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Alan Turing: The Enigma | [Andrew Hodges]

Alan Turing: The Enigma

It's 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 classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life.
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Publisher's Summary

Listed as one of the essential 50 books of all time in The Guardian

Inspired the Academy Award-nominated film, The Imitation Game

It's 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 classic biography of the founder of computer science, reissued on the centenary of his birth with a substantial new preface by the author, is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life.

A gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges's acclaimed book captures both the inner and outer drama of Turing's life.Hodges tells how Turing's revolutionary idea of 1936--the concept of a universal machine--laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing's leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. At the same time, this is the tragic story of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program--all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime.

©2012 Andrew Hodges (P)2012 Audible Ltd

What the Critics Say

"A first-rate presentation of the life of a first-rate scientific mind...it is hard to imagine a more thoughtful and warm biography than this one." (NYT Book Review)

"A superb biography. . . . Written by a mathematician, it describes in plain language Turing's work on the foundations of computer science and how he broke the Germans' Enigma code in the Second World War. The subtle depiction of class rivalries, personal relationships, and Turing's tragic end are worthy of a novel. But this was a real person. Hodges describes the man, and the science that fascinated him--which once saved, and still influences, our lives." (Margaret Boden, New Scientist)

"One of the finest scientific biographies I've ever read: authoritative, superbly researched, deeply sympathetic and beautifully told." (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind.)

"One of the finest scientific biographies ever written." (Jim Holt, New Yorker)

"A first-class contribution to history and an exemplary work of biography." (I. J. Good, Nature)

"An almost perfect match of biographer and subject. . . . [A] great book." (Ray Monk, Guardian)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Mrs Wirral, United Kingdom 12/06/2013
    Mrs Wirral, United Kingdom 12/06/2013 Member Since 2012

    M H

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    "One for the intellectuals"

    A couple of things stood out in this book. The first is that I am too stupid to fully appreciate this book. The second is that while being brilliant and an influential person in computing, Turing didn't have an interesting enough life to justify such a long autobiography. That isn't to say he doesn't deserve to have his life documented, just that it doesn't make for the best listen. Again this is a personal thing of enjoying lighter biographies like Steve Jobs.

    If you are more knowledgeable about computing and maths then you will get a lot more from this book as you will be ale to understand the finer details which made up so much of the bulk of the material. For me it went right over my head and there would be hours when I just switched off.

    This book is also a biography of computing and maths as well as Turing. Sadly my maths doesn't go beyond GCSE and I felt I was missing out on a lot while listening.

    The narrator was perfect in my opinion. It deserves pointing out.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kirstine Bonnyrigg, United Kingdom 04/08/2012
    Kirstine Bonnyrigg, United Kingdom 04/08/2012 Member Since 2014
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    "Postumous recognition of a troubled genius"

    This is a monumental biography of one of the great minds of the 20th century who, sadly, didn't get the recognition he deserved until well after his death. Despite some very complex descriptions of mathematical theorems, I was captivated by the mixture of Turing's personal life with his contributions to code-breaking and computing. Interwoven into the story one is reminded of how very different social norms were in the 1950s and how tragically Turing was cruelly treated by the system for being a homosexual.
    The narrator deserves a medal for his excellent rendition of over 30 hours of recording and mastering the mathematical notations.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bea Italy 08/07/2012
    Bea Italy 08/07/2012 Listener Since 2009

    Beatrix

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    "Insight into a genius and a man"

    I enjoyed this book because it made me understand as Alan Turing's interests in various branches of science led him to start the era of the computer, to figure out a machine could be developed to have an intelligence which is a wonderful tool for human intelligence and can even challenge it. And also this book portrays Alan's personal life, explains his love for freedom, truth and integrity, how he stood up to prejudices of society until he died. The listening was wonderful and involving, I loved it.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dinah United Kingdom 30/12/2013
    Dinah United Kingdom 30/12/2013 Member Since 2013

    Dr Dinah Parums. I am now retired and have always been an avid reader of fiction, non-fiction and biography. Audible have widened my range.

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    "Alan Turing's Big Idea Gave Us Our Modern World"
    If you could sum up Alan Turing: The Enigma in three words, what would they be?

    Moving; informative; compassionate.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Andrew Hodges’ biography of the British mathematician, Alan Turing (1912-1954) is listed as ‘one of the essential 50 books of all time’ in The Guardian. This biography is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand how Turing's revolutionary ‘idea’ of 1936, the concept of a ‘universal machine’, laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design. A very engaging story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution, Andrew Hodges' book involves the listener in both the inner and outer drama of Turing's life. It is very moving as well as informative.


    Have you listened to any of Gordon Griffin’s other performances? How does this one compare?

    The narration by Gordon Griffin is very good. However, why not ask Andrew Hodges to narrate his version next time.


    If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The film of Turing’s life, ‘The Imitation Game’ is due for release in 2014 and starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead playing Alan Turing.
    I would have called the film 'The Big Idea that Saved the 20th Century'.


    Any additional comments?

    The book is written as a true labour of love and was published in 2012 to mark the centenary of Turing’s birth. It may seem a little like hero-worship, but it describes how this one man saved the Allies from the Nazis, invented the computer, invented the concept of artificial intelligence, and possibly anticipated gay liberation by decades; this was all before his suicide at the age forty-one. But, in terms of ‘big ideas’ Turing ranks alongside Darwin.

    This book is destined to be the definitive work about Turing’s life. All this from an Oxford mathematician whose students and colleagues may have known him best for his own work on ‘Twistor Theory’ and for his teaching at the Maths Institute and Wadham College, Oxford. Such a revelation to know that a modern mathematician can also write so movingly and so clearly.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Prof John S. Kelly 25/01/2015
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    "More than a little tiresome"

    Turing Book by Andrew Hodges. Great read if you survive the first ten hours. The title of the film is explained about this point.
    The information for readers failed to mention that the book incorporates an unabridged account of Andrew Hodges' Oxford courses which although excellent of their sort are not a patch on Jim Al-Khalili's programmes on the BBC. One gem is the explanation of the tittle of the film of the book "The Imitation Game" which greatly enhanced my memories of the film. The accounts of the intelligence services in the UK during the first forty odd years of the 20th century are a revelation and worthy of greater exposure. The events surrounding the sinking of the aircraft-carrier Glorious were not far short of criminal. The lack of knowledge in the lead up to the Dunkirk equally embarrassing. The very much better position of France, Poland and Norway staggering. One of the most interesting features of the story is the role happenstance and pure luck that fortunately contributed to the British success. Although the account of Turing's life after the war is interesting Hodges' expositions on Turing's papers and philosophy more than a little tiresome.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MR Havant, United Kingdom 29/12/2014
    MR Havant, United Kingdom 29/12/2014 Member Since 2012

    I teach computing at a college an hour from home. I get through a lot of audiobooks! I consider the audiobook an art form in its own right.

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    "Great scholarship, but not a great audio book"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    No, not even if the friend wanted to know everything there is to know about Turing. It just doesn't feel focused enough. A lot of the time, it's about Turing's work, rather than his life, or the work of someone who knew him, or the work of someone who did related stuff, such as Charles Babbage. There's nothing wrong with that, but...
    A lot of the work described is mathematics, and cryptology, both of which interest me immensely (I've studied both with the Open University) but as a linear spoken description without diagrams, I found it a bit blah and hard to follow. Heaven knows what people with a casual (or no) interest in these subjects would make of it!
    Then there's the metaphors, and allusions to works of literature. I couldn't make head or tail of the references to the characters in the Alice books, and these are characters I know well!
    Then there's Turing's trip to the Land of Oz. This is not the fictional country that features in L. Frank Baum's series of novels, nor is it the colloquial name for Australia - it is in fact America. It's not clear if it's Turing or the author who thinks of America as Oz.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    Greatly abridge the "work of" parts; instead of trying to cram it all in, just tell us the relevant-to-Turing stuff, and perhaps suggest a "for further study" for those of us who want a complete-with-diagrams explanation of how an Enigma machine works.
    Occasionally remind us who characters are when they haven't been mentioned for the past six hours. It is, after all, practically impossible for the listener to check back.
    Make adaptations appropriate to the change of medium. There's one bit that goes on about the umlaut in the person's name - perhaps you could tell us which person, and which letter the umlaut appears with!
    And abridge the stuff after Turing's death. Keep the facts in, but the endless stream of metaphors come across as platitudes.


    Did Gordon Griffin do a good job differentiating each of the characters? How?

    Dear lord no. In the early years he gave Turing a little boy's voice which had me saying aloud, "I hope he grows up soon!" Often it was hard to tell at first if something was the author's text, something Turing himself had said, or a commentary from someone else. I'd suggest taking a leaf from Richard Dawkins' Selfish Gene for clarity in this area.


    Did Alan Turing: The Enigma inspire you to do anything?

    I want to know more about Bletchley, and I did in fact download an audiobook on the topic, but I'll probably concentrate on paper books.
    As a lecturer in computer programming, I feel better equipped to do my job. I certainly have a better appreciation of computers than I did.


    Any additional comments?

    Whilst not the most enjoyable audiobook, it is in places very edifying. It does give a sense of what the British were up against during the war, and how little regarded "those do-nothings at Bletchley Park" were at the time. Being a gay man wasn't a barrel of laughs back in Turing's day, but I doubt anybody will be surprised by that. More shocking was the use of "corrective" chemicals on males as young as 14, and how it was accepted that you didn't need the subject's consent.
    In short, the book was not much fun but I am glad I persevered. Next up, something frivolous...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Renee Bury St Edmunds, United Kingdom 14/10/2014
    Renee Bury St Edmunds, United Kingdom 14/10/2014 Member Since 2014
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    "Good but heavy on the technical detail"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, I think I would but with the warning that it goes into A LOT of detail about the logic and maths behind the enigma, which can be a good thing if your mind is able to deal with that sort of information. I enjoyed it, but sometimes it felt like a Maths lesson.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Alan Turing: The Enigma?

    Just getting a deeper understanding of a very complex man.


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Felt very frustrated about how homosexuals have been treated in our past.


    Any additional comments?

    This book is a pretty good split between the life story of Alan Turing - which as a lover of biographies I really enjoyed - and details about the paper he wrote on Computable Numbers, how the enigma worked, etc.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bill London, United Kingdom 23/12/2012
    Bill London, United Kingdom 23/12/2012 Member Since 2014
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    "How the singular mind works"

    Alan Turing was not your normal chap, but then normal chaps don't step so far out of the box to re-invent and drastically improve that box either. The cloistered academic community does have a place in this world if you think about it which is exactly what they were doing! Cool.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kev Partner Alton, Hamshire 23/07/2012
    Kev Partner Alton, Hamshire 23/07/2012 Member Since 2011

    Writer, geek, dad.

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    "Needs abridging!"

    I'm four hours in and I'm still listening to Alan Turing's school days which, as far as I can tell, were no more interesting or dramatic than the average. Somehow, Andrew Hodges has contrived to make the biography of one of the most interesting and influential figures of the 20th Century boring. Congratulations.

    4 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Petri Solf, Finland 14/07/2012
    Petri Solf, Finland 14/07/2012
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    "Interesting yet technical at times"

    Apparently the life of Alan Turing wasn't so special after all. Nevertheless, this is an interesting listen even though it gets very technical a couple of times. The reader was enjoyable to listen to most of the time, but his young Alan Turing voice sounds annoyingly innocent.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 15 results PREVIOUS12NEXT
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  • Blashy
    Québec, Canada
    11/07/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "WAY too technical !!"

    I wanted the biography of Alan Turing, now this book has his biography but well over HALF the book is just technical math stuff about the various projects he worked on throughout his life.

    If you are a math enthusiast and are interested in hearing a good 7 hours of it, this book is for you.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  • michael
    SCOTTSDALE, AZ, United States
    10/02/13
    Overall
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    "Disappointed"
    What did you like best about Alan Turing: The Enigma? What did you like least?

    The general story is one of interest, but the book is painfully, painfully long. I am 7 hours into listening to the story and I am bored to tears. He is all of 21 years old at this stage. Rather than touching on some highlights about his upbringing we are being forced to listen to every detail about his childhood. Additionally, rather than paraphrase the mathematical steps in his early learning, we are forced to listen to lengthy dry, mathematical theories written longhand.
    I wanted to learn about the life of Turing,not relive each minute of it. There are almost 25 hours of listing to go... Someone needs to edit this book down to some thing more readable. And I am not opposed to long stories. I really enjoyed the Steve Jobs story. Fortunately, in that book, they did not read each and every letter home that he wrote before the age of 21. We desperately need an abridged version!!!


    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  • Ron
    Ocotillo, CA, USA
    01/11/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Long, Detailed But Excellent Listen"
    Any additional comments?

    This book is especially interesting after having listened to George Dyson's Turing Cathedral, which paints the picture of what happened on the US side of the Atlantic during that time period and the very different but equally brilliant John Von Neumann.

    Alan Turing The Enigma is long, very detailed and is some places drags. But it IS meant to be a "definitive biography" so such is to be expected.

    The technical material presented was not too deep nor too shallow for me - an electrical engineer and programmer.

    In my opinion, you can not know Alan Turing without knowing his homosexuality and what he endured because of his independent nature. If such matters turn you off, then that's an intellectual loss for you.

    I can only say that I am delighted I chose to spend the hours listening to this book, especially given that I will soon be seeing the movie based on it.

    13 of 14 people found this review helpful
  • Linda
    Longview, TX, United States
    31/12/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Mixed Review"

    This seems to me to be two stories, one technical, the other human. The human story makes my guts hurt. The technical story is in my opinion quite flawed. Perhaps the author tries to overwhelm with words what is not quite understood. The book is very long. There are endless technical discussions that more often than not poorly tied to any underlying thread or understanding of Alan Turing.

    I am technical and I long suspected that subjects described in length and with which I was not so familiar were gummed up, not quite on the mark and poorly related to telling us of the genius of A. Turing. When the topic turned to one with which I am quite familiar, this indeed proved to be the case.

    There are endless passages where there is no "thread". Topics are jumped back and forth through time with little coherency.

    The confusion of the story is increased by the faltering delivery of the reader. The reading is quite bad in the first 1/3 or so. The reader often hesitates where he should continue and continues which he should pause. You can try this yourself by reading a few sentences with the wrong inflections, pauses, etc and simple english will be rendered into nonsense. I found myself often jolted as sentence delivery was just "off".

    Thankfully, the reader got much better by the end. Of course, he had lots and lots and lots of practice.

    I think what I learned in this book will help me to quickly go to other sources and get a better understanding of Turing's technical contributions.

    However, it seems to me that the author misses almost completely the incredibly important point that Turing cut his way through previously unknown jungles of ideas. Many of the ideas discussed, at length, are long now, a daily reality of people's lives, so much so, that the ideas no longer seem remarkable. The book needed not just a discussion but a creative device to not just explain this but to make the innovative thought and problem solving significant to the twenty-firth century reader.

    Perhaps that's the most damning thing to say about this book, with its endless pages about the work of a truly creative man, is that the book showed no creativity in it's delivery of a very very long story.

    This book, with all its words, is not all bad. It just doesn't inspire - at least it did not inspire me.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Michael
    Valencia, CA, United States
    28/09/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Really well done"
    Any additional comments?

    Alan Turing was the most significant scientific mind of the 20th century, so were his accomplishments. I want to know as much as possible about this great mind. To say that this is too long and too detailed is idiotic. The narration is top notch and worthy of the subject. It is a tragedy for the human race that this great mind was crushed by ignorance and arrogance. If given his full life his accomplishments and the benefits to scientific knowledge would have matched or exceeded Einstein.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • R. J. Byington
    Chicago, IL
    08/01/15
    Overall
    "Less math more about the man"

    The problem I have with this book as I have stated in the title of this review is it spends most of its time talking about mathematical theory and not enough about the person
    Additionally if listening to this book became tedious I cannot imagine having to read it!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Louis
    Sacramento, CA, United States
    06/09/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I enjoyed it immensely."
    What made the experience of listening to Alan Turing: The Enigma the most enjoyable?

    I was blown away. Good job.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Very much so, I have long been a fan of Sir Turning, this book has done him justice.


    What about Gordon Griffin’s performance did you like?

    Yes, I could not put it down.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Nothing, it was most interesting.


    Any additional comments?

    Bravo, nicely done.

    9 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • Maggie L.
    Berkeley, CA
    14/01/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Boring!"
    What was most disappointing about Andrew Hodges’s story?

    Downloaded this after seeing the movie. Wanted to get a feel for the real story. This book goes on and on and on but does not inspire. Finally gave up.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Mr. S
    24/01/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Einstein Can't Plod Through This One"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    Mathematicians


    Has Alan Turing: The Enigma turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    This book is way too detailed, bogging down with minutia and way too much about every letter that Alan Turing ever wrote or every letter written to him.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Mr
    Brookfield, WI, United States
    13/08/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "In Code"
    What did you love best about Alan Turing: The Enigma?

    I did not love any of it, However it was worth listening to it


    Would you recommend Alan Turing: The Enigma to your friends? Why or why not?

    Not really , to much Guy Sexual discussion toward the end of the book


    Which scene was your favorite?

    None


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    If you want a book to try and understand Homosexuality and if you understand endless quoting of maths formula , then this might be for you, if you want to know more about code breaking look else where

    6 of 33 people found this review helpful
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