Turing’s Cathedral

Just wrapped it up, and posted some thoughts to Goodreads (I’m thinking of automating that process here — let me know if any of this blog’s few readers would find that irritating). The short version: it’s a great history that’s marred by a bunch of fairly silly futurist speculation. I’d be curious to hear if anyone else has read this thing.

2 Responses to “Turing’s Cathedral”

  1. Catherine

    I didn’t know people I knew actually used Goodreads, so I’m finally signing up. I think the automated process would be good.

  2. Kaleberg

    We read Turing’s Cathedral and both felt it presented pretty good portraits of the players, and did a good job of explaining how the modern digital computer flowed from the computational needs of the Manhattan Project. It also caught the anti-engineering attitude at Princeton where actually building something was viewed as blue collar, not something a gentleman would do, and Princeton was a gentleman’s college. (I picked up this vibe back in the early 70s when I went for my college interview and visit. We even met the dean of engineering while wandering about, and he was a great guy, but engineering at Princeton was basically off campus, peripheral, literally and figuratively.)

    The book was weak on technical detail and inclined to accept obvious nonsense and bald speculation at face value. Still, the individual stories it told were quite poignant, as most of the players wound up marginalized or disappointed. All, that is, except for Ulam, who fell in love with the life of the mind at the Scotland Cafe in Lvov, and lived that kind of life to the end. I can imagine the long bull sessions he must have taken part in, and I can imagine them including the kinds of speculation Dyson takes all too seriously in this book, but I can also imagine Ulam sweeping them all aside and getting back to work in the cold light of morning.

Leave a Reply