Subtitle: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer
The subtitle is subtly wrong. It should be "Quests", plural; Babbage's own, and much later that of Swade and his colleagues at the Science Museum in London to build a working model from Babbage's surviving plans. In both cases, we get as much detail about the search for funding as about the technical challenge. All right, this is important to the history of science: how things get done, how other things are smothered. One Fowler, just after Babbage, came up with a plausible calculator design that wasn't as comprehensive but was much more buildable, probably got no funds because Babbage had poisoned the well.
Nor were Babbage's Engines relevant to the later development of computing, according to Swade himself. The 1991 machine wasn't a reconstruction of a lost piece of the past, it was a reconstruction of a piece of an unlikely and expensive alternative past. But computer-related money was flowing in the 1990s, and there was no little amount of British pride involved, and the thing is lovely in all its precision-machined gleaming parts.
Still, I'd have liked more detail about the parts, more annotated line-drawings of how they fit together, more tables or equations expressing what each stage in the physical machine did. Flip-book illustrations in the corners, for that matter; there was a video of the innards of an Engine at the Museum, a few years ago while the exhibition was still above the fold; not on the website now.
ISBN: 0-670-91020-1So wrote clew in History (19th c.). , Technology. | TrackBack