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Turk

This month I have been doing a few last Turk-related things before my next book comes out. First I appeared (or perhaps spoke would be the more accurate word) on Adam Hart-Davis’ Radio 4 programme, “The Eureka Years”, which looks at the inventions from a particular year — in this case, 1769, the year of the Turk’s creation. Then I gave a talk at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, as part of their “Between the Lines” series, in which authors explain the stories behind their books and the challenges they faced in writing them. So I talked about the difficulty of separating Turk-related myth from fact and the help I received from the various Turk enthusiasts around the world (whom I have collectively dubbed the Turk mafia).

The Turk was the subject of several plays and stories during its lifetime, and continued to inspire storytellers long after its demise. This month the classic 1927 silent film, “The Chess Player”, based on the story of the Turk’s mythical encounter with Catherine the Great, is being re-released on DVD. (I provided an extra commentary track.) Meanwhile, at the Edinburgh Festival, a new play, The Principle of Motion, inspired by my book, intertwines the story of Wolfgang von Kempelen with that of Alan Turing as both contemplate the possibility of a thinking machine.

The paperback edition of The Mechanical Turk is now out in the UK, with the US edition to follow in August. Both have jazzy new covers, the UK edition’s inspired by a Victorian handbill, and the US edition’s based on a computer-graphics model of the Turk. The book has also been belatedly noticed by the New York Review of Books, which calls it “lively and thoroughly researched”.

An abridged version of The Mechanical Turk is BBC Radio 4′s Book of the Week starting on Monday, September 2. It is read by Robert Bathurst, otherwise known as “the slimy one” from Cold Feet. In other Turk news, the book has been reviewed by The Onion (America’s real paper of record, of course), and is also the subject of a multimedia Bookwrap.

More reviews are in, including an article on CNN.com and a review in the New York Times Book Review (registration required) which curiously describes the book as having “a lot of cleavage”. Once I get back to Britain, I will be speaking about the Turk at The Royal Institution (June 6), theHay Festival (June 7) and the Extreme Computing 2002 Festival (June 9).

The Turk spent many years touring America, and I will be spending the next few days doing the same to promote my book on the subject. My US campaign kicked off with an interview on NPR, recorded from London; over the next few days I will be popping up in San Francisco (May 27-29), Seattle (May 30), Los Angeles (May 31), New York (June 1-3) and Boston (June 4-5). Full details are available on my publisher’s website.

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