COMPUTER by Martin Campbell-Kelly


A History of the Information Machine
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 A comprehensive history of the computer, much of it standard but with some surprising interpretations. The explosive growth of the Internet has raised public interest in high technology to historic levels, eclipsing even the personal computer craze of the early '80s. In the midst of this unprecedented hype, computer science lecturer Campbell-Kelly (Warwick Univ., England) and Aspray (executive director, Computing Research Association) present not just a biography but a genealogy of the computer. Their story begins in the 19th century, the Dark Ages of inefficient number-crunching, when mathematicians, including the brilliant Charles Babbage, made the first awkward and unsuccessful steps toward calculating machines. Unfortunately, all but the most dedicated techies will drown in the soporific sea of details presented here. But the narrative picks up with the emergence of the first real computers in the '50s, including dinosaurs like the ENIAC, which filled a huge basement room at Harvard and used 18,000 vacuum tubes. The authors adeptly chronicle IBM's rise to dominance in the '60s, the PC revolution of the '80s, and the software wars of the '90s, and they throw into question the cults of personality around such figures as Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, arguing that the personal computer was the result of a rich interplay of cultural forces and commercial interests. Gates's role in particular is reduced to human proportions: He's portrayed as the beneficiary of a generous deal with IBM for the licensing of MS-DOS, insuring a constant cash flow to cover up for early, otherwise fatal mistakes. The authors conclude with an uninspiring chapter on the recent emergence of the Internet. This narrative history should please computer insiders and academics but may leave the lay reader seeking relief with the nearest video game. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 1996
ISBN: 0-465-02989-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996


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