Monday, January 06, 2014

Book: The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer by Doron Swade

The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer by Doron Swade, Viking, 2000

I knew a little about Babbage and the Difference Engine before reading this book, but now have the full story from beginning to end.

Quite a story, filled with the typical intrigues, financial problems and ultimate failure to complete the Engine.( I don't think I am giving away the ending since most tech folks know about this subject.) The first working Engine was completed in 1991 by the Science Museum, London.

Difference engine

Doron Swade with Babbage's Difference Engine No 2, 2000.

From Amazon.com...

"In 1821, Charles Babbage was reviewing a set of mathematical tables with a colleague in preparation for a scientific presentation when, after finding a wealth of errors, he exclaimed in frustration, "I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam!" With this outburst, Babbage began to envision an end to human errors in the numerical tables upon which finance, trade, science, and navigation relied. The Difference Engine is the fascinating story of his heroic quest, against all odds, to build the first computing machine more than one hundred years before the modern computer we use today was invented.

Set against the politics and science of the explosive early Victorian era, The Difference Engine is a thrilling tale of Babbage's exuberant determination. Like Longitude, The Difference Engine is a fascinating portrait of the human story behind a pivotal moment in history and one of the most influential inventions of our time."

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