Enter your mobile number below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.

  • Apple
  • Android
  • Windows Phone
  • Android

To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.

  • List Price: $15.95
  • Save: $1.30 (8%)
FREE Shipping on orders with at least $25 of books.
Only 12 left in stock (more on the way).
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.
The Man Who Knew Too Much... has been added to your Cart
FREE Shipping on orders over $25.
Condition: Used: Very Good
Comment: Shows signs of typical ownership; clean, unmarked page block; some obvious, but superficial wear to cover and extremities.
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See all 3 images

The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (Great Discoveries) Paperback – November 17, 2006

3.2 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

See all 11 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
New from Used from
"Please retry"
"Please retry"
$8.75 $0.01

The Amazon Book Review
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
$14.65 FREE Shipping on orders with at least $25 of books. Only 12 left in stock (more on the way). Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.
click to open popover

Frequently Bought Together

  • The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (Great Discoveries)
  • +
  • Alan Turing: The Enigma: The Book That Inspired the Film "The Imitation Game"
  • +
  • The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park
Total price: $35.74
Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hounded by authorities and peers alike, British mathematician Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954 by biting into a cyanide-laced apple. A groundbreaking thinker in the field of pure math, a man principally responsible for breaking the Enigma code used by the Germans during WWII and the originator of the ideas that led to the invention of the computer, Turing was also an avowed homosexual at a time when such behavior flew in the face of both convention and the law. Leavitt (The Body of Jonah Boyd) writes that the unfailingly logical Turing was so literal minded, he "neither glorified nor anthologized" his homosexuality. Educated at King's College, Cambridge, and Princeton, Turing produced the landmark paper "On Computable Numbers" in 1937, where he proposed the radical idea that machines would and could "think" for themselves. Despite his Enigma code–breaking prowess during the war, which gave the Allies a crucial advantage, Turing was arrested in 1952 and charged with committing acts of gross indecency with another man. With lyrical prose and great compassion, Leavitt has produced a simple book about a complex man involved in an almost unfathomable task that is accessible to any reader. Illus. (Nov. 28)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Scientific American

Twenty-five years ago the word "Turing" tingled with mystery for the few who knew it. Readers of Douglas Hofstadter learned that Alan Turing belonged with Gödel in exploring minds and logic and knew also of "the Turing test" for artificial intelligence. But others were aware of Turing as a British figure, a Cambridge mathematician, emerging in connection with the huge World War II operation to break the Enigma ciphers. His crucial importance in the battle of the Atlantic was still shrouded by state secrecy. In fact, it was only after this secrecy was lifted that he began to be acknowledged for another great contribution—his role in the origin of the computer. The conspicuously missing feature was the testimony of Alan Turing himself. He had died at age 41 in 1954, apparently killing himself with cyanide— and leaving a jagged hole in history. By 1980 rumor told of the prosecution and punishment that he had undergone as a homosexual in 1952. But even then, such a story could no longer serve as a simple explanation of suicide. Turing’s friends had known him as unashamed and contemptuous of convention. A different suspicion struck those who knew the dark side of the 1950s. The victorious Allies must have been appalled by this revelation of the man who knew their secrets: How could Turing’s private desires be reconciled with the public demands of state security? But on this question, total silence reigned. Since then, the situation has completely changed. A number of events have made Turing’s life better known to the public than that of probably any other mathematician. A notable actor, Derek Jacobi, has played Turing’s drama to millions of viewers in Hugh Whitemore’s 1986 play Breaking the Code. Little is secret from Google, and computer science students may find themselves expected to assess his life and death. Massive U.S. government releases in the 1990s have made World War II code breaking the subject of detailed scholarship, and conferences and books celebrate Turing’s continuing influence. Complexity theory and quantum computing build on his analysis of computation, and since the 1980s Roger Penrose has given new life to Turing’s deepest questions. Above all, Turing’s reputation is now solidly underpinned by the vindication of his vision. Although John von Neumann led by a few months in creating a computer plan, it was Turing who explained in 1946 how "every known process" could be turned into computer software. Turing had seen this prospect in the simple but revolutionary principle of his Universal Turing Machine, laid out in a paper in 1936, and had thus created an amazing link between the purest mathematics and the most productive industrial applications. But there are always more secrets to unravel and always room for yet another introduction. A series of "great discoveries," such as the current undertaking from W. W. Norton, cannot ignore Turing, and it is interesting to see the story of his contributions attempted by an American novelist, David Leavitt. The story is not simply a question of dates and facts. To use one of Turing’s own images, it is like the skin of an onion. It calls for a writer who can unpeel it with care and who is unafraid of tears. Intensely private, yet relishing popular writing and broadcasts, fiercely proud and yet absurdly self-effacing, Turing led a strange life intertwined with characteristically odd British puzzles of class and lifestyle. A central paradox is that he asserted the "heretical theory" that the human mind could be rivaled by a computer, whereas his own personality so little resembled the output of a machine. It was willful, individualistic, unpredictable. His struggle to incorporate initiative and creativity in his artificial-intelligence theory is therefore a personal drama. This is a puzzle that goes to the heart of science and yet is also fine material for a novelist of insight. Leavitt’s focus is elsewhere, however. It is on Turing as the gay outsider, driven to his death. No opportunity is lost to highlight this subtext. When Turing quips about the principle of "fair play for machines," Leavitt sees a plea for homosexual equality. It is quite right to convey his profound alienation and to bring out the consistency of his English liberalism. It is valuable to show human diversity lying at the center of scientific inquiry. But Leavitt’s laborious decoding understates the constant dialogue between subjective individual vision and the collective work of mathematics and science, with its ideal of objectivity, to which Turing gave his life. Scientific content is not neglected; Leavitt’s discussion of Turing’s 1936 paper has perhaps excessive technical detail. But the vision is partial: he fails to give any discussion of what Turing’s proof implies for the question of artificial intelligence. A general problem is that, being the prisoner of secondary sources, the author finds himself the outsider. He quotes from another writer on statistical methods in 19th-century code breaking but omits the primary fact that Turing’s central scientific contribution at Bletchley Park, the British wartime cryptanalytic center, was his statistical theory of weighing evidence. The book’s subtitle is "Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer," but on the critical question of Turing’s relationship with von Neumann it must rely on quoting Martin Davis’s Engines of Logic. This is no groundbreaking book, nor does it do much hoeing or weeding. It is a survey of a field long cultivated by other hands, devoid of new witnesses. The title, also secondhand, suggests new light on his death, but there are no new facts. Leavitt claims a "sad descent into grief and madness" induced by the prosecution—he ignores the heap of manuscripts from Turing’s last prolific year of research and misrepresents his renewed interest in physics as ravings. No new revelation about Turing’s code breaking is offered. Leavitt describes his visit to Bletchley Park—now a museum—but only as a tourist, to report the embarrassment of a tour guide in describing Turing’s fate. In this book, Leavitt offers his own tour. It is one that many will find congenial and that will at least introduce new readers to the still tingling enigma of Alan Turing.

Andrew Hodges, a mathematician at the University of Oxford, is author of Alan Turing: The Enigma (1983). --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


New York Times best sellers
Browse the New York Times best sellers in popular categories like Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Books and more. See more

Product Details

  • Series: Great Discoveries
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (November 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739471953
  • ISBN-13: 978-0739471951
  • ASIN: 0393329097
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a dual computer science and English major, I find it refreshing when I stumble upon a computer science book that surveys the field from a more literary and philosophical perspective. (Galloway's "Protocol" is another example of such a work that I've encountered recently.)

While Leavitt's analogies are thin at times (and the reason I give the book only 4 stars), the fact remains that if you are concerned about Turing the scientist, Turing the mathematician, or Turing the codebreaker, you have many books to choose from; this book deals with Turing in a uniquely different perspective.

While Turing's homosexuality is central to Leavitt's work, he still discusses Turing's various scientific achievements, although not with a level of detail that many reviewers seem to be expecting. To those reviewers, I would say that a biography of Thomas Edison does not necessarily require a detailed account of the physical properties of the various filaments that he attempted to use in the light bulb. To do so would make the book less accessible to outside readers and would miss the point.

What I find fascinating is how Leavitt manages to organize this book in a novel-like fashion such that the pace gradually quickens as we near Turing's (apparent) suicide. This is a work about the genius and tragedy that was Turing the man (and not merely "Turing the homosexual" as another reviewer so depressingly categorizes). To reduce him to just a summary of his accomplishments, as many other references on him do, is undoubtedly an injustice.

To criticize this book for favoring an analysis of Turing the man over an analysis of Turing the mathematician's accomplishments is to not have read the synopsis printed on the dust jacket.
2 Comments 94 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Hardcover
If your interest is in Alan Turing, and you are only just becoming familiar with him, you would probably be better served reading what many regard as not only an excellent biography of Alan Turing, but an excellent piece of biographical writing in and of itself, Andrews Hodges' ALAN TURING: THE ENIGMA. The current copy on the American Amazon site is an expanded and pricey edition, so you may want to go to the the United Kingdom Amazon site to get the slimmer, earlier edition, which not only costs less, but was also the basis for the award-winning play BREAKING THE CODE. After you've read Hodges' work, and wish to read more about Turing and his work and theories from other perspectives, then you may want to avail yourself on some of these other texts.
2 Comments 65 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
This is a good review of the life and intellectual accomplishments of Alan Turing, one of the seminal figures of 20th century mathematics. What I liked about this book was the author's willingness to try to explain Turing's major mathematical and scientific discoveries in layman's terms without resorting to either jargon or handwaving. The explanation of the way Turing used idealized computing machines to prove the Indeterminacy Theorem is superb. The material on the cracking of the Enigma code is also very good. There is also great sympathy for the difficulties Turing faced as a homosexual in a homophobic era. Some of the speculation regarding the influence of Turing's sexual orientation on his work I found a bit farfetched, but interesting nonetheless. This is a very worthwhile read.
Comment 18 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
To describe someone as "ahead of his time" is an over-used cliché. However, in Turing's case, it is appropriate in two ways. Firstly, his ideas took years to work out, and his contemporise did not realise the significance of his research. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, if he had lived in a later era, his complicated personal life would not have attracted the attention of the police, and brought about the early curtailing of the dream.

David Leavitt has written an overdue appraisal of Turing that gives him credit for his successes, rather than ascribe the kudos to others because it was safer to do so. This continues the re-acclimatisation of this pioneer into a place of prominence in two fields - the research background surrounding origins of computing, and the code breaking activities that took place in Bletchley Park during World War II.

It would be untrue to intimate that Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park "won the war", but their efforts were nevertheless of huge significance. Leavitt gives a broad overview of the activities, and points the reader to further sources. The account is perhaps romanticised, with the place of pure luck glossed over somewhat, but the scale of the code-breaking operation is realised.

The description of the `Turing machine' is well presented, although not for the faint-hearted as it is necessarily very abstract thinking (again, Turing was ahead of his time). Leavitt successfully weaves Turing into a position both as a man ahead of his time, and as a man of his time (influenced by the Hilbert program in mathematics, and Kurt Gödel's revolution in logical consistency or otherwise).
Read more ›
Comment 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
Format: Paperback
I knew someone who worked in Bletchley Park during World War II, though he steadfastly refused to talk about it. He got a first class degree in mathematics in Cambridge and there was no way that they were going to waste his brain in the forces.

There are other accounts of Turing's life, for example the 1983 biography after secret documents were released did they not give him his due. They ignore his sexuality or see it as a tragic blot on his career
Turing was a literalist - what we know label as Aspergers Syndrome. His ID card was left unsigned as he hadn't been told to write on it. He couldn't read between the lines.

The world owes much, probably its very survival, to him and to other `mad' men. Godel was convinced that someone was tying to poison him as in Snow White. Blackboard erasing took an extra ten minutes of silence waiting for it `to dry'.

Wittgenstein's inspiriting, off-the-cuff lectures demanded a regular attendance commitment and you weren't to treat common sense like an umbrella left outside.

Turing was absent-minded, naïve, oblivious to the forces that threatened him. Was his suicide like Snow White - or an experiment gone wrong? Homosexuality and belief in computer intelligence were both seen as threats to religion. He saw nothing wrong with his homosexuality. He was an outsider so he saw things that others didn't but also missed things e.g. a rival thesis published before his. As a child he invented words e.g. quockling = seagulls fighting over food, greasicle = candle guttering. He knew underlying principles, not just how to do sums. Watching school sport, he was thinking intellectually on the sidelines. His body and brain were like a machine according to a science book. At school, his form master complained about his scruffy work.
Read more ›
Comment 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse

Most Recent Customer Reviews

Set up an Amazon Giveaway

The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (Great Discoveries)
Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers. Learn more about Amazon Giveaway
This item: The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (Great Discoveries)