Man Who Knew Too Much Hardcover – Nov 29 2005
|New from||Used from|
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
From Publishers Weekly
Hounded by authorities and peers alike, British mathematician Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954 by biting into a cyanide-laced apple. A groundbreaking thinker in the field of pure math, a man principally responsible for breaking the Enigma code used by the Germans during WWII and the originator of the ideas that led to the invention of the computer, Turing was also an avowed homosexual at a time when such behavior flew in the face of both convention and the law. Leavitt (The Body of Jonah Boyd) writes that the unfailingly logical Turing was so literal minded, he "neither glorified nor anthologized" his homosexuality. Educated at King's College, Cambridge, and Princeton, Turing produced the landmark paper "On Computable Numbers" in 1937, where he proposed the radical idea that machines would and could "think" for themselves. Despite his Enigma code–breaking prowess during the war, which gave the Allies a crucial advantage, Turing was arrested in 1952 and charged with committing acts of gross indecency with another man. With lyrical prose and great compassion, Leavitt has produced a simple book about a complex man involved in an almost unfathomable task that is accessible to any reader. Illus. (Nov. 28)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Initiated by the definitive biography Alan Turing, by Andrew Hodges (1983), the revival of the reputation of the computer theorist continues with this engaging treatment. Leavitt's signal accomplishment is a comprehensible explanation of the mathematical abstractions in Turing's seminal papers, "On Computable Numbers" (1936) and "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (1950), from which derive the popular shorthand of the "Turing machine" and the "Turing test." On the biography side, Leavitt reveals a perceptive understanding of Turing's personality, one more sophisticated than the common view of Turing as a martyr to homophobia. Arrested for an infraction of a law against homosexuality, Turing committed suicide at age 42 in 1954. Its peculiar manner--Turing ate a cyanide-laced apple--induces Leavitt to integrate Turing's obsessions with the film Snow White, with an apparently unrequited love interest who died in Turing's teens, and with ESP into an unconventional speculation. Turing is the model of the solitary, absentminded genius. His tragedy and his intellectual significance, including his role in breaking German ciphers in World War II, come clear in Leavitt's hands. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
While Leavitt's analogies are thin at times (and the reason I give the book only 4 stars), the fact remains that if you are concerned about Turing the scientist, Turing the mathematician, or Turing the codebreaker, you have many books to choose from; this book deals with Turing in a uniquely different perspective.
While Turing's homosexuality is central to Leavitt's work, he still discusses Turing's various scientific achievements, although not with a level of detail that many reviewers seem to be expecting. To those reviewers, I would say that a biography of Thomas Edison does not necessarily require a detailed account of the physical properties of the various filaments that he attempted to use in the light bulb. To do so would make the book less accessible to outside readers and would miss the point.
What I find fascinating is how Leavitt manages to organize this book in a novel-like fashion such that the pace gradually quickens as we near Turing's (apparent) suicide. This is a work about the genius and tragedy that was Turing the man (and not merely "Turing the homosexual" as another reviewer so depressingly categorizes). To reduce him to just a summary of his accomplishments, as many other references on him do, is undoubtedly an injustice.
To criticize this book for favoring an analysis of Turing the man over an analysis of Turing the mathematician's accomplishments is to not have read the synopsis printed on the dust jacket.
There are other accounts of Turing's life, for example the 1983 biography after secret documents were released did they not give him his due. They ignore his sexuality or see it as a tragic blot on his career
Turing was a literalist - what we know label as Aspergers Syndrome. His ID card was left unsigned as he hadn't been told to write on it. He couldn't read between the lines.
The world owes much, probably its very survival, to him and to other `mad' men. Godel was convinced that someone was tying to poison him as in Snow White. Blackboard erasing took an extra ten minutes of silence waiting for it `to dry'.
Wittgenstein's inspiriting, off-the-cuff lectures demanded a regular attendance commitment and you weren't to treat common sense like an umbrella left outside.
Turing was absent-minded, naïve, oblivious to the forces that threatened him. Was his suicide like Snow White - or an experiment gone wrong? Homosexuality and belief in computer intelligence were both seen as threats to religion. He saw nothing wrong with his homosexuality. He was an outsider so he saw things that others didn't but also missed things e.g. a rival thesis published before his. As a child he invented words e.g. quockling = seagulls fighting over food, greasicle = candle guttering. He knew underlying principles, not just how to do sums. Watching school sport, he was thinking intellectually on the sidelines. His body and brain were like a machine according to a science book. At school, his form master complained about his scruffy work. A doctor had recommended the study of mathematics as a cure for homosexuality. He went up to Kings Cambridge, a liberal college. He believed that limits are contrary to the nature of maths. Bletchley's secrecy made a double life easy.
German laziness made un-encryption easier. He wore a gas mask on his bike, counted revolutions of wheels, his trousers tied with string with pyjamas underneath them. He gave the impression that he didn't notice women but was probably afraid of them.
Philosophical issues are mused upon: freewill and determinism, spirit and body, Is God to blame for how we learn, any more than a teacher? Turing suggests that if God were smarter he would have designed our brains better.
The homophobia of the period is well portrayed: security risk and blackmail, chemical castration and weight gain.
So it the politics: German maths reduced chaos to order, anti-war sentiment, he sympathised with Prince Edward against the archbishop - cf. homosexuality in public schools not talked about. Maths is not neutral - it was used by Germany to encrypt and by US to make atomic bomb.
The history is accurate - it gives Islam its due re- maths discoveries; biscuits were rationed to stop students `making a meal of them'.
All in all, a very worthwhile book. One dissenting voice in our group disliked the book because of pages and pages of mathematical formulae. He said that it `spoiled the flow of the book'; I advised him simply to skim through to the next bit of normal prose but he was unable to do that. He has to read a book straight through. Perhaps he, too, had Aspergers or was never taught how to skim read.
Look for similar items by category
- Books > Biographies & Memoirs > People, A-Z > ( T ) > Turing, Alan
- Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Professionals & Academics > Scientists
- Books > Computers & Technology > Computer Science > Artificial Intelligence > Computer Mathematics
- Books > Computers & Technology > History & Culture > Biographies
- Books > Computers & Technology > History & Culture > Culture
- Books > Computers & Technology > History & Culture > Digital Law
- Books > Computers & Technology > History & Culture > History
- Books > Gay & Lesbian > Biographies & Memoirs
- Books > Gay & Lesbian > History
- Books > Gay & Lesbian > Nonfiction > Philosophy
- Books > History > Europe > England
- Books > History > Gay & Lesbian
- Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Philosophy
- Books > Science & Math > History & Philosophy > History of Science
- Books > Textbooks > Computer Science & Information Systems
- Books > Textbooks > Sciences > Mathematics