ENGINES OF THE MIND: A History of the Computer by Joel N. Shurkin

ENGINES OF THE MIND: A History of the Computer

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A serviceable addition to the growing stock of computer histories--concentrating on 19th- and 20th-century innovators and the controversies among them. Once again we meet Babbage and Byron's daughter, the luckless Ada Lovelace. The jump is made to early census-takers, the first punched cards, and the early WW II years at the U. of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Engineering. The pioneers of digital electronic computers, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, are fleshed out from interviews and correspondence. They have been distinctly riled--apparently with reason--at von Neumann's being given credit for the idea of a computer-stored memory. (Note is also taken of the Iowa-based inventor--now with Navy Ordnance in Maryland--who lays claim to priority in computer design.) These disputes are variously traced to security leaks, lost memos, New York Times stories, patent disputes, papers published without credit to co-authors, and other academic or industrial crises. Shurkin enjoys the gossip and the rivalry--especially between the Moore School and MIT, where engineers were fixated on analog computers and peremptorily dismissed digital machines. In the more recent past, Shurkin recounts tales of Sperry Rand, Univac, IBM, and other well-known names; he ends with a brief look at the current drawing boards. Between Harry Wulforst's Breakthrough to the Computer Age and Robert Sobel's I.B.M., the ground has been exceedingly well covered--but this does both trim down and liven up the story.

Pub Date: March 26th, 1984
Publisher: Norton