- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; 1st Edition edition (December 11, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400075998
- ISBN-13: 978-1400075997
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 163 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe 1st Edition Edition
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“The best book I’ve read on the origins of the computer. . . not only learned, but brilliantly and surprisingly idiosyncratic and strange.”
—The Boston Globe
“A groundbreaking history . . . the book brims with unexpected detail.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A technical, philosophical and sometimes personal account . . . wide-ranging and lyrical.”
“The story of the [von Neumann] computer project and how it begat today’s digital universe has been told before, but no one has told it with such precision and narrative sweep.”
—The New York Review of Books
“A fascinating combination of the technical and human stories behind the computing breakthroughs of the 1940s and ‘50s. . . . An important work.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Vivid. . . . [A] detailed yet readable chronicle of the birth of modern computing. . . . Dyson’s book is one small step toward reminding us that behind all the touch screens, artificial intelligences and cerebellum implants lies not sorcery but a machine from the middle of New Jersey.”
“Well-told. . . . Dyson tells his story as a sort of intellectual caper film. He gathers his cast of characters . . . and tracks their journey to Princeton. When they converge, it’s great fun, despite postwar food rationing and housing shortages. . . . Dyson is rightly as concerned with the machine’s inventors as with the technology itself."
—The Wall Street Journal
“Charming. . . . Creation stories are always worth telling, especially when they center on the birth of world-changing powers. . . . Dyson creatively recounts the curious Faustian bargain that permitted mathematicians to experiment with building more powerful computers, which in turn helped others build more destructive bombs.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“The story of the invention of computers has been told many times, from many different points of view, but seldom as authoritatively and with as much detail as George Dyson has done. . . . Turing’s Cathedral will enthrall computer enthusiasts. . . . Employing letters, memoirs, oral histories and personal interviews, Dyson organizes his book around the personalities of the men (and occasional woman) behind the computer, and does a splendid job in bringing them to life.”
—The Seattle Times
“A powerful story of the ethical dimension of scientific research, a story whose lessons apply as much today in an era of expanded military R&D as they did in the ENIAC and MANIAC era . . . Dyson closes the book with three absolutely, hair-on-neck-standing-up inspiring chapters on the present and future, a bracing reminder of the distance we have come on some of the paths envisioned by von Neumann, Turing, et al.”
—Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“No other book about the beginnings of the digital age . . . makes the connections this one does between the lessons of the computer’s origin and the possible paths of its future.”
“If you want to be mentally prepared for the next revolution in computing, Dyson’s book is a must read. But it is also a must read if you just want a ripping yarn about the way real scientists (at least, some real scientists) work and think.”
“More than just a great book about science. It’s a great book, period.”
—The Globe and Mail
About the Author
George Dyson is a science historian as well as a boat designer and builder. He is also the author of Baidarka, Project Orion, and Darwin Among the Machines.
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The prose is engaging but written for fellow scientists or, at least, the scientifically literate. Because of the fact that Dyson chose to write the book above the level of popular science his book didn't go viral in the way of, say, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.
However, even though I read this book several years ago, I can say I've rarely had the pleasure of reading a finer work since. Highly recommended for a select kind of reader.
The first 100 or so pages of the book are principally focused on the personalities. The personal aspects of the lives of the scientists and researchers offers an important reason to read the book. The book reminds that, notwithstanding the tryly impressive scientific and intellectual achievements of these people, they were human. The author, George Dyson who is the son of Freeman Dyson, one of the chief scientists in the story, brings a lot of personal history of the scientists and researchers into the book, which adds a human dimension to the scientific efforts during World War II and in the years immediately after the war. I speculate that these personal histories may reflect much of his father's view of the personalities and contributions of the scientists involved in these endeavors. I had a general impression that the author tried to be even-handed in his approach. However, I did form the impression that von Neumann was loved and Oppenheimer was not. You may form your own opinions.
With the passage of time it has been surprising that of the two major scientific achievements of this period - the development of atomic weapons and the development of software code - software code has had by far the greater impact. Alan Turing's Universal Machine, proposed by him in 1936 when was 24 years old in a paper entitled "On Computable Numbers" has not only stood the test of time, but the machines developed from his insight now dominate our lives. This leads to my last observation as to why the book is worth reading. The author, in the final chapters of the book, looks at the interplay between biological evolution and the evolution of the computer. He begins to examine the question of evolution as applied to software, intelligence, the growth of the internet and similar topics. (Does man control computers or are computers at the early stages of controlling man? Wired magazine has had recent articles on artificial intelligence raising similar questions) His thoughts are challenging and worthy of consideration. I recommend the book.
Dyson integrates the the visions and accomplishments of Turing and those of his peers who pursued these visions with an uncanny foresight. John von Neuman of course was the primary mover/shaker of so much that happened through the 1940's and mid 50'.
What Dyson does with this material is to show how the digital and biological universes have become one ... so intermeshed that it is difficult at best to see the boundaries of either.
I, personally, have had the fortune of having programmed computers of the late 50s and early 60s (and of course much later), and this truly gives me a perspective on how true some of these visions have become.
I will say no more, since dinner is beckoning, but if you seriously want to understand the impact of computers on our world, this is a wonderful place to start.