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

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  1,254 Ratings  ·  215 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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read2016
This book is required reading in a first year writing seminar that I happen to be the librarian for, so I wanted to give it a try.

I know a lot more about Turing than Gödel or Wittgenstein, but the author does a decent job showing the parallels between the lives of Gödel and Turing, how their thinking intersects, and how each of them was influenced by Wittgenstein. The author herself is also in there occasionally, because she argues it makes no difference where the story begins.

"The world falls
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
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
Gary Foss
There are several fascinating things about this book. Levin avoids a lot of the mathy-math for the purposes of her narrative, and that was, no doubt, a good choice from a literary point of view. Rather, she presents the math in philosophical terms that are more palatable to the numerically challenged. I'm a logically inclined guy, but the vocabulary and grammar of math loses me just past Geometry or Algebra II. To this day, family members still occasionally chide me for not studying Calculus in ...more
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ‘
Mar 28, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Wart Hill
Jan 31, 2015 marked it as gave-up  ·  review of another edition
Might try it again sometime. Just not feeling it now.
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am in awe of those who understand mathematics as a language, one that is far more universal and precise than those we speak. Before reading this book, while I had a vague idea of who Kurt Godel was, I did not know why he was important. Now, I know that Gödel's most famous theorem is, at least to this lay person, that mathematics cannot answer every question and that it shook up the world. Alan Turing I knew more about, but only because I saw the movie Enigma and did a bit of research on him af ...more
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kristin Pedder
So, I listened to an episode of Radiolab about breaker of the Enigma Code Alan Turing ( and heard of this book through that. It turned up in my local Book Grocer store, which is an Australian book outlet that sells discounted books -- often those that have already had their time in other bookstores -- and was chuffed with the coincidence of such a find. Synchronicity is all the more exciting when it comes with a discount.

To say that Janna Levin is a pers
May 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is frankly surprising that this genre of writing about historical figures isn't more popular. Author Janna levin talks about two geniuses of pre WWII era Kurt Godel and Alan Turing who share not only their brilliance and once in a century contributions to mathematics and logic, but also their delusional and tragic endings. But the author doesn't merely stick to stating well known facts in a sort of book keeping fashion but blends facts with fiction where the reader feels being walked through ...more
Sep 06, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 16, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nerd-stuff, grbpp

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
Jul 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Britta Böhler
A beautiful novel about the lives of two masterminds of mathematics: Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel. The book eloquently portrays their very different, and yet strangely similar lives and at the same time renders an intimate picture of European science and culture before and after WWII. Although the two men never met, there lives and their thinking are deeply connected through the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.
(Though not necessary some knowledge of Wittgenstein's philosophcal thinking helps to
Jan 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
What does it say that I think I read this book before, and yet reread it in its entirety again. Interesting. Strange. Not quite compelling.
Pat Rondon
A short, fun read, but the prose is seriously overwrought: everything is Dramatic, everything is Meaningful.
May 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alex by: Krista Tippett
A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines floats through the lives of Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing like a remembered dream. Janna Levin surrealistically bookends various episodes with her own contemplations. These intermissions are built on the images of her life as much as Gödel’s and Turing’s. She paints these pictures hazily and disjointedly, creating the darkly pleasing sensation of a hallucination.

Madman is too true to be fiction, but too personal to be biography. Gödel is portrayed as a deeply para
Aug 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't was great book, I enjoyed reading it, it was interesting, thought-provoking and narrative style was great but there was something deeply unsatisfying. Like when you stop having sex shortly before an orgasm - it's still great experience but somehow you are dissatisfied.

It always looks like it's gonna jump into some really fucking deep philosophy but than it skips to a different episodes in life of different mathematician. Also telling short episodes in great depth and than skipi
Marie Gravelle
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
An interesting fictional take on the lives of Turing and Godel, adding some historical context to their lives and accomplishments - don't need to be a math geek to appreciate it!
Shai Sachs
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, math
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
Aug 21, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes you have to scribble down your thoughts about a book in order to get it out of your system. Jana Levin’s novel about Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel, with a pastiche of Wittgenstein, is one of those books.

What Madman has going for it is a deep philosophical exploration about freedom of will, and whether those who are beautiful, in this sense gifted in mathematics, are also so flawed that suicide is an inevitability – or a choice. The book is also illuminated by its setting, a time when the
Blablabla Aleatório
Não é só o mundo literário que coleciona figurinhas intrépidas, diferentes, loucas, dementes… o desenvolvimento científico sempre foi pautado por personagens no mínimo estapafúrdios, que nada deixavam a desejar a imagem que fazemos do típico cientista maluco. Confesso que dá medo, ainda mais quando você está inserida no mundo acadêmico e científico, sei lá vai que um belo dia você acorda acha que o mundo não está certo, literalmente perde uns parafusos e decide acabar com a própria vida? Sai pra ...more
This is a historical fiction story mainly about Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing, but also touching on Moritz Schlick, Otto and Olga Neurath, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Before starting this book, I had some knowledge of Gödel and Turing from previous readings. I've read Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, as well as Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel, Alan Turing: The Enigma, and The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer (and if I remember correct
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
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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 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her scientific research mainly centers around the Early Universe, Chaos, and Black Holes.

Dr. Levin's first book, "Ho
More about Janna Levin...

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“from a contradiction you may deduce everything” 12 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.” 9 likes
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