Book 124: The Man Who Knew Too Much – David Leavitt

Overall this book was ‘meh’. I couldn’t get into it and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. With the title and the blurb I assumed the book was about Alan Turing and his life and not the history of inventions which led to modern computers. I was clearly wrong.

The book was interesting, but I just didn’t enjoy it. There was too much math and science (sometimes explained nicely so that a non-mathematician could understand it) and not enough biography. Again, this was apparently my misunderstanding. The one thing I took away from the novel about Turing was that everything that is known about him has to come with a grain of salt. He sounded like someone I would love to talk to and find out more about. What I found most fascinating was that

“Turing had displayed a remarkable degree of self-confidence and comfort in his sexual identity. That he saw his sexuality as part of his identity in the first place put him at odds with the prevalent thinking of his age, and reflected, no doubt, the years that he had spent in the privileged corridors of King’s College.” (195)

If there was one thing that drove me absolutely insane while reading the novel was the author, Leavitt. I was not impressed with the writing or the countless (and seemingly unnecessary) literary references. Sure they helped draw comparisons, but it was too much allusion-dropping for me. In addition at one point I stopped reading the book and immediately started looking into Leavitt’s sexuality as I honestly thought he was a straight male (he’s not, from what I can tell) because of the horrible way he kept dropping in that Turing was homosexual. He could have done this with taste and with compassion, but honestly it seemed to work as a cumbersome crutch ultimately leading to the closing paragraph, which was the one highlight of the book (check it out below) for the ‘aww’ and happiness potential in a very sad situation.

Recommendation: PASS. I’m sure there are better books written about the history of the technology and there have GOT to be better books about Turing out there.

Opening Line: “In Alexander Mackendrick’s 1951 Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit, Alec Guinness plays Sidney Stratton, a dithery, even childlike chemist who creates a fabric that will never wear out or get dirty.”

Closing Line: “Perhaps what chills us is that in taking his own life, Turing actually chose to camp it up a bitto invest his departure from a world that had treated him shabbily with some of the gothic, eerie, colorful brilliance of a Disney film. And yet in all the pages I have read bout Turingand there are scores of them—no one has yet mentioned what seems to me the most obvious message. In the fairy tale the apple into which Snow White bites doesn’t kill her; it puts her to sleep until the Prince wakes her up with a kiss.”


6 thoughts on “Book 124: The Man Who Knew Too Much – David Leavitt”

  1. Interesting and not in a good way. I hate when authors try to impress the readers by their culture and knowledge and this sounds to be a case of this. Thanks for the honest review and I will pass.


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