After living with this tome now for several weeks, I see it as even stranger that a film such as The Imitation Game might claim, or even want to claim that it was “based” on this biography; certainly one can imagine that the film, as this book claims on the current edition’s cover, was “inspired” by Hodges work, but the movie bares so little common with the biography that to suggest the two have any major relationship is almost comic. Just to get it out of the way, let me suggest that, if Hodges is to be believed (and how could one possibly doubt him?), Turing did not present himself before British military authorities, cockily suggesting that they needed him to solve the problem of the Enigma machine; he did not select, interview, or test Joan Clarke for her position at Bletchley; he did not create a full computer at Bletchley, but with others created smaller machines, Bombes (based on an earlier Polish prototype, and named for the noise they made)—the computer he might have created, ACE, was imagined but never actually realized only after the war; he did not discover that one of his fellow workers was a spy and he did not attempt to report such an affair or control other aspects of their work at Bletchley to an agent of GCHQ or any other such organization; he did not even continue to run the Enigma program throughout the war, leaving the work to others as he traveled to the U.S., particularly Princeton University; he did not suddenly make a break-through in his computer analyses by accidently (or purposefully for that matter) discovering that a German operator was repeating signals (although repetitive signals did help the cryptologists break certain codes); and, although he was certainly eccentric and somewhat absent-minded in his behavior, he was not generally rude, dismissive of others, or unlikeable—indeed he was well-liked my his fellow works and jokingly named the “prof” (although after the war he did become difficult with his fellow-workers at Manchester University); after being arrested for homosexual activities, no officer or other official uncovered his activities during the war, not did Turing interrogate any official about whether or not he was a “machine” (although he certainly might have liked to do so). And those are just some starters in a vast list of differences between the film-script—which we must always remind ourselves is a work of fiction—and the Turing biography by Hodges.
Hodges argues that, if Turing was decades ahead of others with regard to his mathematical theories, his concepts—both theoretical and practical—about computers, his experiments with encrypting messages involved with his Delilah machine, and his biological morphogenetic studies, he was just as ahead of his time with regard to the British acceptance of homosexuality, identifying himself as a “gay” man at a time when many homosexuals still referred to themselves as “puffs,” “poofs,” “queers,” “queens,” and in other self-demeaning terms. It was his openness and essential honesty (in all matters) that so shocked him when his straight-forward admissions that he had been (indirectly) robbed by a man with whom he had had sexual encounters brought him to a trial resulting in probation and experimental doses of hormones which scientists of the day believed—quite erroneously—would alleviate homosexual desires. Turing simply could not get it into his head that a society could refuse to accept the idea that some individuals were sexually different from others. But even more radically, at least in terms of the establishment, is that he argued for his right to have homosexual encounters, with no embarrassment involved. After having been arrested, Turing himself visited his closest friends and scientific associates to explain to them the situation. The only person whom he did not wish to openly face was his somewhat religious and authority-minded mother. And the only individual who reacted to his revelations rather priggishly was his brother.
Apparently, despite his anarchic spirit—or perhaps because of it—Turing injected an apple with cyanide before biting into it, dying on the floor near his bed. Although the apple was never checked to see if indeed it contained the poison, the medical examiner declared what seemed obvious to everyone—except, later, to Turning’s mother—that he had taken his own life.
Yet Hodges, much as Turing might have, boldly moves off into other possible and even probable causes for his hero’s death, exploring a wide range of topics, including the class structures, the isolated camaraderie of British university communities, and, with perhaps a too careful tiptoeing around the subjects, the grown homophobia of the early 1950s, particularly with regard to the involvement of the very scientists who had opened the new fields of nuclear physics and computer science. The conservative phobias of the U.S.—so apparent in the hearings of Senator Joseph McCarthy, but just as insidiously inflicted by Congress and military panels—could only see the potential bribes by spies of intellectually out-of-control men who sexually could not keep themselves in check, namely the detestable homosexuals. Hodges does not make the parallel, but it exists between the lines of his arguments; in the early 1950s, the U.S. and, through their influence, Britain, almost did to gays what Hitler had done in Germany, to further criminalize their actions and isolate them from society. Prisons, hospitals, and relocation were all on the table, along with chemical treatments, lobotomies, and castration, which were equally considered as methods to control their behavior. Of particular interest, and representing one of the most notable “problems,” was that a man like Turing (although, of course, there was no other man quite like Turing), who not only knew far too much about how the British had won World War II, but had access to the black arts of nuclear power, and the held a magical key to the city in his hands through his imagined Turing machines, was still on the loose. It its apparent that even Turning did not quite comprehend what his Alchemist-like shenanigans represented to the new post-war order; certainly the rather socially ill-at-ease man who shunned nearly all opportunities of power, could not have truly understood just how much of a problem he represented to the powers in charge. As Hodges suggests, he was the loosest of the loose cannons, in a time when spies like Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess seemed to be around every corner. What was he doing on his overseas trips? What was he telling of his wartime secret work? And to whom was he speaking? Could any man so imaginative to question nearly principle of science ever be trusted simply to keep his mouth shut—and then, he was not just any man, but a pansy, a pervert!