In 1821, 30-year-old inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage was poring over a set of printed mathematical tables with his friend, the astronomer John Herschel. Finding error after error in the manually evaluated results, Babbage made an exclamation, the consequences of which would not only dominate the remaining 50 years of his life, but also lay the foundations for the modern computer industry: 'I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam!' A few days later, he set down a plan to build a machine that would carry out complex mathematical calculations without human intervention and, at least in theory, without human errors. The only technology to which he had access for solving the problem was the cogwheel escapement found inside clocks. Babbage saw that a machine constructed out of hundreds of escapements, cunningly and precisely linked, might be able to handle calculations mechanically. The story of his lifelong bid to construct such a machine is a triumph of human ingenuity, will and imagination.
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(198mm x 127mm x 23mm)
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Country of Publication:
UK Kirkus Review »
Most of us have a love/hate relationship with computers. If you have one the learning curve seems endless: as the computer experts tend to say 'if your system works well, then it's obsolete'. We hang on the telephone interminably while a computer-generated voice fails to itemize the option we want, we watch our screens darken as something crashes and precious information is consigned to oblivion, and we wait, and wait, for the paperless office forecast so long ago to arrive. On the other hand, the computer brings great advantages. It is now ubiquitous and many people take it for granted. How did this computer age come about? This fascinating book takes us back to the beginning. Going back to 1821, it sets out the quest of the mathematician Charles Babbage to create an infallible 'calculating engine'. His approach was pragmatic. The world around him - from ships navigating by the stars to financiers in the City - suffered from the laborious process of calculating using voluminous tables. He aimed to make all this easier. Perhaps Dava Sobel's wonderful Longitude started a trend, but it also exposed an appetite for scientific history. This book weaves a spellbinding tale: of Babbage's life, of his work and of the times in which he lived. It will appeal to both those interested in history and those interested in science. The author, Assistant Director and Head of Collections at London's Science Museum, ends the book by linking to a modern tale. He describes the museum's project to create a full-sized Babbage Engine to coincide with the 200th anniversary of his birth. This completes a compelling, and well-told story and links back to the present day. And how would reviews like this have been produced if Babbage had not existed? (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Doron Swade
Doron Swade is senior curator at the Science Museum in London, and the instigator of the construction of one of Babbage's Difference Engines, completed in 1991.