A notebook on mathematical notations belonging to Alan Turing is on loan to Bletchley Park for a year and is on display alongside 16 of his published papers in Bletchley Park’s B-Block. Seeing it reminds me of a written comment Joan Clarke made about Alan’s ‘bloody little book’:
Joan may not be talking about this exact notebook, although it is the only known notebook of Turing’s in existence, but connecting someone who was close to Alan and has memories of him writing his notes, makes the notebook even more precious.
The 56-page notebook dating from 1942 went up for auction in 2015 at Bonhams auction house and sold for over $1 million. Bonhams’ auction page and catalogue entry for the notebook describe the notebook and contents at great length. You can view the Bonhams’ catalogue here, then click on the ‘download catalogue PDF’ on the right-hand side of the page.
The notebook, purchased from a stationer’s shop in Cambridge, and other papers were left by Turing in his will to his close friend and fellow mathematician, Robin Gandy. Gandy deposited the papers at the Archive Center at King’s College, Cambridge in 1977, opening them up for scholars to research. Gandy kept the notebook to write a dream diary in the blank centre pages, which starts: ‘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.’
Dermot Turing, the nephew of Alan Turing, said: ‘When Alan was at Bletchley Park everyone knows he was breaking the Enigma code. But less well known is that he was also spending a lot of time working on problems in mathematics. He wrote this notebook probably quite early on in World War Two when he was thinking about the way in which we write mathematical formulae. It’s a commentary on what’s wrong with notation.’
Images of the notebook (copyright 2015) are reproduced with the kind permission of Bonhams.