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The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,017 ratings  ·  74 reviews
Programming Legend Charles Petzold unlocks the secrets of the extraordinary and prescient 1936 paper by Alan M. Turing

Mathematician Alan Turing invented an imaginary computer known as the Turing Machine; in an age before computers, he explored the concept of what it meant to be "computable," creating the field of computability theory in the process, a foundation of pr
Paperback, 372 pages
Published June 1st 2008 by Wiley
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Marcel Hi Isabell,
I think you'd be fine and get the 'gist'.

Petzold states in the introduction that that he'd like to make Turing's paper accessible to audien…more
Hi Isabell,
I think you'd be fine and get the 'gist'.

Petzold states in the introduction that that he'd like to make Turing's paper accessible to audiences beyond IT guys. If I remember correctly he stated that he's writing for an audience with High School Math background, but he also states that part III is mathematically quite complex.
I hope I have given that back properly.

Mind you, with my A Level math I would have missed quite some concepts, then again, I was shit at math at Uni and can follow the book.
Though I do not claim to 'really' understand it, at the deepest level.

While in the realms of computer science, I certainly feel the book's far more about math and logic than computers. It is in any case a massively enjoyable read.

If this kind of thing floats your boat, but you want something less academic, try Goedel Escher Bach by Hofstadter.



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Mark Seemann
Aug 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: software
This book reprints Alan Turing's 1936 scientific paper On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, with 'a bit' of commentary.

The paper is 36 pages, so the remaining 300+ pages are Charles Petzold's explanation of the paper. The book starts with explaining the (mathematical) context of the paper: what had come before, which problem it addressed, and some important mathematical tools and results required to understand the paper.

The paper itself is terse and dense, so e
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Wouldn't you like to know the outcome of your actions before you decide what to do? Looking into the future, you could see if biting that apple was a good idea or something completely different and unexpected.

However, there's no way through it but to do it.

Well mathematicians and computer programmers have the same problem. British mathematician, Alan Turing, proved that there is no way a computer can be designed with the correct set of instructions (program) so as to be able to determine if any
Nick Black
Oct 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Amazon 2008-10-24. This book needed to decide earlier on whether it was going to be pop-CS or a real book. There's some great insights here -- I finally feel that I truly know the difference now, in a deep sense, of what makes a given transcendental number computable or not (there's unfortunately rather little detail on computable functions themselves, but that's an easy extension from computable numbers). Kudos to Petzold for his fine background material on Hilbert's erweiterte Funktionenkalkul ...more
Sep 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
It was about 10 years ago when I first found Turing's original paper on Internet and thought it wouldn't be so hard to read and understand it (after all its "mere" computer science). Since then I've tried to digest it quite a few times on and off and never actually succeeded. Infect most of the time I got stuck on few nitty-gritty and just couldn't move forward. I have even bought/borrowed almost all books on the subject that falls in to "popular science" types. Needless to say, like many such b ...more
Hemanth Kumar
Sep 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
By far the comprehensive explanation on Turing machines. It is a interesting text but it is a text nevertheless.
Jul 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that is so deep that I doubt anyone can read it cover to cover without having to go back and puzzle over the contents of some of the chapters. It is intended as a commentary on Turing's paper which, in some ways, due to the notation Turing uses, is more difficult to understand than it needs to be. Petzold plows through this giving several lines of commentary and examples to each line of Turing's paper.

Petzold demonstrates his knowledge of computing and mathematics and
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-ai
I found this book to be the most enjoyable way to read a scientific paper ever. The way the book is structured is just excellent: Historical context provided but optional, scary maths not simplified but explained and also optional. On top of that, the writing is very accessible and nice to read.

The only problem I had in reading this was not so much to do with Petzold (or Turing) but with the logical syntax and the way it is presented. There is such a sheer amount of symbols in this paper that ev
Jun 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Very useful for making it through Turing's famous (and dense) paper. Petzold sets the context for the paper and draws out its implications for thought. Turing invented the Turing machine on his way to showing that there is no general decision procedure for determining the logical validity of a statement. You may not care about all the math needed to get to this point, but it's there if you want it. ...more
F Avery
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
If you have any interest in computers, mathematics, the limits of logic, or the history of science and mathematics, this is a marvelous read. I personally would put it in the top five books I've ever read.
That said, it's not an easy read. I have graduate degrees in mathematics, and have worked with computers for nearly 40 years, and still found parts of it challenging.
As there are already many reviews describing the kind of book this is, I won't go into detail, but will just list some parts th
Nathan Ormond
Mar 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A very good book on mathematics, computation and philosophy of mind
Dylan Lea
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Actually enjoyable nonfiction
Jeroen Vaelen
Apr 07, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
That was a struggle
Mengsen Zhang
Jun 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Nice book! If you think this book is just an annotated version of Turing's paper on Computable numbers & Entscheidungsproblem, you're probably gonna be frustrated to see a paper of 30-ish pages has been stretched out into over 300 pages. However, it's more like that you traveled back in time to visit Turing and he (and his machine) introduced you to the most beautiful intellectual epics surrounding those decades. The dreams and dramas about numbers haunt human thoughts forever, at least since th ...more
Kam Yung Soh
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
An impressive book that gives you an annotated guide through Turing's historic paper on computation. It starts with a background in mathematics and number theory, defining various concepts that are required to understand the paper.

Next, the author covers probably the part that most interest me: Turing machines. Turing shows how such machines can be used to perform computation and, in an impressive series of steps, shows how a Universal machine can be used to execute the operations of any Turing
Scott Lerch
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computerscience
This book was literally sitting on my nightstand for years. It was intimidating, dense, and extremely steeped in academic mathematical notation. The key to getting through it, for me personally, was to not get bogged down in the details. The historical context, biographical stories, and overall summarization of Turing's paper is excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed those parts. I even kept up with the definition of Turing machines, the notation, the workings, etc. but once the book is knee deep in ...more
Oct 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mathematics
This is a wonderful book. Petzold does a line by line exegesis of Turing's 1936 paper on computability, explaining the historical and mathematical background, and showing illustrative examples. The book is probably most interesting to computer programmers, but would also be of interest to anyone interested in mathematics or the history of computer technology. Having attempted to read Turing's paper several years ago, I found that this book really closed my gaps in understanding. ...more
Aug 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: multnomah
This book turns Turing's rather terse paper into a great introduction to computable real numbers. ...more
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
outstanding refresher on how math theory lead to computing. makes the seminal turing paper understandable.
Tim Regan
Feb 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I feel a bit guilty including this as 'read' because by the end I was definitely skipping chapters.

When I left Microsoft Research I had to take a long hard look at the books on my bookshelf (some read, some not) and decide which to take home and which to bin. This was in the 'take home' pile.

Turings work on computability is so famous, and so often sketched out, that—rather naively—I'd assumed the actual proof would be easy to follow. This book did a great job showing me how wrong I was, even tho
Oct 30, 2021 rated it it was ok
There are a couple interesting takeaways from The Annotated Turing: one, that Turing’s original paper, while insightful and difficult to parse, is also replete with errors, making it even harder to decipher; two, even Petzold doesn’t put that much effort into proving his annotated assertions. I have been looking forward to taking the time to read this book for almost nine years. It definitely has some good parts: It explains transcendental numbers, set theory, and notions of infinity in a way th ...more
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, cs
Definitely one of the best books I've ever read.

I'm fascinated by Alan Turing's work and have wanted to dive into his historic paper for a long time. This was the perfect book for it.

Having majored in Computer Science and loving Theory of Computation gave me enough background to avoid frustration at the challenge of reading through Turing's words. On the other hand 'On Computable Numbers, With An Application To The Entscheidungsproblem' is indeed a mathematics paper. However, Charles Petzold's s
Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Turing devised a totally new framework in order to solve Hilbert's Entscheidungsproblem (decision problem) in a from of what we know today as Turing Machine. This imaginary machine turns out to tell a lot more than to just being used as a solution of Hilbert's problem.

In this book, The Author gives a nice introduction and background history of why Turing's paper is important. He also try to explain in details of what Turing was trying to convey in his paper. At the end of the book, The Author al
Qiongsi Wu
Jul 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a very nice book on the classical paper by Turing. The annotations are extremely helpful. They offered a ton of interesting background and explanations.

The only reason (very personal reason) that I am not giving it 5 stars is that this is still not a good book as an introduction to Turing machine (which was what I bought it for). I was hoping the annotation would turn Turing's mystical presentation into something cleaner. It does, to some extent, but still not as good as more modern tex
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: textbooks
An excellent book on one of the most influential papers by Alan Turing. Petzold does a great job explaining and referencing other works that complement his narrative.

The short bits of history help a lot in understanding the reasoning behind the authors and how they may have reached their conclusions. They also act as short breaks between the explanations.

I think that this is a must-read for any CS undergraduate or graduate student. That said, I strongly believe that anybody that is curious enoug
Juris Arrozy
Dec 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Had to skip most of part III because it's too difficult for me. But this is one of the greatest commentary book I have ever read! Full of reference and cross-reference, including the original text and its analysis, written in a more accessible language, including the historical context and philosophical implication of Turing's idea....Simply brilliant! Although all that comes with a "price": this is not your average "one day finish" (or even one week finish) book, at least for me.

I can only wish
Mar 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Probably anyone who delves into this isn’t going to be too surprised that it does get quite complex - it’s not a light read. I studied this stuff at Uni (many years ago admittedly) but I still skipped over the pages of notation defining turing machines, and took the authors word for what they implied. Despite finding that a bit overbearing, I enjoyed this book for the interesting history of the subject, and some quite delightful reflections at the end on what it all means.
Kayra Üçkılınç
Aug 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Yes math is cool, but how do we invent such a thing? Not just elementary level math, the hard stuff, the calculus the computer science...?

I am no genius, I haven't found anything worth mentioning in the history of science but the fact that I am able to read through genius minds always fascinated me. Still does.

A journey through the mind of Alan Turing a legend an unspoken messiah of computer science.
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a terrific concept, and I wish there were more like it. Take a famous academic paper that is not easy-going, and throw in 300 pages of explanation in and around the paper. Even so, it is still tough going, real in-the-weeds stuff, and frequently tedious. I must admit, I glazed over towards the last section on computable functions, but it's already calling my name to read it over. ...more
Giacomo Fenzi
May 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computer-science
Turing original paper is a must read for any computer scientist, and Petzold is characterically gifted at both explaining foreign concepts and hint at the deeper context that they originate from. The combination of the two is a match made in even, which makes the seminal and possibly foundational paper of Computer Science accessible, while being as tought-inspiring as when it was written.
Adam McCartney
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting book, glad the author took the time to annotate Turing's paper so thoroughly.
Also contains some interesting historical background info on what lead to this work.
The material is extremely complicated (at least for mere mortals like myself), but
the author does a great job a presenting it in a modern format that is accessible and engaging.
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Charles Petzold has been writing about programming for Windows-based operating systems for 24 years. A Microsoft MVP for Client Application Development and a Windows Pioneer Award winner, Petzold is author of the classic Programming Windows, currently in its sixth edition and one of the best-known programming books of all time; the widely acclaimed Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware an ...more

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“Thus, 1 is actually a function with the two bound variables f and x. Just offhand, those two variables seem like two more variables than are needed to define a simple number.” 0 likes
“In 1914 the German government
asked prominent scientists and artists to sign a declaration refuting the "lies and
slanders of the enemy". Hilbert could not determine whether these statements
made about Germany were true (a rather political Entscheidung problem), so he
refused to sign.”
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