REVIEW - Turing (A Novel about Computation)


Turing (A Novel about Computation)


Christos H. Papadimitriou


MIT Press (2003)




Francis Glassborow


June 2004



Novels and shorter fiction can be very effective tools for teaching. They can present technical information in a more informal and less threatening fashion (though not a novel, Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery by Imre Lakatos - I am puzzled as to why Amazon only lists him as an editor when the work is substantially his Doctoral Thesis - is an excellent example of using a cast of fictional characters to explore and better understand of an aspect of mathematical philosophy.)

The trouble with fiction is that too often the background contains too many flaws to be relied upon. That is generally a pity because we assume otherwise. We know something is just a story but an author who places Bruges in, for example, France is doing a lot of unintended harm. Those that know better are irritated and those that do not subconsciously learn something that is untrue.

Now in this case we have a novel that is about computation. It is many other things as well including a good spicing of romance and a smidgeon of raw sex. You might wonder about the technical accuracy of the book (as regards computation rather than male/female relationships). This is one of those rare but very pleasing cases where a world class expert on mathematics and computing has written a book that is not just a fun read but which embodies a good deal of technical knowledge. If you are an expert on computation, read the book for fun, if you're not read it for fun and to learn a little too.

We could do with more books like this one that address our intellects at so many different levels simultaneously.

Book cover image courtesy of Open Library.

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