Throwback Thursday: Alan Turing, gift-giving genius

Alan Turing, mathematician, code-breaker and father of modern computing had another talent, wrote his mother, Ethel Sara Turing: gift-giving.

Alan Turing 1912-1954

Alan Turing 1912-1954

"One thing that Alan specialized in was his choice of presents. Not only were they on a very generous scale but great thought and care went in to finding the right gift to suit the age and taste of the recipient... Some of the things in most constant use in my house were his gifts," she said.

I think it’s rather sweet that the mother of one of the greatest minds the world has ever known, thought to highlight ‘gift-giving’ as a particular strength.  

This week’s Throwback Thursday gift is the Bible twenty-six-year-old Alan Turing gave to his mother in 1938.

Sadly, this is the only picture available.

© Bonhams 

© Bonhams 

It is inscribed with "E.S Turing, Christmas" in Alan's handwriting. His mother added "1938, Alan."

It has been suggested that Alan Turing was an atheist. On this subject, his mother said: "He was too reticent about his religious beliefs to reveal just where he stood. He often accompanied me to church at Festivals, as well as attending chapel at King's [College, Cambridge]- things he was too honest to do had he not been, at least, in limited agreement with Christianity"

Whether Alan Turing believed in God or not doesn't matter. It doesn't change the sincerity with which the gift was given. His mother believed in God and the gift was fitting for her.

The fact that Turing gave a Bible and was reticent about his own beliefs demonstrates tolerance. This is especially poignant given the lack of open-mindedness he experienced, prosecuted as he was for homosexuality in 1952.

He might have triumphed with Christmas and birthday presents, but his gift to future generations surpasses them all. 

The best one can do in war (where objecting to fight is not an option) is attempt to reduce its duration and the number of fatalities. In breaking the German enigma code, Turing saved many millions of lives and shortened the war by several years. He also laid the groundwork for artificial intelligence in his paper 'Can Machine's Think?' 

Bonhams, auctioned the Bible in November last year. It sold for £5,000. The notebook in which he laid out the foundations of mathematical notation and computer science sold for £703,275. 

Turing's mother wrote a biography of her son, which you can buy here.