Entertainment

Alan Turing's codebreaking notebook could fetch $1M at auction

A handwritten notebook by Alan Turing, the World War II codebreaker played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, is going on the auction block.

Rare manuscript includes notes the British math genius made during WW II

The World War II code-breaking genius Alan Turing, here depicted by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game, wrote in the notebook while trying to solve complex Nazi code. (TIFF)

A handwritten notebook by Alan Turing, the World War II code-breaking genius depicted by Benedict Cumberbatch in the Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game, is going on the auction block.

The 56-page manuscript was written at the time the British mathematician and computer science pioneer was working to break the seemingly unbreakable Enigma codes used by the Germans throughout WW II. It is being sold by Bonhams in New York on April 13. It is expected to bring at least $1 million US.

Complex notes

The notebook contains Turing's complex mathematical and computer science notations. It is believed to be the only extensive Turing manuscript known to exist, the auctioneer said.

Handwritten scientific notes by Alan Turing are to be sold at Bonhams Fine Books & Manuscripts sale in New York on April 13. (Bonhams)

It dates from 1942, when Turing was trying to break the seemingly unbreakable code with his team of cryptanalysts at Britain's WW II code and cypher school Bletchley Park.

In one entry Turing writes about a complex calculus notation.

"The Leibniz notation I find extremely difficult to understand in spite of it having been the one I understood the best once! It certainly implies that some relation between x and y has been laid down eg, y(equals)x2+3x ..."

Held by a friend

The notebook was among the papers he left in his will to friend and fellow mathematician Robin Gandy.

It's believed that Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954. He was gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain and was convicted of indecency in 1952.
​Gandy gave the papers to The Archive Centre at King's College in Cambridge in 1977. But he kept the notebook, using its blank pages for writing down his dreams at the request of his psychiatrist. Bonham describes Gandy's entries as highly personal; the notebook remained in his possession until he died in 1995.

At the beginning of his journal, Gandy writes: "It seems a suitable disguise to write in between these notes of Alan's on notation, but possibly a little sinister; a dead father figure, some of whose thoughts I most completely inherited."

In a statement through Bonhams, Turing scholar Andrew Hodges said the notebook sheds more light on how Turing   "remained committed to free-thinking work in pure mathematics."

The story behind the film

The Imitation Game, which also stars Keira Knightley, is based on Hodges' book Alan Turing: The Enigma.

The Imitation Game stars, Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, explain why it's so important to tell the story of British WWII cryptographer Alan Turing. 2:28

Turing committed suicide in 1954. He was gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain and was convicted of indecency in 1952. He agreed to undergo hormone treatment as an alternative to imprisonment to `cure' his homosexuality.

Bonhams said the seller wished to remain anonymous. Part of the proceeds will be donated to charity.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.