By Adam B. Vary
Updated March 17, 2020 at 03:09 AM EDT

The Man Who Knew Too Much

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  • Book

A brilliant British mathematician who was instrumental in breaking the Nazi Enigma codes during WWII and is credited with inventing the very concept of the modern computer, Alan Turing was exceptional in one other astonishing way: He was more or less openly gay at a time when homosexuality was very much illegal in England. His story, The Man Who Knew Too Much, should make for arresting reading, but David Leavitt inexplicably gets stuck relaying dense conceptual mathematics and academic philosophizing that ranges from abstractly instructive to bafflingly inaccessible (”The sequence written on the F-squares at the point when the machine moves into m-configuration C…”), as if the well-regarded novelist has never heard of a metaphor. Leavitt rallies as he nears the tragic end of Turing’s life, but by then non-MIT alums may find their patience has long since approached zero.

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The Man Who Knew Too Much

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