'Alan Turing: The Enigma' Is Surprisingly Spiritual in Its Epiphanies

People who read Alan Turing: The Enigma after watching The Imitation Game will feel let down by the film. The epiphanies in the book are remarkable.

Alan Turing: The Enigma

Publisher: Bobbs Merrill
Length: 768 pages
Author: Andrew Hodges
Price: $16.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-12

For obvious marketing reasons, the most recent edition of Andrew Hodges’ Alan Turing: The Enigma labels itself as “the book that inspired the film The Imitation Game”, and yet the Alans contained within each of these two products couldn’t be more different if they tried. The film won the Academy award for Best Adapted Screenplay and its writer, Graham Moore, made headlines all over the world for delivering a heartwarming speech in which he invited people to be themselves and to fight the odds, “I felt weird, and I felt different, and I felt that I did not belong. And now I’m standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do... Stay different, and then when it’s your turn, and you’re standing on this stage, please pass the message to the next person that comes along” he said in a visibly emotional moment.

Perhaps Moore, overwhelmed by the experience of winning an Oscar, forgot that his screenplay contained no traces of the Turing who was so “weird” and “different”, that he committed suicide in 1954 allegedly by eating an apple filled with cyanide. Instead the screenplay deals with a man who was simply quirky and very much an antisocial, but charming, sourpuss. Like most Hollywood films about real life geniuses, the uglier aspects of Turing's life were obviated in order to make him an appealing hero.

Hodges’ lengthy biography, however, details much more than one would ever expect to know about Turing, beginning with a chapter in which the author details the lives of his British parents and how they were brought up. His father, Julius Mathison Turing, an office at the Indian Civil Service, was a strict man, who had himself been raised by a man of the cloth. Turing's mother, Ethel, was the daughter of a railway engineer who decided she didn’t want her children to be brought up in India, and preferred to leave her offspring with friends in England, rather than to have them travel back and forth with her and her husband.

From an early age, Turing’s parents noticed he was different, as they observed in the unusual way in which he interpreted the world around him. As a teenager, Turing was more interested in Newton and Einstein than he was in adolescent issues like sex (he possessed “dowdy, Spartan amateurism, in which possessions and consumption played a small role”), and while he was studying in Sherborne School he met Christopher Morcom, with whom he would develop a friendship that would have some think of Morcom as Turing’s first love. Hodges’ writing makes it clear that as Turing learned more about the world, he became more aware of his identity as a homosexual man, something that troubled him at first, but with which he would learn how to deal, thanks to his pragmatism.

More interested in solving the many mysteries of the world than in being a “hero”, Turing would become famous for his work in cryptanalysis, particularly his involvement in the Enigma Project ,which saw him develop a computer used to decipher codified Nazi messages and, most essentially, help the Allies win the Second World War. Turing’s life would end tragically after the war, when he was convicted for “gross indecency” and coerced into accepting hormonal treatment that turned him into “a different man”. His conviction also removed him from his work, which had been his one steady passion throughout his life.

Hodges never seems afraid to establish the fact that while his book is about Turing, it is also largely a love song to someone who is his personal hero. Hodges’ writing is approachable without being condescending, and he seems aware of the dryness that permeates passages dealing with mathematics and engineering, the chapters that cover the Enigma Project are within themselves worthy of study. Hodges, who is himself a mathematician, certainly makes a fuss about details that might otherwise seem too cryptic for people less versed in numbers, something that he balances beautifully by contrasting elements of Turing’s work with his personal story.

Most fascinating of all is how Hodges is able to pull off making Turing seem like a quite likable human being, without making us think less of him for his erratic personality. It’s easy to see how a screenwriter might detect only the “quirks” without being able to convey the beautiful humanity Hodges describes. For a book about a mathematician, written by a fellow mathematician, Alan Turing: The Enigma, is surprisingly spiritual in its epiphanies, with Hodges wondering if Turing’s “Enigma machine” was in any way connected to what civilizations think of as the human soul.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.