George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral is not particularly about Turing, rather instead about the work created out Turing's accomplishments. Specifically the book focuses on the Institute for Advanced Study and the construction and operation of the ENIAC/ MANIAC. John Von Neumann, for whom the Von Neumman hardware architecture is named, is the core persona throughout - lobbying for the IAS to devote funds to the construction of computers, assisting with wartime ballistics efforts, and corralling the brilliant minds who would put time in on the MANIAC for all manners of research.
Dyson's book is exquisitely researched and for fans of technology history, this book is more a straight history with the IAS computer research as the thematic background. If you really want detail on the lives of early computing pioneers, the book provides in spades, but does not spend a tremendous about of time dealing the machines themselves. Some of the more interesting parts about the book are the surrounding small details such as the necessity for a complex air cooling system to keep the computer running and the constant tension between the IAS and its computer scientists, who were treated unfairly since they weren't studying a pure science as compared to the researchers at the IAS.
Turing's Cathedral would be a strong recommendation for anyone interested in the personality and climate surrounding early computer science work, particularly if Cold War or World War II politics are of interest to you. As I said above, since the book doesn't focus too much on the machines themselves, if you're just looking for technology history, it can probably be better found elsewhere.
Monday, November 3, 2014