Alan Turing; unlocking the enigma – David Boyle

A sort of biography of Alan Turing this is one of my less successful 99p from Amazon downloads.

In principle it is an interesting read.  It gave me more information about Turing’s early life and post-war work than I’ve read before; most of what I have read has been about Bletchley and has skimmed over other parts of his life. It also tells the story of Lord Sharkey’s proposed private members bill to give a statutory pardon to Turing.

I enjoyed finding out about Turing’s upbringing; his remaining in England whilst his parents returned to India and his mixed response to school.

It was also interesting to understand how the media shapes our perceptions of people.  Turing is often portrayed as an oddball loner only interested in his mathematical problems.  Yet this book suggests he was interested in philosophy and, whilst at Cambridge, seems to have been a reasonably sociable person.

The post-war era, as covered, seems to have been a frustrating and depressing time for Turing.  It seems there was a line drawn between theory and engineering and the ideas Turing was developing about computing and intelligent machines were stuck inside the “theory” bubble.

The book concludes that Turing’s death was suicide.  That he understood the Allies, particularly the USA, understood how much he knew from his code breaking days and, following the defections of Burgess and Maclean, they saw his open homosexuality as a threat to Western security.  He saw himself doomed to a lifetime of being observed and investigated.

What there is of the book is interesting, although I would call it a long essay rather than a book.  It skims over huge swathes of Turing’s life and I was looking for a proper biography.  It seems I will have to go on looking.

Click here to find out more about Bletchley Park, one of my favourite museums

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