- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0099116413
- ISBN-13: 978-0099116417
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.6 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 641 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,680,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Alan Turing: The Enigma Paperback – Import, 1992
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"One of the finest scientific biographies ever written."--Jim Holt, New Yorker
"Andrew Hodges' 1983 book Alan Turing: The Enigma, is the indispensable guide to Turing's life and work and one of the finest biographies of a scientific genius ever written."--Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
"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."--Michael Saler, 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. . . . This melancholy story is transfigured into something else: an exploration of the relationship between machines and the soul and a full-throated celebration of Turing's brilliance, unselfconscious quirkiness and bravery in a hostile age."--Sinclair McKay, Wall Street Journal
"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
"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
"Andrew Hodges's magisterial Alan Turing: The Enigma . . . is still the definitive text."--Joshua Cohen, Harper's
"Andrew Hodges's biography is a meticulously researched and written account detailing every aspect of Turing's life. . . . This account of Turing's life is a definitive scholarly work, rich in primary source documentation and small-grained historical detail."--Mathematics Teacher
"The Bible of Turing biography."--Alvy Ray Smith, Notices of the AMS
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The trivia included rather than pruned shows a lack of writing skill. For example, in early chapters about Turing's schooling, one reads nearly every note sent home by a schoolmaster. But a more major event (nailing Turing under floorboards) was glossed over in a sentence without a comment by the author as to impact, or primary source quote concerning the incident.
More troubling is the utter boring chapter on Bletchley Park. How can this chapter be boring? Yet it is. The explanation and sketches of how Turing's machine worked are unsatisfactory. I didn't learn anything from the authors (and I had several advanced math classes in college). I contrast this with biographies of physicists, contemporaries of Turing but written by writers (Richard Rhodes, for example): gripping books that manage to explain quantum theory or the workings of particle accelerators quite well.
Absolutely unsettling is the jarring way the author skips from topic to topic. On one page he note that Turing accepted his sexual orientation; on the next there is talk of suicide. Again, there is no comment by the author. Considering how Turing's life ended, one would expect more explication here. Related to this topic is the story of Turing and Bob Augenfeld, the young refugee Turing sponsored. Turing propositioning the minor Augenfeld would today be classed as sexual predation, yet the author glossed over it, noting that Augenfeld remained friends with Turing. An alternative explanation might be that Augenfeld hoped Turing would help get his mother out of Vienna, and did not seek to sever the relationship for this reason. This was in 1941.
In summary, this book was slow reading, even for someone interested in the man and the topic. I give it 3 stars because of the importance of the topic and the many contribution Turing made to mathematics and computer sciences.
Although the author is a gay rights activist himself, as well as a mathematician, and wrote this book in part to try to see Alan Turing's life from a sympathetic point of view, some of his narration comes across as coy to the point of obscurity--he mentions Turing's trip to Sweden, but it is not till much later that it finally becomes clear that he went there to pick up young men. It is never completely clear which of his friends were also lovers and which were just colleagues. And perhaps that was necessary when those men were still alive, or were only recently deceased, but if the book is going to be re-issued, it needed to be re-edited as well. The intro, which details places where changes should or could be made, was not an adequate substitute for a revised edition.
The explanations of code breaking is detailed, but perhaps necessarily obscure as well. I still have no idea of how Turing's insights were different than what the Polish codebreakers had already accomplished. One point that was a big issue in the movie, about how the Allies should use the information that they from their ability to read the Enigma code was never mentioned in the book, yet it is a crucial question--the movie has the military allowing a ship carrying one of the codebreakers's brothers go to its death, because otherwise the Germans would know that the Brits were able to read their messages, and would then change it. This is not in the book (fine, maybe it was fiction), but it's a key aspect of game theory--how do you use your hard-won information without tipping your hand? And if you can't use it, what's the point of having it?
It is a bit ironic that a book whose title implies that Alan Turing himself is the biggest enigma manages to leave him still an enigma in many ways, but that is the case.
I think the aspect of the book that I most grasped and that was the most thought-provoking was Turing's ideas about machine intelligence. Turing was not actually most interested in making machines that were intelligent; he was most interested in exploring intelligence in machine form in order to understand what human intelligence actually is. He posited an extreme statement: machines can (and will some day) do everything that human brains do. But his point was to show that there was no "ghost in the machine," no special non-material "spirit" or "will" or "intuition" or "insight" necessary to explain human intelligence.
Like most people, I resist this idea to some extent. Could machines (computers, that is) ever make judgments? At first, my answer is no. But then they made computers that play chess at a Grand Master level (in the 1980s!). Ok, but that seems like a sort of a stunt. Recently IBM's Watson beat Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter at Jeopardy. Still, it seems more like looking things up on Wikipedia really fast, rather than actually thinking. But then I read that Watson is actually being used to diagnose illnesses, and that computers are more accurate than physicians, less liable to be led astray by forgetting or overlooking or dismissing crucial details. Hmmm, In advance, I would have said that the ability to diagnose a disease was an example par excellence of the sort of human judgment that computers would never have. And if they can drive our cars, and avoid accidents better than human drivers? Who would have thought it? Apparently the answer is, Alan Turing would have!
One off-hand remark in the afterword is that the author wonders if some day, a computer will be able to write a book such as his. Unimaginable, I think. But my daughter reminds me that computers already compose news items (rather badly, but still.) And we discuss the possibility that a basic undergraduate research paper could be composed by a computer today, and I think the answer is Yes. I can imagine that one could teach a computer to write a paper that discusses Domestic Violence, pulling together statistics on its frequency, demographics,causes, effects on children, possible solutions, and so forth.
I am left still puzzled by Alan Turing, finding it hard to picture him as a man, but deeply impressed by his mind, by his foresight and his insight, and I think that perhaps in some ways, he is in fact as significant a figure as Darwin and Einstein. What a tragedy that he died so prematurely, whether his death was in fact suicide, or possibly murder, or even more unlikely, a weird accident. How fitting and how odd that he died by (apparently) eating a poisoned apple. If it were fiction, it would just be too neat.
◘ The biography is thoroughly researched. The author obviously went to great lengths to get all relevant information.
◘ The author understands Turing's work well enough to explain it to the reader in less technical terms, which is no easy feat.
◘ If you are a mathematician or computer scientist, the descriptions of Turing's work will be quite interesting.
◘ The book is too long. The author takes detours into areas that have a connection with Turing's life, but that probably don't need to be explored so thoroughly.
◘ Sometimes the author focuses more on Turing's work than on Turing himself. I think this is in part because of a lack of information on Turing's non-work activities.
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It is very difficult for me to like a movie over the original book....Read more