Thursday, April 6, 2017

Alan Turing: The Enigma

Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges  736 pp.

This biography of Alan Turing, the British scientist and mathematician who helped crack the Nazi enigma codes, was the basis for the film "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing. Alan Turing also developed what we now know as computer science and with the invention of the "Turing Machine", a mathematical computation machine began the "computer age". During World War II Turing and a host of others working in the once secret Bletchley Park where the British set up their code breaking efforts. The work of Turing and others there shortened the duration of the war and very possibly made the Allied defeat of Germany possible. During wartime Turing's homosexuality was ignored by the authorities who needed his expertise. With the advent of the cold war government attitudes changed and homosexuality was looked upon as a security risk. Turing was arrested in 1952 and agreed to undergo chemical castration in lieu of prison time. At that time he also lost his government security clearance. Turing committed suicide in 1954. Hodges book contains very detailed descriptions of Turing's work from childhood on and is interesting, if occasionally heavy on the mathematics. Unfortunately, Hodges goes on to posthumously psychoanalyze Turing in the last chapters, much of which is speculation on the author's part. Those chapters could have been deleted and the book would have been much better.

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