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Alan Turing: The Enigma

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  7,518 ratings  ·  811 reviews
It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the British mathematician Alan Turing (1912-1954) saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer and artificial intelligence, and anticipated gay liberation by decades--all before his suicide at age forty-one. This acclaimed biography of the founder of computer science, with a new preface by the author that addresses ...more
Paperback, 768 pages
Published November 10th 2014 by Princeton University Press (first published November 1st 1983)
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Rick OK. To each his/her own. The math was the most fascinating part of the book for me. I found the complex abstract ideas amazingly clearly explained.…moreOK. To each his/her own. The math was the most fascinating part of the book for me. I found the complex abstract ideas amazingly clearly explained. The writer has a real gift. "Kids get turned off in school"? I would have given much to have had these things taught to me when I was a kid. But I grant that kids are poorly taught and maybe that's an issue affecting Christina. For example, numbers are never introduced to kids as recursive objects; they're simply given as symbols. This is wrong. They are abstract ideas. Most kids are never taught that numbers are independent of their base 10 representation. I could go on... (less)
CarolAnn They say the movie was "inspired" by the book. Personally, I didn't see any evidence that the moviemakers read the book.

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Mara
Alan Turing 23 June, 1912 - 7 June, 1954
Proximate Cause & Goodness of Fit
I'm not too proud to admit that the impetus for my picking up this biography was a trailer for the upcoming film on Alan Turing and his involvement with cracking the Enigma code during WWII ( The Imitation Game ). However, if you are interested exclusively (or even primarily) in the cryptanalytic exploits of Turing et al. at Bletchley Park then this is probably not — repeat not the Turing book for you.

While
...more
B Schrodinger
Let me introduce you to Alan. He is a quiet and shy man, but one who mainly gets along with his colleagues. He is determined to tackle large questions and finds that his understanding of mathematics and logic can be applied to aspects of the universe around him, especially in areas that people would deem too messy and without any logic. He is a great proponent of going back to first principles when approaching problems also.



This book has been on my radar for years now. I found it after one of
...more
Nick Pageant
Sep 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This was a fascinating book. I'm not really recommending it because I thought it was overly complicated and I'm not sure that a lot of people will want to spend half of their reading time on Wikipedia the way I did. I only understood about a quarter of the many, many mathematical concepts that were discussed, at exhausting length, in the book. Still, I'm glad to know more about the man who contributed so much to computer science. He had a fascinating, tragic life. Great book, but be prepared for ...more
Will Ansbacher
To read this is to feel humbled, not just by Alan Turing’s brilliant mind, but also by the years of dedicated work that Andrew Hodges put into this biography. At 700-plus pages, including a massive number of footnotes and references which are themselves a fund of fascinating information, it is dense going however, and probably not for everyone, although I found it totally absorbing**.

Here finally (well, not really “finally” as it was written in 1983) was someone who could explain Turing’s
...more
Diane in Australia
I loved this book. I was almost afraid to read it after others said how difficult it was to understand the math sections, but I found those to be fascinating. If math had been taught this way in my schools, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I even read some of the maths bits to my husband!

As to Turing's life, I very much enjoyed reading about that, too. I wish I had known him. The way his mind works just took my breath away. I found myself going back over paragraphs, just to make certain I
...more
Holly Dunn
That's certainly cleared up a lot of the questions I had following the film. It concerns me that Cumberbatch's Turing seemed to stray dramatically from biographical evidence. The film paints him in a dangerously stereotypical way, as the lone genius, unable to work well with others and with little care for his fellow humans. It would seem the Turing was a well-liked person, albeit one who didn't care very much what people thought of him, especially concerning his sexuality.

If you saw and
...more
Bettie
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Laura, Wanda et al
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael
Feb 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I watched The Imitation Game last week and I was left in awe, and slightly ashamed of myself for not knowing the contribution of Alan Turing to the war efforts and the advent of the computer age. After the film i bought this book and a few others in order to get to know more about the brilliant man and the code-breaking that went on during WW2. This is an extremely well-written and detailed book, and while a little heavy of the maths side there is nothing not to be expected from a biography ...more
Brian
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nerd-stuff
(4.5) Quite a thorough biography, I prefer the Bletchley Park period, but quite complete picture of his life

I only have a couple of complaints. The book is quite lengthy. I feel that some digressions into the politics at his boarding school, for example, weren't worth diving into to explain the effect it had on his presence there. Hodges also employs this extended mixed metaphor intertwining Alice in Wonderland (apropos), Wizard of Oz (less so), among others. Not sure it helped to continue
...more
Traci Haley
This biography was a struggle to get through. I picked it up in audiobook form in anticipation of The Imitation Game hitting theaters this fall. I didn't immediately realise how long and thorough it would be, though I knew I was venturing into a topic I knew very little about.

Here's the thing -- the parts of this biography that deal with Alan Turing's personal life are EXTREMELY interesting and well researched. I loved how detailed they were and found it a fascinating portrait of a man I knew
...more
Katia N
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very detailed and well researched biography. Also big part is devoted to the details of specific maths projects Turing was involved in different periods of his life. The historic period background is well set out, especially in respect of gay rights or total lack of it. Only for me Alan Turing's character and motivation still remained almost total Enigma after emerging from this big book. May be it is simply impossible to "crack" his rich personality.
Neil
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Alan Turing was a mathematician. I have a degree in mathematics. Alan Turing ran marathons. I have run three marathons. Alan Turing lived in and around Wilmslow. I grew up in Poynton, just a handful of miles from Wilmslow. Can you see where I am going with this? HOWEVER, I used my mathematics to write computer programs (and deserted that after a few years) whereas Alan Turing invented computers and computer programming. I finished my marathons in the middle of the pack whereas Alan Turing was up ...more
Alham
Jun 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“For him, breaking the Enigma was much easier than the problem of dealing with other people, especially with those holding power.”
Nigel Watts
I managed to finish the book but it was more of a struggle than it should have been. Good stories can tell themselves so why does Hodges have to butt in all the time with his clumsy attempts to link everything in Alan's life to childhood stories and experiences? And Turing's homosexuality, his cruel treatment by the authorities and his eventual suicide speak for themselves; they don't need page after page of Gay Lib exegesis. Less would have been more.

Having got my irritation out of the way -
...more
Dimitri
Jul 24, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
The mathematics go over my head, so it's Enigma: The Battle for the Code for me instead...Turing's homosexuality sounds very lonely, as he was unaware of London's underground scene & clumsy in his advances to friends.
Laura
A movie was made based on this book - The Imitation Game (2014) with Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode.
Nooilforpacifists
Ponderous in places, fast moving in others, this is the best attempt to capture Turing the man and mathematician. Always awkward; always shy in social situations, he grew to be "a man with a quite powerful build, yet with with the movements of an ' undergraduate' or a 'boy', without an attractive face.

A scholarship boy to a "public (i.e., private) school", Turing suffered the humiliations familiar (since Arnold's day) to any boy who was a loner and terrible at team sports. He hero worshiped (and
...more
Ishiro Suzuki
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math, biography
What a beautiful, kind, compassionate and wonderfully written biography. I cried when I read it, and when I think about it. I like biographies in general, but this one touched a special spot. You cannot but feel awed at the greatness of the personality that is being painted, intimidated by his genius, and infuriated at the obviously horrible treatment he received in return for saving the democratic world! Perhaps no other biography has elicited such a widely varying set of emotions such as this ...more
Carolyn
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An exhaustive and exhausting biography of the brilliant Alan Turing. Winston Churchill said WW2 would not have been won except for Turing's invention of the Enigma, a code breaking machine. His work is credited as leading to the modern personal computer. I read this in preparation for the upcoming movie The Imitation Game, and also managed to find and watch an earlier movie, Breaking the Code starring Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing, online. Turing has not been as well known as he should have been, ...more
Jim
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, science
Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges is an enigma in its own right. Its subject, the British mathematical genius who contributed to the cryptanalysis of the Nazi enigma code and to the beginnings of the computer, was not an easy subject. He was a homosexual at a time when homosexual acts were considered a crime. He was a largely unhappy loner. And he was a powerful intellectual.

Hodges adopts three approaches to his biography. First, he gives the facts of Turing's life as much as it was
...more
Kirsty
Like many, I purchased this because I very much enjoyed 'The Imitation Game'; it then sat upon my TBR shelf for well over a year. I felt that I should try my best to read it before 2016 was out, so I squeezed it into my November reading.

As far as biographies go, Alan Turing: The Enigma is incredibly long, running to 679 pages excluding the notes and index. The whole was not as well written as I was expecting, and it did not feel very consistent in places. The intricate mathematical details
...more
Gavin
in the early days of computing, a number of terms for the practitioners of the field of computing were suggested in the Communications of the ACM — turingineer, turologist, flow-charts-man, applied meta-mathematician, and applied epistemologist.
- wiki
In a man of his type, one never knows what his mental processes are going to do next.
- JAK Ferns, Turing's coroner


There have been two big films about Turing (three if you count the uselessly fictionalised Enigma (2001)). All of them are more or
...more
Kate
Nov 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very, very in depth biography. So much that there were parts that I had to skip -admittedly mostly the actual mathematics portions which go quite a bit over my head. I can see what this was so well received, especially considering when it was written originally. If you're looking for something that really gets down the nitty gritty with regards to Alan Turing this is definitely your best bet. If you're looking for something to read to feel prepared to head into the film that's loosely ...more
Jess ❈Harbinger of Blood-Soaked Rainbows❈
I just saw the film tonight and was blown away. I really want to learn more about this man and his footprint on history. And before seeing the credits, I had no idea it was based in this book.
*grabby hands going wild*
Yasamin Seifaee
Mar 31, 2015 marked it as to-read
31/03/2015: I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW
Nicholas Spies
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found Alan Turing the enigma by Andrew Hoges quite interesting and maddening. Interesting because of the genius and achievements of Turning, which are described in some detail (much to the author's credit) but maddening because of the sociopolitical asides about Turing's homosexuality (which was illegal in the UK during his lifetime), not just as they relate to Turing himself but to further an agenda of the author that detracts from Turing's story. I say this despite the evidence that ...more
Simon Howard
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This comprehensive biography is certainly detailed. It is, perhaps, the most thorough biography I've read. This allows a great insight into the character and intelligence of Turing, but it did quickly become unnecessarily dense in parts, and felt like it was veering off at a tangent by placing Turing's academic work in a wider context than was really necessary. I don't think the book needed to explain some of the mathematical concepts in quite the detail it did, nor did it need to explain in ...more
Greg
Oct 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the mid-1940s, America worked on ENIAC while in Britain Turing worked on his own "universal Turing machine" and had been since at least 1936. Turing insisted the software was the main thing, the most important area of development, but in America the main focus was on building bigger hardware. Yes, programming was the most important part of what the future held for technological progress, but the world decides to "deprogram" Turing when a court finds him guilty of homosexual acts: instead of ...more
Dan
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This biography of Turing, that eventually spawned the recent biopic The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is a solid read and in some ways better than the movie.

The book focuses on more than just Turing's contributions around cracking the Enigma Code which is interesting in and of itself. As discussed in the book Turing made major contributions in bringing about the computer revolution, is called by some the father of modern computing, and played a vital role in advancing the theory
...more
Kathleen
Alan Turing has always been a fun historical figure. The Turing Test and Turing Machines are both tributes to his unending contribution to the world of science fiction. I mean science and mathematics. The real stuff, not books about robots at all.

But he was, apparently, a great deal more than that. He was instrumental in decoding Enigma messages during WWII. He was a grumpy puppy who didn't socialize well. He was a gay man alienated from society by early twentieth century mores. He helped build
...more
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88 followers
Andrew Hodges is a British mathematician, author and an activist in the gay liberation movement of the 1970s.
Since the early 1970s, Hodges has worked on twistor theory which is the approach to the problems of fundamental physics pioneered by Roger Penrose.
He is a Tutorial Fellow in mathematics at Wadham College, Oxford University.
“For him, breaking the Enigma was much easier than the problem of dealing with other people, especially with those holding power.” 27 likes
“Could a machine ever be said to have made its own decisions? Could a machine have beliefs? Could a machine make mistakes? Could a machine believe it made its own decisions? Could a machine erroneously attribute free will to itself? Could a machine come up with ideas that had not been programmed into it in advance? Could creativity emerge from a set of fixed rules? Are we – even the most creative among us – but passive slaves to the laws of physics that govern our neurons?” 18 likes
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