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Alan Turing: The Enigma Paperback – May 27, 2012
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"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
From the Back Cover
"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
"A captivating, compassionate portrait of a first-rate scientist who gave so much to a world that in the end cruelly rejected him. Perceptive and absorbing, Andrew Hodges's book is scientific biography at its best."--Paul Hoffman, author of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
"A remarkable and admirable biography."--Simon Singh, author of The Code Book and Fermat's Enigma
"A first-rate presentation of the life of a first-rate scientific mind.... It is hard to imagine a more thoughtful and compassionate portrait of a human being."--from the Foreword by Douglas Hofstadter
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about Turning's young life and then too much detail about his later life. The author is full of himself. Had I realized how long the
book was I would never have bought it.
Amazon needs to indicate the number of pages involved and maybe I few pages to read to
get a sense of the writing style. At a bookstore or library I would have realized it was not a book I would enjoy.
Andrew Hodges does an excellent job in telling the story of Alan Turing and his "times". Beginning with his early life in England as one of two sons of an India Service official and his wife, his years in "public school", and his time at Kings College, Cambridge, Hodges is a very literate biographer. I can judge this part because I know a fair bit of history. What I cannot say with any certainty is if Hodges gets the math part correctly. I am a math-moron and I could sort of follow his writing. If the reader is good in math, he should have no problem in understanding what Alan Turing accomplished in both the World War 2 and after. As the master code breaker at Bletchley Park, Turing broke German cypher codes from their Enigma machine and was instrumental in helping save the North Atlantic allied shipping from German Uboats. He was also considered one of the fathers of computer science, working after the war until his suicide in 1954.
The "death by poisoned apple" in my review's title refers to the method of suicide Turing used. Alan Turing was a homosexual in a time when homosexuality was illegal. He pled guilty of "gross indecency" in a British court in 1952 and rather than serve time in jail, he chose to take "hormonal" treatment to reduce his libido. He found the treatments a life-altering and they, along with losing his government security clearance, may have contributed to his decision to commit suicide.
Alan Turing was treated very shabbily in life and in death, many honors were denied him. He and his contributions to computer science and mathematics began to be recognised in 1966 when the "Turing Award" was first awarded by the Association for Computer Machinery. Other honors - both by governmental and collegiate officials - have followed, as well as plays, movies, and biographies of Alan Turing.
Andrew Hodges' biography was originally issued in the 1990's. It is now being reissued as an adjunct to the movie, "The Imitation Game", starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and Kiera Knightly as fellow-code breaker, Joan Clarke. In the previews of the movie, Knightly is shown as the "love interest" of Cumberbatch. In reality, the two were engaged during their work at Bletchley but broke it off short of marriage. I'm curious to see how the movie handles Turing's homosexuality, but that's for another review. As for this biography, it is very, very well done.
Alan Turing was born into a respectable upper middle class family with a long history of service in England and in India. His exceptional mathematical abilities revealed themselves at an early age, and he won scholastic acclaim throughout his public school and university years in both England and the US. During World War II he was one of the famous codebreakers at Bletchley Park, playing an invaluable role in identifying German war aims. After the war he seemed destined for a long and celebrated career, but his associations with young men, some of them criminals, led to his arrest and conviction for homosexuality. Although he avoided prison he was required to undergo chemical castration, and the resulting scandal and his realization that he would henceforth be considered a security risk led to his suicide in 1954.
This is a well written and lengthy account of Turing's life and accomplishments. Although mathematics is by no means my strong point, I was able to comprehend and appreciate Turing's achievements thanks to Hodges' clear discussions. I found the segments on World War II to be the most interesting, gaining new appreciation for the Bletchley Park boffins. And I felt enormous sympathy for Turing the human being, a brilliant mentality linked to a shy and of necessity guarded personality.