peteg's blog

Sara Turing: Alan M. Turing

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This is the Alan Turing centenary year and there's a lot of high-minded academic stuff going on. For some reason I pre-ordered the new edition of this biography from Cambridge University Press via Book Depository; perhaps it was because Martin Davis was spruiking his introduction to it on the FOM list. Ironically his opening paragraph reads:

Sara Turing, a woman in her seventies mourning the death of Alan, her younger son, a man that she failed to understand on so many levels, wrote this remarkable biographical essay. She carefully pieced together his school reports, copies of his publications, and comments on his achievements by experts. But Alan Turing was a thoroughly unconventional man, whose method of dealing with life's situations was to think everything through from first principles, ignoring social expectations. And she was trying to fit him into a framework that reveals more about her and her social situation than it does about him. Alan's older brother John trying to fill in the gaps he saw in his mother's account, also ends up revealing a good deal about his own attitudes. In this few pages I will discuss some of the questions that may occur to readers of these documents.

... and indeed the rest of it runs them further down. It culminates in a section titled Other Reading, which includes pointers to both the standard biography by Hodges and his own Engines of Logic (aka The Universal Computer), and could be summarised as "anything but this".

I enjoyed John Turing's bluntless, though as Davis (and just today, Obama but not Gillard) observes the times have changed. Sara's hagiographic tendencies got pretty boring pretty fast, apart from the odd anecdote.