Key Points:

A MADMAN DREAMS OF TURING MACHINES

By Janna Levin

Weidenfeld & Nicholson, $34.99

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Alan Turing: genius; broke the German Enigma code in WWII; social outcast.

Kurt Godel: genius; proved the incompleteness of mathematics; social outcast.

These two gifted but tortured real-life misfits are the twin axes on which Janna Levin's unique labour of love rotates.

Turing, is a near-autistic innocent - a not-well-closeted homosexual in oppressively conservative 1930s-50s Britain, who advances bold theories on mechanical decision-making. Godel is hugely selfish, painfully awkward and desperate to win the respect of the scientific community.

The pair never meet, although their work intersects, but rather than being about their relationship these are parallel stories about the nature of genius - and about the cost of trying to make seismic shifts in human thinking.

This is a wonderful book, and Levin has done an impressive job bringing these two to life.

You need not know one end of a physic from the other to appreciate the humanity at the heart of this brilliant story.

- Detours, HoS