book review: a madman dreams of turing machines

A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin is about two of the 20th century’s geniuses, Kurt Godel and Alan Turing. It was an okay book, but unsatisfying. I felt like the book was too focused on a few scenes (one in the Vienna coffee house and the other being under the floorboards at school, both of which happen early) leaving the rest to be word-count padding. The self-consciously literary tone put so much distance between the reader and the subjects that nothing felt consequential. I mean, yes, we see Godel unveil his theorem in Vienna. We spend section after section there in that coffee house, coming at it from different angles, but the writer is so concerned with her descriptions and her own ghostly presence that we’re disconnected from everything. And Turing gets even less, apart from showing how odd and gay he was. Everything felt like specimens under glass, which is fine as far as it goes, but left me kind of cold.

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