parts of the actual Turing paper are set off in shaded areas with a different font, preserving the line breaks, formatting, and even the typos when possible. By the time you're done with the book, you have a complete copy of Turing's original work. Petzold does a very good job in laying the foundations for concepts and conclusions in the paper. For instance, he provides a concise explanation of rational, irrational, real, and transcendental numbers in a way that most people can follow.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 10 year quest to understand Turing's paper ends here September 26, 2009
By Sytelus
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It was about 10 years ago when I first found Turing's original paper on Internet and thought it wouldn't be so hard to read and understand it (after all its "mere" computer science). Since then I've tried to digest it quite a few times on and off and never actually succeeded. Infect most of the time I got stuck on few nitty-gritty and just couldn't move forward. I have even bought/borrowed almost all books on the subject that falls in to "popular science" types. Needless to say, like many such books in same category, they just never go in to details and are practically useless for all practical purposes :).

So imagine my surprise when I see a book with title "Annotated Turing" and by none other than Charles Petzold who I've known as author who normally writes programming books. That surprise was only a start. I was simply shocked when I opened the book. It was as-if someone read your dream and made it a reality with absolute precision with zero compromises. If there is one such book like this for all of the milestone scientific papers, there would be a revolution in learning.

Let me put out some points what makes this book so perfect. Not just wishy-washy "near perfect", I'm saying SO PERFECT.
*First, the book contains explanation of every single line in Turing's paper. Literally. The format of the book is a line quoted from Turing's paper in bold and a paragraph or so of explanation and discussions for that line. Author's claim is that you can actually cut out all those lines and stitch them to recreate the Turing's paper in its entirety complete with page numbers! Now that's what I call precision.
*The book also includes all encompassing big picture overview, historical situation, importance, consequences and so on - nicely preparing reader for the journey.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and surprisingly accessible December 31, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Don't let the title fool you: This isn't simply Alan Turing's groundbreaking paper "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem" with a handful of footnotes thrown in. While the paper is contained here in its entirety, there is, on average, about a paragraph of explanation for each line of Turing's prose. And before that, there is an extensive introduction to important concepts, starting with the distinctions between rational, irrational, algebraic, transcendental, and computable numbers--all explained in terms that any intelligent undergraduate should be able to understand. No mathematical background is assumed beyond algebra.

The Annotated Turing exceeds even the best undergraduate textbooks in explaining these concepts clearly yet concisely, and in doing so sets up the historical context that Turing worked in. When there is an interesting story to tell about Hilbert or Russell, he tells it. (Russell's life was, after all, sufficiently fascinating to be the subject of a recent comic book, Logicomix.) Those with a more extensive mathematical background will want to skim the early sections, but shouldn't skip them entirely.

What Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach did for Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem--a crucial discovery that was poorly understood outside of the domain of professional mathematicians--Petzold's book does for Turing's universal computer. If you have any interest whatsoever in the theory of computing, make this the first book you read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic commentary that will leave you bewildered
I have a very firm belief that most books, documents, or textbooks on mathematics or the sciences are written by people without souls. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Singularity
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written
I am still reading this book having finished only the first few chapters and so far the book hasn't disappointed. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Santosh Golecha
5.0 out of 5 stars very good book with some weaknesses
what i really liked about the book was that it incorporated the original writings of turing and then provided examples and explanations. Read more
Published 4 months ago by paul kaiser
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me interested in number theory
I really enjoyed this book. It explained the theory behind this paper really well, and I feel like I now understand math in general and computer science in particular a lot better. Read more
Published 8 months ago by c70
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
A great if sometimes somewhat technical read. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in mathematics or computer science.
Published 11 months ago by MRBWaters
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings about the book
If you technically advanced, and are interested in understanding the historical basis of the Turing machine, this book is very useful. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Daniel A Goldman
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Elucidation of Turing's Contribution to CS
I use the word 'elucidation' because I've already graduated with an MS in computer science and have been through a course on the theory of computation. Read more
Published 18 months ago by The Old Hag
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Well Written
The quality of writing in this book is very good. I would say that some very difficult mathematics concepts and explained very clearly, especially the different types of numbers... Read more
Published 24 months ago by show_me_the_physics
5.0 out of 5 stars A Keeper
Most of my reading is digital now, with my paper library reserved for classics that I want to own permanently. This one's worth the tree.
Published on June 12, 2012 by Michael Mucha
5.0 out of 5 stars Celebrate 2012 with Mr Petzolds masterpiece
Highly informative, entertaining, complete.. The book will teach you Turing in addition to Cantor and many others. Read more
Published on May 20, 2012 by Danail Irinchev
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