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A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines

by Janna Levin

Kurt Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems sent shivers through Vienna’s intellectual circles and directly challenged Ludwig Wittgenstein’s dominant philosophy. Alan Turing’s mathematical genius helped him break the Nazi Enigma Code during WWII. Though they never met, their lives strangely mirrored one another—both were brilliant, and both met with tragic ends. Here, a mysterious narrator intertwines these parallel lives into a double helix of genius and anguish, wonderfully capturing not only two radiant, fragile minds but also the zeitgeist of the era.

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Recommendations: 1

Categories: Historical FictionPhilosophyScience

Reading time: 45 hours


The book belongs to that very, very rare species of incredibly poetic books by working scientists, by an author who happens to be one of the world’s foremost, probably the foremost, expert on black holes, but as also a writer of deeply poetic prose and a thinker of deeply poetic thoughts. It’s a slim book, and I read it long before I knew Janna in person, and it really shaped the way I think about what literature can be. It is extremely form bending, genre bending. There is no analog, no book I can say it is like, and it has really informed the way I think, and I write, and in a great sense that I’ve only recognized in hindsight, it really informed how I wrote Figuring.