BIT BY BIT: An Illustrated History of Computers and Their Inventors by Stan Augarten
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BIT BY BIT: An Illustrated History of Computers and Their Inventors

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One of two new popular histories of the computer (see Stine, below)--and, with its array of illustrations, its unexpected combination of exactitude and charm, easily the standout of the two. Augarten (State of the Art: History of the Integrated Circuit) starts with the abacus: ""the first, and certainly one of the most effective, embodiments of a momentous idea--the notion of using a machine to help us perform intellectual work."" He figures in Napier's invention of logarithms, and a ""clever little gimmick"" (a lattice of rods) to multiply and divide large numbers. And at every step through the invention of the first mechanical calculator (by a German professor named Wilhelm Schickard, not Pascal), Babbage's Difference Engine, Hollerith's punchcard tabulator (""the first data processor""), to ENIAC and the further development of the electronic digital computer, he explains the concepts involved, profiles the inventors, and puts the invention or innovation in context: all, with verve. ""At first glance, the notion of stored instructions doesn't seem particularly clever; but it flies in the face of mechanical tradition. Machines have always been controlled from the outside. . . . But electronic technology made large and fast memories, and therefore stored programs, possible--in fact, necessary."" With UNIVAC, the computer goes commercial, and Augarten combines technological, personal, and business history: this is the more familiar part of the story--the origin of IBM in Tom Watson's salesmanship, MIT's Whirlwind project, automatic programming, the patent and sales wars, the integrated circuit, time-sharing, minicomputers, Fairchild and its spinoffs. . . down to Stephen Wozniak, Steven Jobs, and Apple. Stimulating as well as instructive reading.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1984
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin