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A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines a Madman Dreams of Turing Machines

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  979 ratings  ·  187 reviews
Kurt Goouml;del's Incompleteness Theorems sent shivers through Vienna's intellectual circles and directly challenged Ludwig Wittgenstein's dominant philosophy. AlanTuring's mathematical genius helped him break the Nazi Enigma Code during WWII. Though they never met, their lives strangely mirrored one another-both were brilliant, and both met with tragic ends.Here, a myster ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published February 18th 2009 by Anchor Books (first published August 22nd 2006)
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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
I began writing a short story about Alan Turing last year. Despite a lengthy scribbled outline it remains a stunted opening gambit. After reading Janna Levin's A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines I really feel far less of a need to finish what I started, because she basically captured what I'd kept confined in my head, off the page. I still might finish it one day, but after reading David Leavitt's beautiful Turing biography (The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Compute ...more
Matt
I pondered a while what to say about this book until I realized it has its own review right there on the very last page:

1. Gödel, Kurt — Fiction

2. Turing, Alan Mathison, 1912-1954 — Fiction

3. Logicians — Fiction

4. Mathematicians — Fiction

5. Genius — Fiction

6. Philosophy — Fiction

7. Psychological fiction

So, everything is fiction. If this were true, you could just as well get rid of the word and suddenly nothing is fiction any more. I'd say this book works equally well as a work of fiction and non
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Julia
This is a strange and fascinating/disturbing book--a work of fiction, but based on the real life stories of the great mathematician, Kurt Godel, and the father of computers, Alan Turing. The author, Janna Levin, is an astrophysicist trained at Cornell--but the writing is that of a mystic. The narrator is never named, but I take him/her to be the persona of Levin, who shares both the genius and madness of the two brilliant, self-destructive men at the center of the work.

All three of them--the tw
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Wart *Rainbows, beauty, and death* Hill
Might try it again sometime. Just not feeling it now.
Tristan Macavery
I admit defeat. I testify to all and sundry that I am unworthy of completing this novel. Whatever it is that allows someone to plow through the angst, the detail, the writing thicker than insincere compliments in a vat of social climbers, I have it not. I love various passages of description: "The cafe appears in the brain as this delicious, muddy scent first, awaking a memory of the shifting room of mirrors second -- the memory nearly as energetic as the actual sight of the room, which appears ...more
rachel
If speculative fiction about the lives of persons so unconventionally brilliant (or brilliantly unconventional) that their brains can't sustain sanity is your bag, then you will enjoy this one as much as I did. Alan Turing didn't wash his pants; Kurt Gödel starved himself to death to show that individual human will can override mechanical instinct. The book is little more than a character sketch of their mad genius. It is heavier on narrative than on philosophy, math, or science, to be sure. But ...more
Chris
This book is most unusual.

Its storytelling is quite minimal as it paints in fast brush strokes the story of two geniuses of the 20th century: Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. Both men never truly fit into their world. Gödel suffered from paranoia and spent time in a sanatorium. Turing was gay and also would have probably been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome today.

They each asked a great question of the 20th. Gödel asked if we can ever truly know for sure if something is truly true? (His answer was ‘
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Jafar
My second book by the physicist Janna Levin. This one a novel. Levin and I share a morbid fascination with mad and tormented geniuses. By genius I don’t mean those who are just exceptionally brilliant. A lot of gifted people get called genius. But once or twice a century there comes someone like Kurt Gödel who makes other geniuses crap their pants. Einstein said that he bothered going to the office only so that he can talk to Gödel – and he wasn’t bullshitting. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems ar ...more
Brian
(3.0)

Characters and certainly mathematics are thin. We get the highlights of the quirks and personalities of Gödel, Turing and friends but feels artificial, like a stage play or something. Somewhat entertaining. Did not like the two or three pages by the 'narrator' in modern-day New York. Gimmicky, unnecessary. Also not entirely sure I see how the two narratives integrate together.

The one exchange that I really liked in this is when Turing's friend (and secret fiancee, later to be snubbed), Joa
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Cj
How very, very bleak. And angst! Lots and lots of angst. There is no denying that Kurt and Alan were extremely unfortunate in the hand each were dealt, and that their intellectual gifts came with a high price tag; one I would not be willing to pay. But this fictionalized account is of a grim and joyless existence more in keeping with a gothic romance novel than insight into the lives of two very troubled and, at times, unlucky men.

"In the end, she wasn't able to float free of the weight of the
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H L
If smart is sexy, then Janna Levin is about as hot as it gets. Yummy.

Sorry....completely besides the point.

What I really enjoyed about this work was the illumination of Godel's theorems, nicely wrapped up and explicated within a fictional narrative that also ties in Turing and his role in breaking the Nazi Enigma code in WWII. Godel's concepts are much clearer for me now than years ago when I first tried to read Godel Escher Bach, in which Hofstadter draws parallels between the infinite patter
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Bryan
I found this a pleasure to read. The author has a delightful way of writing about two giants of the twentieth century, Alan Turing and Kurt Godel. The writing has these surprising descriptive passages and nuanced emotional vignettes that are a joy to come across in and of themselves. I know just the gist of the implications of Turing's and Godel's work, but you wouldn't need to know anything necessarily to enjoy this book. It is so little addressed, that it seems too much to say that it is even ...more
Pat Rondon
A short, fun read, but the prose is seriously overwrought: everything is Dramatic, everything is Meaningful.
Ron Arden
This was an interesting book, but as many have said a bit odd. Janna Levin is a scientist who decided to write a fictional work about two real people; much of the book is true and Levin highlights those areas where she used artistic license. There clearly was an intersection of the lives of Alan Turing and Kurt Godel, but the intersection in the book is more of the isolation and genius that was each man.

Levin chooses to pick select sections of each man's life and shows how each was first shunned
...more
Murray
What a splendid book! A book of big ideas about two of the greatest minds of the 20th century: Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. Two men whose ideas changed thought and who were lead to diametrically opposite findings. Turing—inventor of the electronic digital computer and the man who broke the Nazi code who believes the brain is a machine and all thought mechanistic, and Gödel who defies the mathematical philosophy of day and asserts through his uncertainty principles that there are some problems mat ...more
Ulf Kastner
Dec 08, 2007 Ulf Kastner rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: appreciators of truly tragic genius
I found it to be a delightfully unthorough take on Kurt Gödel's and Alan Turing's respective lives infused with plenty of poetic license and young-author chutzpah. Janna Levin shines a light at a potpourri of historic and imagined scenarios that add up to a twin portrait of miserable men that through their extraordinary intelligence irrevocably shaped the future of a world that they themselves ultimately couldn't cope with.
Doris
Janna Levin breathes life into her characters from a pen dipped in a magical, lyrical language. She dwells more on the humanity of her famous subjects than on their theorems, giving the reader an immediate intimacy with them. An amazing literary talent.
Julie
The writing in this book took a bit to get used to, but then it opened and became beautiful. The way the author submerges the reader into the lives and thinking of these two afflicted and pained men is amazing.
Jules
Interesting and somewhat abstract poetic fiction musing on the lives of two famous scientists.

"Like many of the others, Moritz is distracted by the experience of this single ordinary day. He feels how today has emerged as a bead on a strand of beads and how it will give over to the next in the sequence, another single great and ordinary day. Even as he begins to talk on the pristine platform of his friends' silence, he looks back over the loose knots along his trajectory and sees, as if flipping
...more
Scott
I decided to read this book for a second time when it was announced that the movie "The Imitation Game", which was based on the work on Alan Turing, would be released on December 25, 2014.

I bought this book after I saw the author, Jenna Levin, on the Colbert Report. I enjoyed it so much I even bought tickets to see her speak at a Perimeter Institute event held at the Waterloo Collegiate Institute on October 4, 2006. She's a cosmologist and an astrophysicist and she decided to write a book about
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Jorge Carreira
Nov 25, 2008 Jorge Carreira is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
My english is not currently good enough to read this book quickly. I can't read this book without the aid of a dictionary.
TheCurator
i'm really interested in mathematics, even though i'm terrible at math. godel's work i find terribly interesting; turing's a little less so.

both of their lives are fascinating, and their deaths more so. [making even more poignant eliot's cautionary "separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates"].

this isn't the best writing i've ever come across, but it is the finest by a scientist i [think] i ever have.

i wouldn't recommend this book as an introduction to either mans lif
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Cynthia
Dec 11, 2014 Cynthia rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cynthia by: Krista Tippett
This was such an enjoyable book. I had never heard the names of Kurt Godel or Alan Turing until listening in April to a radio interview that Krista Tippett had with Janna Levin, the author of this historical novel. The action takes place mostly during WWII but based upon what is happening culturally, you might think it was the dark ages. I like to think that we are more enlightened in 2014, but we DO still have a ways to go. Janna is a supersmart multitalented astrophysicist and I hope to read " ...more
Shai Sachs
This book was a fascinating look at two of the most important mathematicians in the twentieth century, Kurt Godel and Alan Turing, each plagued by his own set of weaknesses, and Turing in particular plagued by a society that just did not appreciate him.

Writing about Turing's life these days is very much en vogue - his story is almost perfectly tragic, and the shocking injustice of his treatment at the hands of the British government makes for spellbinding drama that has a good liberal message at
...more
Sonatajessica
I would have never picked this up on my own, a book about Maths and mathematicians, very far out of my comfort zone. But it feels good to do that occasionally, step out of your reading nook and see what else is going on.
Especially when a book is written so beautifully it makes the jump into unknown waters easier. I quite enjoyed her writing, prejudiced me didn't expect a book written by a physicist to flow so well and be full of gorgeous prose. What I found most fascinating was the narrator she
...more
Hiccup
This is an encounter replete with a fetish for self-destruction, for suicide, for an end to humans who were deemed too abstract for their generation. An encounter, completely made up and yet so difficulty real, enough to make you strive to be much more than - a phrase that the author, more than once, categorizes us so neatly as - "lumps of ash".

But are we any different? Are we mere machines restricted by numbers, by a pure world that we can only imagine but never achieve? A world ruled autonomo
...more
Boyd

This intriguing book is a novel of and about ideas--its characters' and its author's. I don't know anything at all about mathematics, but reading MADMAN made me understand something simple that never occurred to me before: there are people out there who love numbers as intensely as others (including me) love words--not for what can be made of them, but purely for what they are. I like the fact that the binary treatment of Godel and Turing focuses on the contrast between their intellects--abstrac
...more
Barb
Mar 10, 2009 Barb rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Barb by: NPR
Shelves: fiction
I was reminded of Vonnegut's loose style when I read this book. To enjoy the story, the reader has to let go of time and follow where the author leads. The main characters, Godel and Turing, are not particularly likable, yet Janna Levin makes them interesting and sympathetic. Enough of the mathematics is included to hint at their contributions to mathematics without losing the interest of the non-mathematical reader.

The symbolism of the apple and original sin is woven throughout the story. Both
...more
Tony duncan
Mar 22, 2009 Tony duncan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of science, speculative biography
Recommended to Tony by: Barb!
A very odd book by a physicist who has written a very almost surreal novel about two great mathmaticians of the 20th Century. Kurt Gôdel and Alan Turing. This is really a psychological treatise that I am sure takes great libertines to present a tortured internal landscape of these tow brilliant men. it is very short (200) pages and spends lots of time on specific events that are not often directly related to their great discoveries. In fact it barely touches on Turing's deciphering of the Nazi' ...more
Leslie
This book was way outside the box for me, and yet also, not. I don't know anything about mathematics or physical science. I'm all into the "soft stuff." Looked Kurt Godel and Alan Turing up on Wickipedia and then began. The author is a physicist and she brings her understanding of the works of these two great geniuses and her compassion into the book. Both men killed themselves. Both were so brilliant that most people probably never understood what they were doing or thinking or talking about.
T
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First thoughts... TOK book café 6 10 Aug 17, 2011 11:08PM  
Mara Light, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines Review 1 8 Aug 16, 2011 09:53AM  
KWLS 2012 Authors: Janna Levin, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines 2 5 Aug 11, 2011 08:47PM  
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  • Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science
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  • The Constants of Nature: The Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe
  • The Poincaré Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe
  • Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit
  • The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse
  • Le Ton beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language
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Janna Levin, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University, holds a BA in Physics and Astronomy with a concentration in Philosophy from Barnard College of Columbia University, and a PhD in Physics from MIT. Her scientific research mainly centers around the Early Universe, Chaos, and Black Holes.

Dr. Levin's first novel, "How the Universe Got Its Spots: diary of a fi
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More about Janna Levin...
How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space The Moth Longplayer

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“from a contradiction you may deduce everything” 10 likes
“His weakness in this game, and in life, is that he's never prepared for how others will act. They are predetermined but too complex to solve or predict, and there are rules that he is just no good at applying.” 8 likes
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