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  • Alan Turing: The Enigma

  • By: Andrew Hodges
  • Narrated by: Gordon Griffin
  • Length: 30 hrs and 40 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (713 ratings)

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Alan Turing: The Enigma

By: Andrew Hodges
Narrated by: Gordon Griffin
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Editor reviews

Alan Turing: The Enigma is written by Mathematician Andrew Hodges and is narrated in this biographical audiobook edition by Gordon Griffin. The book went on to be inspiration for the 2014 Academy Award-nominated film The Imitation Game. This is the tragic story of a genius whose profound contributions were doubted for decades and whose personal life was utterly persecuted. After an official public apology from the UK Prime Minister in 2009 and a posthumous pardon from the Queen in 2013, the life of Alan Turing has finally been honoured. This book provides the telling of Turing’s life story that he so rightly deserves history to remember. Available now from Audible.

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

Critic reviews

"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)

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What listeners say about Alan Turing: The Enigma

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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.

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53 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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...

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18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Very well written but too long

Very well written but too long. Despite the author's self indulgent rambling frequently losing focus on his subject this is an excellent book. A ruthless editor could have made it a great book. The reader did a fine job although his American accent needs some work!

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15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Hard work!

It was always going to be a hard story to listen to - should have tried the abridged version - far too much maths and science altogether for a layperson to take in. Did finish it though - now can watch the film version with a greater understanding and appreciation of a much wronged genius.

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15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Unless your a super geek don't listen

I really thought this was going to be a good listen however it is so technical you really need to be a super geek to enjoy it.

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14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Turing an enigma.

Great story superbly read. My only criticism is that the writer could have reduced its length by half without loss of quality.
Then I would have had to give it 5 stars.

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11 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Great performance. Major flaw in the story.

The bits I understood were very well written. But the huge chunks of mathematics left me totally floundering. I'm not a scientist nor am I much good at maths. I very nearly gave up on this book during the maths parts.
The book is excellently narrated by a gent with a very commanding yet soothing voice. His American accent leaves a lot to be desired though :-)
All in all, if you don't mind zoning out from the tech stuff, or you understand it, then it's a good listen.

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10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

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10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

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8 people found this helpful