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The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer
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The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (Great Discoveries)

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  940 Ratings  ·  133 Reviews
Outlines the English mathematician's efforts in devising a programmable calculating machine, his work in cracking the Nazi Enigma code, and how the revelation of his homosexuality led to his tragic imprisonment and suicide.
Hardcover, 319 pages
Published 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Alan is five years old and taking a bite out of an apple for the first time. Human life is rich with such firsts, as we well know and make known with our various rituals and markings, preservations and engravings. First tooth. First step. First word. First day of school. First kiss. But many firsts go uncelebrated, unmarked, fail to be photographed or scrapbooked, and countless sums pass by human sensors unknown, even to those who personally bear them. No one—neither parents nor Alan or otherwis ...more
Sep 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating perspective into the life of an eccentric genius. I probably should not have looked at other reviews first, because it's disheartening to see so many of them complaining "too gay." What I found so striking about this book was that Leavitt evidences how Turing's identity as a gay man was an essential part of his life, not just in the act of sexuality but in his thinking. There's the view of the outsider, the partition of "other" that coloured so much of his thinking about machines, ...more
Jun 13, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
Halfway done and totally disappointed in this book. It skips between being an overblown gay biography of Alan Turing (being gay does define one's existence, but does it have to define EVERY MOVE YOU MAKE, too?) and a hopelessly confusing history of how math become computer science. I'm still slogging through, but my hopes are dashed.
Interesting and usually very readable biog of Turing which concentrates on his identity as a gay man and how this may have influenced aspects of his work. During his time at Cambridge, homosexuality was tacitly accepted and there was a significant, though of course rather underground, community of gay academics - including E.M. Forster - and students. This would of course contrast with the secrecy and shame he was subjected to later.

Naturally there are some pages of equations and mathematical d
Jul 26, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I expected more of a biography. Instead, it's an awkward combination of sketchy biography and layman's explanation of Turing's technical contributions. It's not bad, just not very good.
Oct 10, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: would not recommend this book
Recommended to ^ by: self-picked
I lost interest and gave up on page 26. So early! Feeble really; but I've just not been able to get back into it, despite trying.

The author's narrative reads too much like a first draft, a rough, barely-ordered laying out of sources without the subsequent necessary review, re-review, and knitting-together into a text that engages its reader as it flows. Was the sub-editor asleep at the time?

I am disappointed. After several deeply engrossing visits to the Bletchley Park site, and The National Mus
Dec 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Though containing a lot of information, this book is a dry mess, making it difficult to read and slightly frustrating to anyone who isn't particularly gifted at mathematics to begin with. What bothered me most though, is the trouble Leavitt seems to have separating the scientist from his sexuality. The way he connects the two throughout the book is irritating and often far fetched. I think anyone interested in learning more about Alan Turing should take Leavitt's own advice and go for Andrew Hod ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Una gran biografia, molto scorrevole. Del resto Leavitt è per lo più un romanziere, ma qui si basa su fonti ben precise e non romanza nulla anche quando potrebbe. Buona parte del libro tiene conto dello stato della "filosofia" e della "matematica" dell'epoca, essenziale per comprendere quanto fosse rivoluzionario l'approccio di Turing alla risoluzione di problemi.
Nonostante questo Leavitt riesce a esplicare bene quanto fosse frustrato il geniale Alan dall'ipocrisia della società inglese, e le d
May 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, 2007, passed-on
I found this a fascinating book, even though the mathematical concepts in the middle chapters were a bit of a hard slog. Still, even if I didn't fully follow the explanations, it was entirely helpful to get a sense of the territories in which Turing's mind was working. And the bit about the Enigma machines was utterly absorbing.

I raised an eyebrow when I saw David Leavitt as the author of the book, wondering whether an author mostly known (or at least mostly known to me) as a writer of gay-centr
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book! Some parts might be challenging if you don't have a working knowledge of imaginary numbers, math proofs and theoretical math. But if you don't understand that part just skim it and get back to the story. Don't let it stop you from enjoying the book. Must read!
Maurizio Codogno
Questa biografia di Alan Turing ha un unico pregio: convincere il lettore a comprarsi quella scritta da Andrew Hodges, . Turing era omosessuale, e la sua omosessualità è stata la causa del suo suicidio, quindi è chiaro che essa è un tema fondamentale. Ma questo non dovrebbe significare leggere tutta la vita del matematico inglese in chiave omosessuale, a meno che uno non voglia farsi ridere dietro scrivendo ad esempio che "la strategia attuata da Turing d ...more
rating: 4/5

This is a biography of Alan Turing, the man who was critical in decoding and building the computer (and the theoretical basis of the computer) used to decode the German Enigma machine and who pioneered AI theory. The tragic end of his life had me in tears at the injustice, a life and a genius lost (and a loss to society). His end was also poetic, (view spoiler).

The book is a bit dry, especially during the difficult math parts, but it is nec
Nov 08, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2015-reads
Familiar with and generally admiring of David Leavitt's fiction I was impressed by his attempt to tell this story. Lest I sound equivocal [pun?], I'll say I would have enjoyed this book more by reading it on the page/e-ink screen than by listening to the audiobook as I did - though that's no fault of the reader, Paul Michael Garcia. But every number of every binary string was read: one one one one one one one one zero ellipses (yes, even the word "ellipses" was voiced) and I repeatedly "zoned" o ...more
Matt Dean
I read this in order to lead a book group discussion. The book provided fodder for a long and interesting discussion. (We went overtime by half an hour or so.)

It's worth noting, though, that the book doesn't have quite the emphasis that I was expecting. Many, many, many more pages are spent on the mathematics than on the man. A lengthy explanation of the operation of a series of hypothetical Turing machines runs to 30 pages. On the other hand, it was a shock to learn that Turing was briefly eng
Peter Mcloughlin
Turing is a tragic figure who has always fascinated me both the father of the computer and indispensable in cracking the Enigma code of the Germans in World War II. He was brought down by his openly gay lifestyle and his obliviousness to danger of his out behavior in 1950s Britain where such behavior was illegal and thought to be a "security risk". He was arrested and forced to go through humiliating hormone treatments and publicly maligned. No one from the security service stepped forward to de ...more
Jan 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii, biography
This book is uneven. 2.5 stars rounded to 3 because of a few good parts.

The first half of the book seems padded. Leavitt spends way too much time describing other homosexual scholars at Cambridge with whom Turning had no interactions. It seemed bizarre to write about men Turing might have met if only he had been less shy.

A section of Turing's WWII work to break the code of the German's Enigma machines is interesting and written in a way that a lay person feels like she almost understands how th
Oct 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I'm a huge fan of Alan Turing's. A FAN. And god, if he isn't completely tragic.

I liked this biography especially because the author sat down and worked out some of the math, and spent time explaining decoding. But really, the important part was that they didn't gloss over the fact that--shock--Turing was gay.

Even for someone that likes to read nonfiction anyway, I was REALLY into this book. Only reason it took so long to get to it was school (since I bought this in the summer).

Great biography.
Chelle Costello
Jul 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book deals more with Turing's ideas than his tragic life, which is fitting, I think. He would have wanted that. It was good- the first half was extremely difficult to understand, being mathematical concepts and all, but it also blew my mind. It helped me to understand just how genius this man was. It opened doors to my teaching, too- I now incorporate the Liar's Paradox into my English classes. I do wish there had been a bit more about his tragedy, but I suppose that's what Benedict Cumberb ...more
Seth Kramer
As a gay computer scientist and mathematician I have to agree with several reviewers. I feel the author has overemphasized Turing's homosexuality. Lots of conjecture about his feelings that is unsupported by any documentary evidence. Also there is a while chapter or two devoted to the minutiae of the original Turing "machine" that really offers little insight into his life and is quite dull. The book as a whole is an interesting read, but there are better Turing biographies.
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite informative to someone uninitiated in the details of Turing's contibution to computers, the deciphering of the enigma-machine and the development of artificial intelligence. Leavitt draws some ridiculous conclusions at times, though, even suggesting at one point that Turing wanted to build an intelligent machine because he could never find "true homosexual love."
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating guy, but perhaps too complex for any biography to allow you to have a sense of who he really was. I was also hoping for a better idea of how a theoretical machine became a real computer, but I'm blaming that on myself.
May 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really interesting book, however, listening to mathematical computations and numbers written in binary is not the most interesting thing in the world. In fact, it was quite tedious at times. I did enjoy learning more about Turing, so I guess the bit of boredom was worth it.
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating story of a fascinating life. This is the second book I've read about Alan Turing and both taught me much about this extraordinary man. I only wish I could understand the mathematics better!
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
Full of scientific equations and formulas, and much less information on Turing's life, disappointing for what was supposed to be a biography. I hope the author sticks to writing fictional works, most of those I've read by him I enjoyed very much.
Ollie Ford
May 04, 2014 rated it liked it
An interesting account, though does contradict itself in places. Could definitely be longer - becomes far less detailed as it progresses.
Jamie Collins
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While I did find this book interesting, it was full of details that only someone truly obsessed with the life of Alan Turing would care about. I think this was due in part to the fact that (admitted by the author) there really isn’t much available on his life, so David over explained things or provided too much side story when the opportunity presented itself in an effort to lengthen his piece. For example, a transcript was kept of a philosophy class Turing took, so David provided pages of dialo ...more
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I quite liked the detour he takes to talk about Alonzo Church. Made the book even better for me. i listened to the audio version, so a bit difficult to follow the math without visuals. I guess you can write it down as you listen. I bookmarked the math parts and ordered the actual book so i can follow up.
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the movie: The Imitation game, which covered the same man as in this book, Alan Turing. He was the man who created the computer, and the story of how he used that to practically win a world war. To break the unbreakable Nazi code. This spy-esc suspense and secret war story vibe the book gives is amazing. Really enjoyed this
Héctor Páez
Es un buen libro a secas, tiene grandes pasajes sobre la impresionante vida de Turing, complejo a veces en los pasajes que explican su obra, recomendado para matemáticos, informáticos y filósofos lógicos, atrapánte, a veces, lento y técnico en otras ocasiones. Sólo para amante de esta figura ya mítica
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Leavitt is a graduate of Yale University and a professor at the University of Florida, where he is the co-director of the creative writing program. He is also the editor of Subtropics magazine, The University of Florida's literary review.

Leavitt, who is openly gay, has frequently explored gay issues in his work. He divides his time between Florida and Tuscany, Italy.
More about David Leavitt...

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