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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Story brings these men and their struggles to life, September 25, 2007
This review is from: A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines (Hardcover)
Most people think of science and art as distinct, incompatible things. Janna Levin, in her first novel, brings those assumptions into question. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines follows the lives of two prominent scientists, Kurt Godel and Alan Turing. The two were great geniuses of their times, and made scientific discoveries that changed the world: Godel proved mathematically that mathematics is limited in what we can know; Turing imagined and developed a machine to break the Nazi Enigma Code and subsequently paved the way for the invention of the computer.

But while you follow these mathematic achievements, you never get bogged down in their details. Levin does an excellent job referring to the science without derailing the narrative by attempting to explain it. The story is really about the personal struggles of these men of genius, their social ineptness, their anguish, their battles with faith and desire. The two men never met. The story alternates chapters between their two lives - Godel in Vienna in the 1930s and Turing in England from the 1930-1950s. But Turing knows of Godel's work, is affected by it, and their stories feel right being told together like they are.

Reading this book, you can imagine the pain of being socially outcast, of being misunderstood because your genius in one area renders your mind incomprehensible to other people, and your life an oddity that people pity or fear. By doing thorough research into the lives of Godel and Turing, Levin was able to base her fictionalized account on solid ground. What she imagines, with compassion and keen insight, is the anguish of their inner lives. Because of her own background in science (Levin is a professor of physics and astronomy), she understands the mathematics behind Godel's and Turing's achievements. She also, however, bridges the gap between that science and the art of storytelling, to depict their personal struggles, their day-to-day lives, loves, and the pain of being a human being trapped within a genius that separates you, in a specific but real way, from the rest of the world.

Armchair Interviews says: Such geniuses.

Interesting interview with Levin can be found on the website of the science magazine Seed, March 2007.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 13, 2008 3:10:44 PM PST
Brian Carr says:
Why four stars rather than five? What would you criticize?
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