A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines

Janna Levin, Author
Janna Levin, Author . Knopf $23.95 (230p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4030-8
Reviewed on: 05/08/2006
Release date: 08/01/2006
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Hardcover - 230 pages - 978-0-297-64546-7
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The lives of Kurt Gödel (1906– 1978) and Alan Turing (1912– 1954) never crossed physically, but did intellectually: Gödel's incompleteness theorem implies a sort of Platonism, and Turing's mechanical decision theory implies, conversely, hard-nosed materialism. Levin, a mathematician, juxtaposes both lives in her debut novel. She begins with Gödel as a young man in Vienna, his incompleteness theorem destroying the line of inquiry (arguably spearheaded by Wittgenstein, who cameos)that argued math was complete in itself; his courtship with a nightclub dancer, Adele; his misunderstanding of the Nazi takeover of Austria. Alan Turing's not very charmed life is skewed not only by what looks like autism but by being hounded for his homosexuality in Britain—after breaking the German Enigma code during WWII. Turing is an innocent in many ways, while Gödel, a greater thinker, is a monster of selfishness; both, however, have a passion for the invisible that is hard to dramatize. Gödel becomes a paranoid old man, living with Adele (who comes alive through Levin's shrewd novelistic guesswork) in solitude in Princeton, and eventually starving himself to death. Levin is sympathetic to all concerned, but doesn't quite make a larger point, dramatic or otherwise. (Aug. 25)

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