I don’t usually read biographies, but this excellent biography of Alan Turing was given to me as a gift and I found it fascinating. There are plenty of plaudits for the treatment Andrew Hodges has given his subject and I agree he’s done a first class job. Even more so if you read the author’s notes at the end of the book and appreciate just how little material was freely available and the personal hardships the author entailed in order to write the book. His sources were the biography written by Turing’s mother and the academic papers/records available. Subsequent to that, Hodges interviewed many of the main players in Turing’s life in order to reveal much of the character of the man as well as to fill in the gaps in his life history.
For me, Turing was famous for the Universal Turing Machine and the Turing Test – it’s interesting to learn that he also touched other areas of pure mathematics and science. The technical details on his approach to writing computer software are just as relevant – given that he was involved in the earliest computers in the 1950’s and the biography was written in the 1980’s, it’s great to know that Turing exhorted the earliest programmers to factor their code into sub-routines and to test their software!
Another lesson to learn from the biography was that, whilst Turing was happy to work individually and largely avoided self-promotion, that approach limited his opportunities. If he had been more savvy in this regard and been more amenable to building working relationships, who knows how much more he would have achieved.