ADA: A Life and a Legacy by Dorothy Stein

ADA: A Life and a Legacy

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Through her collaboration with Charles Babbage and his work on the analytical engine, Ada Lovelace laid the groundwork for what many consider to be the first computer program. (She now has a language named after her.) Her father, Lord Byron, left her and her manipulative mother a month after she was born. He then travelled around the continent with his sexual preferences under some speculation. With a background like this, one would expect an absolutely riveting biography. Unfortunately, Stein manages to cloy this life with a hodgepodge of historical findings and theories. In her attempt to focus on the mathematical, scientific and medical aspects of Ada's life, rather than pursue a chronological format, Stein muddles the underlying character of this singular person. The reader is required to trudge through a blizzard of letters and documents with narratives veering off into too many different directions. She has done a thorough job of investigation but dwells overlong on it, leaving the reader confused by the barrage of conflicting narratives. By recounting Ada's correspondence with her tutors, Stein tries to break down the reputation of scientific genius that Ada managed to acquire. She explains, through some of Ada's questions on particular math problems, what Ada's scientific and mathematical deficiencies were. For readers with scientific and mathematical inclinations, Ada's ""correspondence courses"" can be fascinating and Stein's deductions about Ada's progress will be revealing. But, for a layman, they will be laborious. Stein reveals that it wasn't actually Ada who invented binary arithmetic, but her granddaughter (Judith Lady Wentworth) who independently conceived a method of binary arithmetic in order to assist her calculations of the bloodlines of the Arabian horses she bred. Stein attempts to weave a tale of a complex woman who acquired a label of genius, but she fails to capture Ada as a full person. The awkward and stilted prose makes matters worse. What the reader can cull from this tangled wed of information is that Ada's life was too full and her legacy too rich to be captured. . .at least by Stein.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: MIT Press