Happy Birthday Alan Turing

In honour of the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, I’ve been reading [amazon_link id=”B008CJ4EE4″ target=”_blank” ]Computing: A Concise History[/amazon_link] by Paul Ceruzzi. It’s a delightful small book, very nicely produced and with illustrations, perfect for a journey or to slip in a pocket for commuting. It’s also, in 150 pages, a super overview of the history of this utterly transformational technology from the early days of applications of digital approaches in mechanical forms (including – I never knew this – holes punched into old movie tape) to the Web.

[amazon_image id=”B008CJ4EE4″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Computing (MIT Press Essential Knowledge)[/amazon_image]

What I like about the book is that it draws out the important analytical milestones such as binary code or the principle of storing programmes naturally from the course of events – it is not simply a catalogue of inventions, as a short book covering a huge territory could be. It also emphasizes the way the converged computing and communication we have today is the confluence of very many rivers of innovation. While this looks inevitable with hindsight, there was much happenstance along the way.

In a short book, Alan Turing himself gets little space. I enjoyed Andrew Hodges’ biography [amazon_link id=”069115564X” target=”_blank” ]Alan Turing: The Enigma[/amazon_link]. George Dyson’s [amazon_link id=”B0076O2VXM” target=”_blank” ]Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe[/amazon_link] is on my wishlist. There’s a new paperback out, [amazon_link id=”1845136330″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret Life of Bletchley Park [/amazon_link]by Sinclair Mackay. Another recent book, on the analytics of computing, is John MacCormick’s 9 Algorithms [amazon_link id=”0691147140″ target=”_blank” ]That Changed the Future[/amazon_link], which I reviewed here.

For the commercial history of the American computer industry, the best I’ve come across is Robert Cringely’s [amazon_link id=”0140258264″ target=”_blank” ]Accidental Empires[/amazon_link] – a bit outdated now, though. Georgina Ferry’s [amazon_link id=”1841151866″ target=”_blank” ]A Computer Called Leo[/amazon_link] is a nice bit of the UK industry’s history. And for something more reflective about computers and society, [amazon_link id=”0571172431″ target=”_blank” ]Cultural Babbage: Technology, Time and Invention[/amazon_link] edited by Francis Spufford and Jenny Uglow is an all-time favourite.

[amazon_image id=”069115564X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Alan Turing: The Enigma The Centenary Edition[/amazon_image]

The BBC website has a series of nice essays about Turing. There’s also the Science Museum exhibition to look forward to.