Title: Alan Turing: The Enigma
Author: Andrew Hodges
Page Count: 588
What we have here is the definitive biography of Alan Turing, and it’s the book that the movie The Imitation Game was based on. The movie got a lot of it right, but the book goes into much more detail, and indeed if I do have a complaint it would probably be that it went into too much detail. There were plenty of points at which it went into huge amounts of detail on the specific mathematical problems that Turing was dealing with.
That would be a good thing if you were a mathematician, but for a casual reader it’s perhaps a little bit of overkill. With that said, even though it’s true that big chunks of the book went over my head, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I didn’t enjoy it. I think I even learned a thing or two, especially when it comes to how the Enigma machine worked and what measures the Germans took to try to improve its security.
For me, it was this stuff that was the most interesting, but that’s because I mainly picked this up in the first place. My mum and I have been planning on going to visit Bletchley Park for a while now and I’ve wanted to read this before we go. Now that I’ve finally finished, I guess we can get a date in the diary – although she did get me another book about Bletchley Park and so I should probably finish that one off, too.
It’s also impressive how moving this book can be. After all, Turing had something of a tragic life, being persecuted for being a gay man at a time at which it was still against the law. In fact, it all came to light after the young man that he was seeing mentioned Turing to an acquaintance of his. The acquaintance broke into Turing’s house, he reported the break-in to the police, and then the police ended up prosecuting him for his sexual preferences.
It’s also kind of tragic because Turing’s first love was a boy called Christopher, who also played an important role in his development as a mathematician. Alan stayed on friendly terms with Christopher’s mother and indeed many of the ideas that the two of them discussed would go on to play bigger roles in Alan’s own development.
I can’t imagine there being a more comprehensive biography than this on the market, but I still can’t give it any more than a 3.5/5 because it was a bit of a slog to read and there were a bunch of times where I didn’t really know what was happening. But that’s my own subjective experience as a reader, and you might be a little different. I’d say I’m a little better at maths and computing than the average person, and yet I still struggled to understand about 80% of the mathematical concepts. I reckon you’d struggle even if you had an undergraduate mathematics degree.
But that doesn’t matter, because if anything it just ensures that you can learn from this book, which is always good news. And Alan Turing is such an important figure in history that this was always one of those books that I just knew I had to read. Especially as someone with a keen interest in computers and technology and the way in which they work. I’d recommend it, but it’s a commitment.