Days to Centenary: 264
Andrew Hodges was uniquely qualified to write a biography of Alan Turing on at least three counts. First, he is a professor at Wadham College, Oxford, working in the mathematics of theoretical physics. Second, he is a gay man who has been working for gay rights since the early 1970s. Third, he is a diligent researcher and an excellent writer.
Hodges turns all of these elements to his advantage (and to ours) in his definitive biography of Turing, Alan Turing: The Enigma. His book is in-depth without ever having its pace flag, presents its mathematical perspective in a way that is comprehensible to non-mathematicians, details Turing’s involvement in World War II codebreaking with the drama it deserves, and presents Turing’s life and death (including, but not limited to, his orientation) with great humanity.
I first read Enigma in the early 1990s and have returned to it periodically ever since. My only complaint — not directed at Hodges, but at his publisher — is that there does not appear to be an ebook edition available yet.
Hodges also maintains an Alan Turing web site. The link for it is always available in the Blogroll.
Note: This post is far skimpier than Hodges’ book deserves. At the moment I am not in an English-speaking country, making it hard to get a copy (I keep buying them and then, when I get in a proselytizing mood, giving them away to people). As I mentioned above, there is no ebook as yet, so dead tree is the only way to go and it would take forever and cost a small fortune to ship it here. I can’t write a full post or reference specifics without the book in hand and at the same time I can’t just remain silent on the topic given the book’s place in reviving Turing’s reputation and given Hodges’ wider role in the Alan Turing Year — that would just be too weird. So consider this post a place-holder until later this year or early in 2012, by which point I should own a copy of the book again, my third or fourth. I promise not to give it away this time.