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Schlagwort: Book Review

Jim Ottaviani: Alan Turing in a comic book

Welcome, reader! Or should I write: Welcome user? Either way, it may be possible that you won’t be able to read this at all: Without the help of Alan Turing the invention of modern computers may have been quite different. Even if you are not a mathematician you may have stumbled upon Alan Turing and you may connect his name  with the Enigma. A machine that Germans used to encrypt their messages during World War II. and nearly helped them win that war. Of course this is the story of the Comic book “Alan Turing Decoded” by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis which I think can be seen as a summary of Andrew Hodges’ “The Imitation Game” – at least this is what came to my mind when I enjoyed reading it and of course I thought of the film, too (sorry, fangirl here).

A bit different

But the book also brings that brilliant man Alan Turing (of course he had lots of helping hands back in World War II in Bletchley Park) to life who always was a bit awkward and different compared to others. He ran miles on end, wore a gas mask as a prevention from hay fever, chained his mug to his heater in his office at Bletchley Park  – and he was a homosexual when this was illegal in Great Britain. Sadly enough he was prosecuted for that  – a treatment that may have been the reason why Alan took his own life. Though the circumstances are still unclear as Jim Ottaviani writes in his author’s note.

Of course this beautiful made comic book isn’t a documentary or biography on Alan Turing, so readers shouldn’t take any word or any picture as a historical fact. But it is a lovely way of getting the story of Alan Turing out to readers who don’t want to be bored by huge books with endless footage and bibliographical lists (although there are a few in this 232 page hardcopy, too) – but being entertained and touched by an intriguing life story with a tragic ending.

Photo: Petra Breunig

Photo: Petra Breunig

Jim Ottaviani, Leland Purvis (Illustrations): The Imitation Game, Alan Turing Decoded. Abrams, round 24$, £16, €16.

You may find more on Alan Turing on my blog – some of them are in German.

Alan Rusbridger: Play it again

It doesn’t sound that much: twenty minutes a day for playing the piano. But it becomes a real struggle to sit down every morning and try to learn Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 within a year and perform it in front of an audience when you are Alan Rusbridger, then editor in chief of the Guardian at a time when news seem to be breaking for weeks on end.

The book - with yellow labels and a book mark. Photo: Petra Breunig

The book – with yellow labels and a bookmark. Photo: Petra Breunig

But he manages to squeeze practising the piano into his incredible schedule most of the time even when there are such topics as the publishing of the WikiLeaks files and the hacking scandal of “News of the World” that hit every news all over the world, and everything in between from meetings and conferences to editing a newspaper with working days that end in the early hours of the next day. So what seems to be insane is in fact very healthy for the brain and the body as a whole because while playing the piano, the brain has to concentrate on the very moment, the keyboard, the fingers, the notes so that everything else is shut out. “With other people it’s yoga, or a run or a burst in the gym. Twenty minutes on the piano have the same effect for me,” writes Alan – twenty minutes as a preparation for another stressful day.

“I gave fifteen reasons why Twitter is such an astonishing medium for journalists (…) and why senior executives in media companies who don’t ‘get it’ shouldn’t be in a job.”

So “Play it again” is of course a book about music, about learning to play a piece with a lot of specific terms that sound like a foreign language for ignorants like myself but this isn’t a reason to stop reading because  the moment you start the book you are hooked by the story that is just wonderfully written, full of inside views of Rusbridger’s work, his views and how he comes to term with them but without any arrogance others might have shown when learning that “News of the World” is about to be shut down: “It’s one of the most dramatic moments I can remember as an editor. (…) It’s a hold-the-front-page, stop-the-presses, stop-the clocks, stop-everything scoop. The history of newspapers has just been rewritten.”

“Should I ever make a book out of my endeavour with the Ballade, I resolve, I’ve at least got the title: ‘Play it again’. (…) The journalist in me also likes the fact that it’s a misquote. Bogart never said it.”

And  “Play it again” is also about Rusbridger’s struggle with the music, his doubts about his abilities to get the notes right or remember them at all and it is an inspiration for those of us who always want to go for a run, a swim or just reading a book instead of being bored by telly. They can do it. We all can.

 

Alan Rusbridger: Play it again  – An amateur against the impossible, Vintage Books, £10,99
Deutsch: Play it again – Ein Jahr zwischen Noten und Nachrichten, Secession-Verlag, 25 Euro.

 

 

 

James Rhodes: Instrumental: Violence, music and love

The thing with autobiographies is they can go totally wrong, trying to convince the reader what a perfect, clever, self-confident and of course perfect looking human being the writer is – and leaving you as the reader either laughing or sick because you can’t cope with a super man (of course there are super woman around, too).

James Rhodes’ “Instrumental”, that is finally available, isn’t that sort of book at all. It is funny, it is shocking, it leaves you shaking your head in disbelief and it touches you deeply. That is because – and for me the most important thing – James writes about his life, his experiences and the things that matter most to him in such an open, honest way as if he is talking to you as a very close friend. Being able to literally write about grief, sorrow, shame, feeling insecure and simply not fit for the world outside is a kind of getting rid of it. No matter how people will react.

“I started writing this at 3.47 am. There is something wrong with me.”

And people will react, they always do. Especially in a time when they can throw their rubbish onto the internet and straight into James’ Twitter and Facebook (He’s on Google+, too but unfortunately doesn’t keep that account alive). And especially when it comes to abusing children or as James names it: rape. The fact that he was raped, humiliated and tormented by a school teacher when he was a boy, is not only disgusting, may turn your stomach and makes you cry when reading about it (so this book is not a book for children or people unable to cope with violence). It is also unbelievable for people who never experienced violence in their lives. But this is the truth and it is a miracle that this boy now a man of 38 hasn’t committed suicide, is able to speak out – not only with this book but also in various articles and on Twitter – and is desperately trying to bring classical music to a broader audience. From the moment a friend gave him an iPod, smuggled into the hospital James was living because he had tried to kill himself frequently – together with his destroyed self confidence, the feeling that everything that has happened was his fault was result of the raping experienced as a boy – James knew and still knows that classical music can make a difference: “Anything changed.” The Bach-Marcello Adagio “took me to a place of such magnificience, such surrender, hope, beauty, infinite space, it was like touching God’s face.”

“I would not exist (…) without music.”

And because music is so important to him and because he is as different from a “normal” pianist – sitting in tee, jeans and trainers at the piano – as you possibly can imagine, it’s thrilling to listen to his work, to his explanations about the composer or watching him on telly or on Youtube. Or simply finding out that classical music isn’t something for an elite audience but for normal people who are not able to remember the name of the composer but just like or dislike a special piece of music. No wonder that he tries to catch people whereever he can, engaging with his fans on Twitter and on Facebook, offering free music on his soundcloud and promoting his book. A book that is worth every hour reading it.

Screenshot: Petra Breunig

Screenshot: Petra Breunig

Every chapter has an introduction about a special piece of music. There is a play list on Spotify

James Rhodes: Instrumental, Canongate, £16,99.
As ebook on Amazon, iTunes and Google Play Books.

And interview with James Rhodes can be found here.

Alan Turing – His work and impact

If you stumbled across Alan Turing because of the film “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, you may be aware of Andrew Hodges’ biography “The Enigma” – the basis of Graham Moore’s Oscar awarded screenplay.

A much deeper inside look at Alan Turing’s work which helped breaking the German enigma code, shortened the Second World War by at least two years and saved millions of lives, you should read the huge book “Alan Turing – His work and impact” by S. Barry Cooper and Jan van Leewen. Yes, there are lots of mathematical theories, even formulas (something very awful for people like me unable to cope with numbers) but the more than 870 pages, accompanied by indexes and bibliographies are worth reading, browsing through essays about and from Alan.

“He was a genius: he was ‘a wonder of the world’.
Bernards Richards about Alan Turing

One essay that strikes me most  – besides the ones by Alan himself which offer a look inside the brain of a man a colleague described as “a Wonder of the world” – is the piece “Why Turing cracked the Enigma code and the Germans did not” by Klaus Schmeh. The German computer scientist explains that Germans were unable to bring their cryptographers together to find a possible weakness in the Enigma code itself. Despite the fact that German experts were aware of a possible breach, Britain’s success in breaking Enigma was only revealed in the 1970s when details about the codebreaker’s work at Bletchley Park became public.

“Alan Turing – His work and impact” may not be an easy read. But it is worth every try.

S.Barry Cooper, Jan van Leeuwen: Alan Turing – His work an impact, Elsevier, £ 53 can be ordered here.

Foto: pb

Foto: pb


Sherlock Chronicles – a wonderful treat for a fan

Sherlock Chronicles. Photo: pb

Sherlock Chronicles. Photo: pb

You think you do know everything about BBC’s Sherlock? Think twice, dive into the wonderful book “Sherlock Chronicles” written by Steve Tribe and take a stroll from the very beginning (or even before the beginning itself) to the latest episode so far.

The book is stuffed with all kind of information any Sherlockian needs to know. There are deleted scenes-scripts, behind the scenes pictures and interviews with cast and crew members. But was makes this book outstanding compared to other Sherlock fan books is the reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. “Holmes from Holmes”, as the writer names it, shows quotes from the canon and how and where Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat used them in one of the episodes. You will always find it baffling to read and realise again how modern Sherlock Holmes is and always has been – and how brilliant all episodes of “Sherlock” are, how carefully they are arranged and how deep their connection to Doyle is.

“Sherlock Chronicles” is a must have book for every fan and a wonderful gift for a Sherlockian dear to your heart.

Steve Tribe: Sherlock Chronicles. BBC books, Penguin Random House, about 16 £/ 22 €.

Ian Mc Ewan: The Children Act

If you finish a book and you feel empty inside, the same feeling you have when you leave good friends, knowing you will not see them again for quite a while, if ever. If you have this feeling, the book touched you, simply because it is a good book. Ian McEwan’s new novel “The Children Act” is a good book, not because you get a look  inside British society – maybe not as deep if your are not British – but because the story is so intense and well written, that you have to force yourself to interrupt your reading session from time to time. And get things done in real life.

The problems the main character Fiona Maye is facing are situated between her work and her private life as many middle aged woman do. As a leading High Court in London judge Fiona is used to long working days on a regular bases, dealing with heartbreaking family affairs but her most demanding case is different. The 17-year-old Adam is about to refuse medical treatment that would help him with his leukaemia because of his religious believes. In her private life she has to face the problems of her marriage that after 30 years is about to fall into its biggest crises she and her husband – Jack, a professor of ancient history – ever had to cope with.

All these topics are neither new nor thrilling and could be boring, kitschy and simply trash. But only a master writer and narrator can unfold this story in a totally different  and fascinating way. Ian McEwan is a brilliant master, he takes the reader by his hand and won’t let him go till the final page. The only problem is: the novel is unfortunately a too short one.

Photo: pb

Photo: pb

 

Ian McEwan: The Children Act, Vintage Books, £ 16,99/14,95€

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