Turing's Cathedral

  • by George Dyson
  • Narrated by Arthur Morey
  • 15 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.

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- john

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*

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- M. Kalus

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-06-2012
  • Publisher: Random House Audio