Alan Turing: The Enigma

Alan Turing: The Enigma

Alan Turing: The Enigma

Alan Turing: The Enigma


It is 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.


On 25 May 2011, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, speaking to the parliament of the United Kingdom, singled out Newton, Darwin, and Alan Turing as British contributors to science. Celebrity is an imperfect measure of significance, and politicians do not confer scientific status, but Obama’s choice signalled that public recognition of Alan Turing had attained a level very much higher than in 1983, when this book first appeared.

Born in London on 23 June 1912, Alan Turing might just have lived to hear these words, had he not taken his own life on 7 June 1954. In that very different world, his name had gone unmen tioned in its legislative forums. Yet in the secret world, over which Eisenhower and Churchill still reigned, and in which the newly reorganised NSA and GCHQ were the holy of holies, their names to be whispered, Alan Turing had a unique place. He had been the chief backroom boy when American power overtook British in 1942, with a scientific role whose climax came on 6 June 1944, just ten years before that early death.

Alan Turing played a central part in world history. Yet it would be misleading to portray his drama as a power play, or as framed by the conventional political issues of the twentieth century. He was not political as defined by contemporary intellectuals, revolving as they did around alignment or non-alignment with the Communist party. Some of his friends and colleagues were indeed party members, but that was not his issue. (Incidentally, it is equally hard to find money-motivated ‘free enterprise’, idolised . . .

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