Monday Book: Alan Turing

Alan TurningAlan Turing

by Jim Eldridge

Bloomsbury

The Real Lives series of books are narrative accounts of the lives and times of some of the world’s most iconic people and the latest addition to the collection is about the “father of computer science” Alan Turing.

Born in 1912, the book identifies markers in his youth that would create the kind of person whose inventions would change our world so much. He did badly at school as he was not interested in arts and classical languages and arrived at answers to mathematical problems without showing how he arrived at his (correct) conclusions.

At university, he worked on a thinking machine to work out mathematical problems but war intervened and he made a name for himself as a code-breaker. After the war, he developed the first modern computer but his personal life brought him tragedy.

Alan Turing made no secret of being gay, particularly at Cambridge University where a large number of the staff appeared to be gay. After the war, there seemed to be less tolerance and the consequences for men being in gay relationships were imprisonment and/or chemical castration. Gay relationships between women were not illegal but it was not until 1967 that Britain decriminalised gay relationships between men.

His legacies in helping to shorten World War II and laying the groundwork for the modern day computer have been celebrated but it is only many years after his death that it has been acknowledged that he was punished unjustly for loving another man. Unfortunately the punishment probably led to the early demise of one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant mathematicians.

Lezly Herbert

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