Books by Bruce Collier

Released: Nov. 1, 1998

This entry in the Portraits in Science series introduces a pioneer of the computer, 19th-century mathematician and philosopher Charles Babbage. Born in 1791 to affluent parents, Babbage excelled in the study of mathematics at Trinity College, Oxford; married young, he chose to support himself and his wife on their modest annual allowances rather than finding a job; one of his pet projects was inspired by his desire to escape dull classroom computations—and thus the idea for the Difference Engine was born. He constructed a small version of this mechanical calculating machine; kudos from the scientific community and financial support from the British government led to the development of a full-fledged prototype. He had to abandon it; his next inspiration, the Analytical Engine, was credited with containing many of the basic elements of an electronic brain (a CPU, memory banks, coded cards for programming), but was never completed either. While the discussions of how Babbage's machines function are fairly sophisticated and involved, the authors capture the inventor's personality, showing the impact the loss of his wife and child had on his work. Numerous sidebars explain the significance of logarithms, early mechanical calculators, the Jacquard Loom, and more. (b&w photographs and reproductions, chronology, further reading, index) (Biography. 12+) Read full book review >