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Turing's Cathedral Audiobook

Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

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Publisher's Summary

Legendary historian and philosopher of science George Dyson vividly re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution - in other words, computer code.

In the 1940s and '50s, a group of eccentric geniuses - led by John von Neumann - gathered at the newly created Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Their joint project was the realization of the theoretical universal machine, an idea that had been put forth by mathematician Alan Turing. This group of brilliant engineers worked in isolation, almost entirely independent from industry and the traditional academic community. But because they relied exclusively on government funding, the government wanted its share of the results: the computer that they built also led directly to the hydrogen bomb. George Dyson has uncovered a wealth of new material about this project, and in bringing the story of these men and women and their ideas to life, he shows how the crucial advancements that dominated twentieth-century technology emerged from one computer in one laboratory, where the digital universe as we know it was born.

©2012 George Dyson (P)2012 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

“The most powerful technology of the last century was not the atomic bomb, but software - and both were invented by the same folks. Even as they were inventing it, the original geniuses imagined almost everything software has become since. At long last, George Dyson delivers the untold story of software’s creation. It is an amazing tale brilliantly deciphered.” (Kevin Kelly, cofounder of WIRED magazine, author of What Technology Wants)

“It is a joy to read George Dyson’s revelation of the very human story of the invention of the electronic computer, which he tells with wit, authority, and insight. Read Turing’s Cathedral as both the origin story of our digital universe and as a perceptive glimpse into its future.” (W. Daniel Hillis, inventor of The Connection Machine, author of The Pattern on the Stone)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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Performance
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  •  
    john Battery Point, Australia 01-29-13
    john Battery Point, Australia 01-29-13 Member Since 2017
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    "Turing's vision; Von Neumann's construction"

    While good coverage and credit is given to Turing for the ideas that he had and the work he did to spark the computer revolution this book is more focused on Von Neumann as the driving force behind creating the machine at the Institute for Advanced Studies, sometimes referred to as MANIAC.

    I assume that the book title may have been driven a little by marketing department awareness that Alan Turing has become a commonly known name amongst those with more than passing interest in the history of computing while Von Neumann is yet to gain the 'household name' level of recognition that he deserves.

    While the 'Turing Machine' was a stunning intellectual achievement in abstract thinking about the science and mathematics of computing the actual machines that we are using are often, and rightly, described as 'Von Neumann Machines'

    If you know the subject well this is a great summary and includes interesting facts that you may well not know about just how things got done. If the way Turing's ideas ended up in the machine you are reading this one is not familiar to you then this is the best way of filling in that gap that I know of.

    The pace is good and the tone conversational (this is a history of people and ideas, not a text book) and the delivery is in the upper end of Audible's range.

    If you care about how the computer revolution that we are living through got through it's teething stages and got to its feet and started walking then I can highly recommend this as an entertaining and informative way to learn a lot more than I thought I would in a weekend's listening.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. Kalus 12-22-12
    M. Kalus 12-22-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A fascinating look at the people behind it all"
    What did you love best about Turing's Cathedral?

    It gave an interesting perspective about how and why the modern day computer was invented, including some amusing insights to some of the brightest minds of the 20th century.


    What did you like best about this story?

    That it was real :)


    What about Arthur Morey’s performance did you like?

    I thought it was well executed, as the book doesn't really feature any dialog or characters the "neutral" delivery was appreciated.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Nothing in particular, but there were a lot of little chuckles when it came to some of these people's behaviour. In no small part because it makes these mythical people human.


    Any additional comments?

    I wish there would have been a bit more attention being paid to other pioneers in the computing field, but having said that, their legacy really lives on by the technology I use right now to write these words so: *raises glass*

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 06-21-14
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 06-21-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Déjà vu"

    Reading the “New York Times”, Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 the front page of “Business Day” shows an article about Google called “Search and Replace”. In the same edition, there is an article by Shane Harris on the editorial page, “Giving In to the Surveillance State”. Both articles infer a dystopian future envisioned by Johnny Von Neumann and Alan Turing, the primary geniuses of the computer generation’s beginnings in the middle of the 20th century. "Turing's Cathedral", a history of computer science in the 1940s, is strikingly like the 2012 NYT's articles--“Déjà vu”.

    Near the end of George Dyson’s book, a chapter is written about the potential of a computer that can dream, based on an accumulation of all the world’s known publications, communications, and locations, to answer any question about the world that is known by the collective mind of man. Nils Aall Barricelli envisions world domination by artificial intelligence. The entry to that world is “Turing’s Cathedral”, a mansion of the entire world’s information that is being built to be occupied by a wired or wireless connection to human brains.

    “Turing’s Cathedral” seems to be more than a church of knowledge and mankind seems to be less than the soul of a machine.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Casey 12-06-15
    John Casey 12-06-15
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    "Reads like a history book, but fascinating"

    Reads like a history book and is a little hard to track track in the micro context. But is a fascinating read for those in the technology and mathematics fields. Von Neumann and his colleagues, using turings and others ideas, conceived of techniques used by todays computers as well of the internet and the idea that carbon dioxide has an effect on global climate change.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Monte Johnston Clayton, NC 03-12-12
    Monte Johnston Clayton, NC 03-12-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Needed an editor"
    Would you try another book from George Dyson and/or Arthur Morey?

    No.


    What was most disappointing about George Dyson???s story?

    What was most disappointing about the story is that there was no story. At different points in the book it seems a story of Von Neumann, the Institute of Advanced Study, the development of computer technology, a hundred other scientists and engineers, etc. It ends up being none of them. It seems more like a collection of notebooks that contained the potential to form a good book or story.

    I was even hoping to learn a bit more of the technology of computers, but all explanations were given in the language of engineers. The book on the Eniac available on audible is much better.


    Did Arthur Morey do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

    The performance was fine.


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Couldn't have been much more disappointed.


    Any additional comments?

    Save your credits.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dan 11-17-16
    Dan 11-17-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Tremendous"

    A tremendous walk through the foundations of our modern digital world. If you have av interest in how we got to a world with smart phones, Google, Facebook, and broadband Internet, this audiobook is well worth your time.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joe Walsh 09-27-16
    Joe Walsh 09-27-16 Member Since 2016
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    "Substantial but Long-winded"

    Good, well-researched summary of Von Neumann's life and work with minor flaws. The title is a bit misleading: the book deals with Turing only inasmuch as Turing's work affected Neumann. This book is not about Turing.

    The author must have done a tremendous amount of research and couldn't bring himself to edit the fluff. I got used to it and didn't mind by the end, but it makes some areas of the book painfully long.

    I didn't enjoy the author's attempts at analogizing the "explosion" of the computer to the atomic bomb, nor likening computer codes to evolving organisms. These and other analogies were flimsily supported by the reality and fell short of their purpose of making the material more accessible to those unfamiliar with it.

    The narrator's voice is a bit raspy for my taste, but the work is very listenable and I wasn't distracted by voice issues.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Hayes 05-30-16
    John Hayes 05-30-16
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    "Excellent (but not really much about Turing)"

    Outstanding story of how computing machines came to be, and how all the major players and thinkers contributed. Approachable by anyone, and contains a good balance of enough technical detail with insight into the human side of computing's history.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Silent Bob 11-25-15
    Silent Bob 11-25-15
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    "Very detailed and interesting story about the birth of digital computers but very heavy going at times"

    The story gives a very detailed and at times complex overview of how digital computers as we know them were primarily driven the establishment of an institute based at Princeton and the brilliant men and women that worked there. At times the story got very detailed and found myself struggling to get through. If you want a detailed history of these people and events this is the book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    pcwright@prodigy.net 01-14-15 Member Since 2002
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    "Like the subject? You will enjoy this book."

    This is about some of the most important people of the 20th Century you may have never heard of. John Von Neumann? maybe, but Stanley Ulam? It was a first for me. For better or worse and people do see these thing differently, the relentless implementation of ideas from from almost nothing to today's laptop, cell phone and even that thing that manages your automobile engine and are now seemingly crucial to our lives, perhaps even to our civilization. I read this book almost two years ago and it made me dizzy with the extraordinary stories of ultra (pun intended) brilliant human beings and the amazingly creative solutions they devised to make the first universal computing machine from parts so crude and unreliable that you would have never given it a chance. Much of what they devised is not only standard in today's computer programs, but are named after them. Recently, I saw the movie, "The Imitation Game" which focused on Alan Turing's remarkable contribution the British breaking the Nazi's unbreakable code and in no insignificant way win the war. So, I gave Turing's Cathedral another shot. Let's face it, you could read it five times and the information is so densely packed you will get large new insights and understanding each time. As I said at the beginning, you have to like the subject matter, but if you do, you will really enjoy this book - perhaps again, and even again.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Mr
    Leagrave, United Kingdom
    5/4/17
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    "Covers a lot more than Turing"

    This is a fascinating look into the early history of computing and the roles of Princeton in the early creation of computers. Turing doesn't really make an appearance until about half way through. It really focusing on John Von Neumann. But Turing is key to the creation of the core ideas.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Ross
    Faversham, United Kingdom
    12/27/12
    Overall
    "Fascinating Listen"

    This was a fascinating book, telling the story of the first real computers constructed after WW2 and the intruiging personalities involved

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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