The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer

The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer - David Leavitt I found this a fascinating book, even though the mathematical concepts in the middle chapters were a bit of a hard slog. Still, even if I didn't fully follow the explanations, it was entirely helpful to get a sense of the territories in which Turing's mind was working. And the bit about the Enigma machines was utterly absorbing.

I raised an eyebrow when I saw David Leavitt as the author of the book, wondering whether an author mostly known (or at least mostly known to me) as a writer of gay-centred novels would tip the balance of the whole thing, making it a "poor abused gay hero" biography. Possibly there are readers out there who are disappointed he didn't do just that. I thought he maintained the balance between the intellectual and the emotional quite admirably. His analysis of a short story fragment Turing wrote towards the end of his life is, as one would expect, full of insight.

Turing died by biting into a cyanide-poisoned apple, suicide being the generally accepted explanation, though his family steadfastly maintained it was an accident. Leavitt is quite scientific in presenting all the evidence for the two theories.

This book is part of a series, "Great Discoveries", and I suspect it had an upper word limit imposed by the publisher. That may in fact have been to its advantage. Turing was not a man who would be easily understood even with thousands of pages of description and analysis - but I came away from this feeling I had at least gained some sense of the man.