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The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer

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From one of our most acclaimed novelists, a  David-and-Goliath biography for the digital age. One night in the late 1930s, in a bar on the Illinois–Iowa border, John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor of physics at Iowa State University, after a frustrating day performing tedious mathematical calculations in his lab, hit on the idea that the binary number system and electronic From one of our most acclaimed novelists, a  David-and-Goliath biography for the digital age. One night in the late 1930s, in a bar on the Illinois–Iowa border, John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor of physics at Iowa State University, after a frustrating day performing tedious mathematical calculations in his lab, hit on the idea that the binary number system and electronic switches, com­bined with an array of capacitors on a moving drum to serve as memory, could yield a computing machine that would make his life and the lives of other similarly burdened scientists easier. Then he went back and built the machine. It worked. The whole world changed. Why don’t we know the name of John Atanasoff as well as we know those of Alan Turing and John von Neumann? Because he never patented the device, and because the developers of the far-better-known ENIAC almost certainly stole critical ideas from him. But in 1973 a court declared that the patent on that Sperry Rand device was invalid, opening the intellectual property gates to the computer revolution. Jane Smiley tells the quintessentially American story of the child of immigrants John Atanasoff with technical clarity and narrative drive, making the race to develop digital computing as gripping as a real-life techno-thriller.


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From one of our most acclaimed novelists, a  David-and-Goliath biography for the digital age. One night in the late 1930s, in a bar on the Illinois–Iowa border, John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor of physics at Iowa State University, after a frustrating day performing tedious mathematical calculations in his lab, hit on the idea that the binary number system and electronic From one of our most acclaimed novelists, a  David-and-Goliath biography for the digital age. One night in the late 1930s, in a bar on the Illinois–Iowa border, John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor of physics at Iowa State University, after a frustrating day performing tedious mathematical calculations in his lab, hit on the idea that the binary number system and electronic switches, com­bined with an array of capacitors on a moving drum to serve as memory, could yield a computing machine that would make his life and the lives of other similarly burdened scientists easier. Then he went back and built the machine. It worked. The whole world changed. Why don’t we know the name of John Atanasoff as well as we know those of Alan Turing and John von Neumann? Because he never patented the device, and because the developers of the far-better-known ENIAC almost certainly stole critical ideas from him. But in 1973 a court declared that the patent on that Sperry Rand device was invalid, opening the intellectual property gates to the computer revolution. Jane Smiley tells the quintessentially American story of the child of immigrants John Atanasoff with technical clarity and narrative drive, making the race to develop digital computing as gripping as a real-life techno-thriller.

30 review for The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    In the Balkans, you hear many seemingly crazy things. Some of them are true. For example, in the late 1980's, I lived in Bucharest. During that time, several unwashed strangers approached me, shaking with terror, to whisper that the secret police were building a network of secret tunnels under the city, one of which had an outlet in the music school across the street from the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section building. I listened politely but thought: yeah, right, whatever, a network of tunnels.... In the Balkans, you hear many seemingly crazy things. Some of them are true. For example, in the late 1980's, I lived in Bucharest. During that time, several unwashed strangers approached me, shaking with terror, to whisper that the secret police were building a network of secret tunnels under the city, one of which had an outlet in the music school across the street from the U.S. Embassy's Consular Section building. I listened politely but thought: yeah, right, whatever, a network of tunnels.... I left Romania before the shooting started but later read newspaper reports that, indeed, the secret police had built a network of tunnels, with the outlet near the U.S. Embassy. Similarly, here in Bulgaria, people will tell you (sometimes at length) that the computer was actually invented by an American of Bulgarian ancestry named John Atanasoff (1903-1995), who was then cheated out of the recognition he deserved. Don't rush to dismiss them. While this statement is debatable, depending on your definition of “invented”, “cheated”, and “deserved”, there is a strong case for Atanasoff, including a 1973 US Federal Court decision (Honeywell v. Sperry Rand) which assigned Atanasoff the credit for inventing “the automatic electronic computer”. Best-selling fiction writer Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres, Moo) has engaged in an unlikely attempt to rehabilitate Atanasoff. Since there is a limit to the amount of time that I, given the necessity of eating, sleeping, and pathetic attempts to earn a living, can spend taking in Balkan-related writing, I was pleased to see that this book is available in 8+-hour unabridged audio format, so it can be ingested while driving and exercising, for example. This is a good book to experience in this manner. Like many successful authors, Smiley seemingly has left behind the tyranny of editors. As a result, there are a few instances of unclear writing and borderline libellous statements. More frequently, the book has a bad case of “No Index Card Left Behind” Syndrome, meaning that no detail is too small, tangential, or irrelevant to be excluded. As a result, the book includes an explanation why the university land grant system came later to the southeastern section of the US than other areas, the full titles and authors' names of the children's science books that competing scientists read when young, and a list of distinguished Hungarians of the early twentieth century. There are many, many other examples. However, this great pile of detail is somehow less bothersome when heard than read. The experience is like being with a friend who learned some interesting stuff and is relaxed enough in your presence to let her knowledge flow naturally. The factual claims in Smiley's underdog genius story have drawn some abuse on line (especially from partisans of rival scientists' claims), but I'm not sure that this means that they are not true. However, even sympathetic listeners will notice Smiley's tendency to interpret all available facts in Atanasoff's favor. For example, when a rival scientist stays at Atanasoff's home and Atanasoff's wife notices that the guest's bedroom light is on far into the night, this is taken as evidence that the rival scientist is busy making notes in order to steal Atanasoff's ideas. Possibly true, but maybe he was an insomniac? Afraid of the dark? Reading an especially engrossing novel? Writing a passionate letter to his wife? In the habit of sleeping with the light on? I invite you to study the case of John Atanasoff as a exercise in divergent thinking and using your own good judgment. From the Balkan angle, this story will seem familiar to anyone who has ever talked to a Serbian about Nikola Tesla. It highlights how the same set of facts can array themselves variously in a person's mind when shined through the lens of differing cultural heritage and national pride. Like Atanasoff, Tesla died in relative obscurity in the US in spite of undeniable genius. If you view these stories from the American point of view, these men were victims of bad luck combined with their inability, born partly of self-centered arrogance and lack of practicality, to play according to the rules of the society which hosted them. They therefore deserved, more or less, their less-than-happy fates. From the Balkan point of view, these men were preyed upon and betrayed by jumped-up American hypocrites whose only real talents were for theft and deception. This book, in whatever form you consume it, is an opportunity for you to pay your money and take your choice.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chet

    A great non-geek, but technical report of the WW II era computer pioneers including Turing, von Neumann, Zuse (in Europe), and others. Atanasoff has been presented by others as being an underdog, but he was apparently a crank who died rich. Was Atanasoff's graduate assistant later killed because he was the only other witness in a patent trial who could testify to their use of vacuum tubes as relays? Zuse had a blind programmer and was trying to build his computer in Europe while it was being bom A great non-geek, but technical report of the WW II era computer pioneers including Turing, von Neumann, Zuse (in Europe), and others. Atanasoff has been presented by others as being an underdog, but he was apparently a crank who died rich. Was Atanasoff's graduate assistant later killed because he was the only other witness in a patent trial who could testify to their use of vacuum tubes as relays? Zuse had a blind programmer and was trying to build his computer in Europe while it was being bombed. (Did Braille influence the development of binary characters?) Turing's interactions are also noted (although these have already been well published). These people were not a lot of boring geeks. There is a lot of emotion and intrigue here!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Richard Saunders

    More about the pre-ENIAC history of the digital computer than about Atanasoff himself, but the story fits together very well and very readably. The book begins with Atanasoff and the creation of ABC at Iowa State. The author draws into the story the characters who were involved independently in similar projects at about the same time. The development of computing hardware ideas and relationships across the Atlantic during the Second World War is the central piece of the book, such as Alan Turing More about the pre-ENIAC history of the digital computer than about Atanasoff himself, but the story fits together very well and very readably. The book begins with Atanasoff and the creation of ABC at Iowa State. The author draws into the story the characters who were involved independently in similar projects at about the same time. The development of computing hardware ideas and relationships across the Atlantic during the Second World War is the central piece of the book, such as Alan Turing and a German I've never heard of, Konrad Zuse, with von Neumann's seminal report placed in context. There is plenty of data on ENIAC's creators and Colossus, but importantly the book provides context of how Mauchly's development of digital computing's logical architecture was lifted from earlier contact and how much traces back to Atanasoff. The book narrates Mauchly and Eckert's development of the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC, and winds up with the 1973 court decision that invalidated the Sperry Rand patent acquired from that pair--the action that created the legal open space for developing desktop computing architecture less than five years later. The whole thing is a study in how small decisions and actions have enormous consequences. A terrific short read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Adam Oline

    An interesting look at the various characters involved in the invention of the computer. Whether John Vincent Atanasoff truly invented the computer or not is still a controversial subject among some circles, but there is no doubt that Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry invented a computing machine while Atanasoff was a physics professor at Iowa State University (then Iowa State College) in 1939. The device was created specifically to solve differential equations to aid Atanasoff in so An interesting look at the various characters involved in the invention of the computer. Whether John Vincent Atanasoff truly invented the computer or not is still a controversial subject among some circles, but there is no doubt that Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry invented a computing machine while Atanasoff was a physics professor at Iowa State University (then Iowa State College) in 1939. The device was created specifically to solve differential equations to aid Atanasoff in solving physics problems that were incredibly laborious and time-consuming to work using traditional methods of the day. The Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC), as it came to be known, was shown to work on multiple occasions, and in the 1973 decision of a patent case that determined the origins of the first digital electronic computer, the judge decided that the ABC, which predated the ENIAC computer, was in fact the first, and some of its pioneering concepts were incorporated into the ENIAC by John Mauchly (who visited Atanasoff in Ames, IA to see the ABC before starting work on the ENIAC) and J. Presper Eckert. As an alum of Iowa State University and its Computer Science department, which is based out of a building named after Atanasoff, I am of course supportive of the patent decision. What I found most interesting about Smiley's book was that while it centers around Atanasoff's work, she weaves in the tales of other significant individuals who contributed significantly to the invention of the computer, including Mauchly and Eckert, Konrad Zuse who basically invented his own computing machine in his parents' basement while isolated in Germany before and during WWII, and Alan Turing and Johnny Flowers, who worked on code-breaking machines at Bletchley Park in England that were critical to the Allied victory. Having just heard Jane Smiley talk about this book during a return visit to Iowa State University last night, I particularly liked her characterization of John Mauchly not as a thief or villain, but as a conduit who helped get Atanasoff's groundbreaking ideas out of the somewhat isolated land grant university in the middle of Iowa to the commercial world, where the power of capitalism and availability of resources to fight the war helped propel the innovation further and further, to the point where the phone in my pocket can now solve Atanasoff's physics problems a million times faster than the ABC, and without punch cards! Overall I enjoyed this book a lot and it has piqued my interest to read other accounts and biographies of all the significant individuals involved in the origin of the computer. I would have given 4 stars but the writing seemed a bit disjointed at times and glossed over aspects that I would have liked to see explored in more detail.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    The history of computing is one of my favourite topics. While I had heard about Atanasoff and his ABC computer before, and even that it was judged to be the first computer in a legal case, I never knew the details of either. This book does a good job of covering both the ABC and the early years of modern computing. Despite the book's name, Smiley realizes that one person did not invent the computer. What we think of as a "modern computer" is a broad collection of ideas, including high-speed rando The history of computing is one of my favourite topics. While I had heard about Atanasoff and his ABC computer before, and even that it was judged to be the first computer in a legal case, I never knew the details of either. This book does a good job of covering both the ABC and the early years of modern computing. Despite the book's name, Smiley realizes that one person did not invent the computer. What we think of as a "modern computer" is a broad collection of ideas, including high-speed random-access memory, secondary storage (e.g. disk), programmability, and, of course, accurate and high-speed computation. While these ideas might seem obvious today, in the 1940s they not only had to be discovered for the first time, but also reliable and efficient implementations had to be found. Most early computers up to, and including, ENIAC, did not implement them all, and so are not really modern computers. The ABC, for instance, "only" solved systems of linear equations. It could not be programmed to do anything else. To call the ABC the first computer is not satisfying since programmability is one of the key elements of a modern computer. Smiley understands this, and so spends time discussing the ideas and accomplishments of other computer researchers of the day. The invention of the computer was a group effort that combined both theoretical and practical ideas from many people. Atanasoff was probably the first to implement a few of them, but he didn't implement them all, and may not have grasped the idea of a computer being a universal machine that could be programmed to do *any* computation. Konrad Zuse may be a better candidate for the title "inventor of the computer" since he implemented the first Turing-complete electronic computer machine in 1941. The book ends with a discussion of John von Neumann. Von Neumann is linked to the invention of the computer thanks to his name being the only one on the draft report of the EDVAC. The report was a team effort, but von Neumann was the rock star, one of the greatest mathematicians of the century (even ignoring his work on computation). He also had military and political connections, and so ultimately got more credit than he probably deserved. Yet he was a fascinating and important figure, and much of the work he later did on his own computer project was also important. While it can be said that he definitely did not invent the computer, he did help popularize it, and had a hand in designing some of its basic components. He also understood the importance of Alan Turing's theoretical work that put the instructions for controlling a computer into its memory along with all the other data.

  6. 4 out of 5

    D.C. Palter

    While Jane Smiley is a fabulous writer, this was far from one of her better efforts. There are a number of problems - first, what should have been an exciting story of a man robbed of his invention turns out to be a dry recitation of facts, not well put together, and surprisingly not well written. Second, almost all the material seems to come from the patent trial, and is highly biased. There's no doubt that Atanasoff was one of the inventors of the computer, but to assert that he is "the invent While Jane Smiley is a fabulous writer, this was far from one of her better efforts. There are a number of problems - first, what should have been an exciting story of a man robbed of his invention turns out to be a dry recitation of facts, not well put together, and surprisingly not well written. Second, almost all the material seems to come from the patent trial, and is highly biased. There's no doubt that Atanasoff was one of the inventors of the computer, but to assert that he is "the inventor" seems unfair to the other people also instrumental in its birth. Smiley makes a good case that Atanasoff created the forerunner of Eniac, and that it partially functioned and was probably entitled to patent protection if Iowa State had recognized its value, but it didn't, and neither did Atanasoff, nor the miliary, nor anyone else except the Eniac group who then built their own and commercialized the technology. So from a patent point of view, he could be considered the inventor of a particular generation of computer, but Atanasoff was not the person who brought the computer to the world. The book reads partially as a legal brief explaining the evidence for why Atanasoff should be considered the inventor and not the Eniac group, rather than telling a story of what seem like some very interesting people. Lastly, the book is mostly dumbed down. There is little discussion of the technology, how it worked, why choices were made (other than lack of money and time) and how it has evolved into what we know as the computer.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Owen

    I was looking forward to reading this but was pretty disappointed. The author has obviously spent a lot of time researching the facts. Unfortunately she spends most of her time repeating every bit of information she found instead of constructing a compelling narrative.

  8. 4 out of 5

    David P

    This is an interesting book on a relevant, timely and somewhat controversial subject. Relevant, because hardly anyone's life on Earth is unaffected by computers: they handle communications, control machinery, perform intricate bookkeeping for banks and credit companies, keep track of inventories, store images and contents of books, edge out printed newspapers, and much more. Timely, because relatively few computer users know what makes those machines tick, or are aware of the amazing story of This is an interesting book on a relevant, timely and somewhat controversial subject. Relevant, because hardly anyone's life on Earth is unaffected by computers: they handle communications, control machinery, perform intricate bookkeeping for banks and credit companies, keep track of inventories, store images and contents of books, edge out printed newspapers, and much more. Timely, because relatively few computer users know what makes those machines tick, or are aware of the amazing story of their beginnings (they are still evolving). And controversial... we will come to that too. Their arrival was rather unexpected: even H.G. Wells never included them in any future scenario in his sci-fi books of the first half of the 1900s. The full story would be too much for any ordinary book, or for any ordinary reader, so Jane Smiley wisely focuses just on early developments, when inspired individuals introduced basic principles and constructed rudimentary hardware, before solid state electronics gave computers mind boggling versatility, speed and complexity. The main thread here is the life and career of John Atanasoff, physicist at the Iowa State College (later, University) in Ames. Together with Clifford Berry, he designed and built there, at the end of the 1930s, the "Atanasoff-Berry-Computer" (ABC), the world's first electronic computer, using vacuum tubes, a storage drum of electric capacitors and an output encoded on charred computer cards. Those output cards, by the way, missed about one in 100,000 signals, which sounds excellent but is unacceptably high. Shades of hanging chads! Quite a few other individuals contributed to early progress. Alan Turing in England formulated the basic theory, Konrad Zuse in Germany devised computers with interlocking bars and telephone relays, "Johnny" Von Neumann further developed the basic concepts and made them widely known, Tommy Flowers (also in England) led the design of the "Collosus" computer that broke German codes during WW II, John Mauchly and Presper Eckert produced "ENIAC", Howard Aitken created "Mark I" at IBM, and others. Venues were as diverse as the secret British facilities at Bletchley Park and Dollis hill, the Moore college of Engineering in Philadelphia, a barn in the Austrian village of Hinterstein and a Minneapolis courtroom. All modern computers are based on the mathematical manipulation and storage of numbers, generally encoded in base 2. Such a "binary code," using only numerals 1 and 0, is the simplest way of representing whole numbers; the limited notation can make encoded numbers quite long, but that is a minor problem compared to working with additional digits, as ENIAC did (interestingly, the genetic code uses base 4, very close to binary). This book includes appendices that try to explain binary math to average readers, and the kind of calculations which became feasible with the new tools. Lay readers following Smiley's mathematical sampler may need interest and ability in visualizing complex abstractions! All these principles can be implemented in various ways: telephone relays (developed for rotary dials) were quite reliable, but vacuum tubes were much faster and transistors much more durable and compact. Nowadays microscopic transistor circuits deposited and etched on silicon chips have all those virtues, use power sparingly and are blazingly fast. The basic ideas, however, date back to the early testbed computers. They were slow and hampered by unreliable hardware and unrefined software, but theirs is the most interesting part of the story, highlighted here. A special challenge was the storage of inputs, outputs and intermediate results: punched cards and tapes, input plugboards, charred dots on cards, sound waves bouncing back and forth in a tube filled with mercury, electron beams inside early video tubes --none of these lasted long, but they all bear testimony to ingenuity. If one thing is missing in this book, it is a better insight into the personal life of John Atanasoff, supremely inventive and systematic, yet also somewhat self-effacing. One would have liked to know him better, indeed to get better understanding of many of the personalities named above, However, we are too late now. The final drama played out in 1973, in a courtroom in Minneapolis, where the Honeywell corporation, claiming that Atanaoff was the original inventor of the foundations of the later ENIAC, contested a 1964 patent given to Mauchly and Eckert. By then computers had evolved and had entered wide use, so the question was less of royalties (none of the inventors got rich) than of prestige. After extensive testimony the court awarded the priority to Atanasoff; the controversy ought to have ended there, but as the last chapter makes clear, it did not, and hard feelings persisted. Before I opened this book I had read about the early history of computers in a delightful book with many color illustrations, published in 1984 by Stan Augarten and titled "Bit by Bit." If you can find a copy, by all means read it! It presents a wider history than this one, from early mechanical calculators to the Apple computer. But on one point it may be questioned: after telling the story of the first Iowa computer, the book notes that Atanasoff "after leaving Iowa State in 1942 ... lost all interest in computers." That is not at all what one reads here; one just gets the feeling that Atanasoff was overtaken by a larger effort with more generous funding, organized by those who appropriated his ideas. The Iowa school was supposed to apply for a patent after Atanasoff left for the war effort, but neglected to do so. Read both books and judge for yourself. I looked up the Amazon.com web site, where both books are offered for sale ("Bit by Bit" through dealers in used books), together with comments by readers and their evaluations, rated from one star to five. Interestingly, "Bit by Bit" is uniformly (and deservedly) rated with five stars, while with "The Man who Invented the Computer," half the reviews (including one by a John Mauchly) award just one star, the lowest rating. There must be some explanation for those skewed ratings and one wonders what it might be. If only the two books could somehow be merged!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Summers-Stay

    This book says it is a biography of Atanasoff, but it talks just as much about Zuse, Turing, Von Neumann, Eckert, and Mauchly. The ABC was important-- the first electronic digital computer-- but it wasn't a universal machine. ENIAC (1946) was a universal Turing machine, but the programming was still done by physical rewiring. It was the SSEM and Mark I (1948) out of Manchester that were the first computers that used software, storing programs in the same way they stored data. A compiler, for exa This book says it is a biography of Atanasoff, but it talks just as much about Zuse, Turing, Von Neumann, Eckert, and Mauchly. The ABC was important-- the first electronic digital computer-- but it wasn't a universal machine. ENIAC (1946) was a universal Turing machine, but the programming was still done by physical rewiring. It was the SSEM and Mark I (1948) out of Manchester that were the first computers that used software, storing programs in the same way they stored data. A compiler, for example, was only possible on the Mark I. Anyway, the book is mostly about who got what ideas from who, which I guess is important, but I didn't really care that much about who gets credit. I just wanted to understand better how we had gotten from specialized punch card machines and analog electronic designs to universal digital computers. Although it didn't mention much about it in the book, I think IBM deserves a lot of credit for building the first commercially available computers. The Mark I was built in 1948 and within four years IBM had managed to come up with a design that was able to be mass produced, the IBM 701.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sean Reeves

    It's a rather cluttered biography, populated by too many characters interacting in a complex enterprise. Consequently, the character of the protagonist, Atanasoff, fails to develop any real depth. I ended up knowing what he did and when he did it but I never felt a connection with him, which a successful biography should stimulate. He was a brilliant and quirky character but the depiction of his personality remains superficial in Jane Smiley's account.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    The modern computer had many early developers. The book focuses on Atanasoff original ABC computer and other key people involved in development of the computer. The computer evolved as numerous people worked to create workable machines, mostly in order to further their nations' efforts in World War II.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan Rozanski

    Few know about the ABC computer (Atanasoff Berry Computer). It is thought that the guys from U. of Penn stole Atanasoff's ideas to build ENIAC.....I think that they did.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Relstuart

    The idea that a computer was needed was something that occurred to several people around the world around the same time in the late 1930 and early 40s. Calculations for physics were getting longer and longer and no less necessary as physics expanded as we learned more about the world(s). Atanasoff was a brilliant son of a Bulgarian emigrant whose thesis in college required some of those long calculations to illustrate his theory. Along with an assistant while working for Iowa State College (he t The idea that a computer was needed was something that occurred to several people around the world around the same time in the late 1930 and early 40s. Calculations for physics were getting longer and longer and no less necessary as physics expanded as we learned more about the world(s). Atanasoff was a brilliant son of a Bulgarian emigrant whose thesis in college required some of those long calculations to illustrate his theory. Along with an assistant while working for Iowa State College (he turned down Harvard) he created the world's first digital computer in an effort to save the many hours these calculations required. It featured seven features not created or combined by any other calculating machine: 1. Electronic computing 2. Vacuum tubes as the computing mechanism and operating memory 3. Binary calculation (zeros and ones instead of digits one thru nine) 4. Logical calculation 5. Serial Computation (each step followed a previous one) 6. Capacitors as storage memory 7. Capacitors attached to a rotating drum that refreshed the power supply of the vacuum tubes and maintained or refreshed the operating memory. This machine was tested and operational in 1940. A visiting scientist (Mauchly) spent several days at the college in 1941 taking many notes and during the war years built a machine that used many of the ideas Atanasoff put together. He and a partner requested a patent which was granted for a variety of these ideas. Atanasoff worked with Iowa State to get a patent for his ideas but the college never followed thru and spent the money to file the patent. Atanasoff worked for the Navy doing key scientific work during the war and continued to work special projects for the Navy and Army into the Cold War including how to measure the impact of atomic explosions. Meanwhile, the world of computing proceeded to grow and Mauchly and partner sold his patents off to Sperry Rand who had an agreement with IBM and built computers based off the ideas Mauchly patented. Atanasoff didn't get much involved in anything to do with this realm until his assistant that helped him build his computer died. It's never been completely cleared up whether it was murder or not but Atansoff suspected it could have been and that it could have been related to silencing him about their computer, and the related patents, now worth very substantial amounts of money. A lawsuit was brought against Sperry Rand (by an American company, Honeywell) and the court reviewed all the evidence as to what was created and how/and when Mauchly came up with his computer. The lawsuit was a massive undertaking with over 70 witnesses called to testify in person with depositions from another eighty, over thirty thousand exhibits were offered, and the transcript for the court was over twenty thousand pages. Honeywell's brief was five hundred pages long and it's key claim was that was no difference between what Mauchly learned from Atanasoff and what he claimed later to have invented on his own. The court considered the massive amounts of evidence and testimony and gave a decisive ruling for Atanasoff as the creator of the computer. Other scientists around the world also worked on creating some similar machines during the same time as Atanasoff but there is no evidence of any connection between these creators and Atanasoff's creation remains first in time. Despite the victory in court some controversy still remains as Atanasoff has not always been given credit for his discovery and creation. The book points to Rand corporate sponsored displays at the Smithsonian that initially did not include Atanasoff until people complained other people were given credit and Atanasoff was not mentioned. It would seem the question was decided in court and so should be beyond controversy but it appears the court's decision has not convinced all parties.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Matt Kuhns

    On the whole, informative and entertaining. I may have something of a different perspective from an imaginary “neutral” reader, admittedly, having spent nearly half my life as a student or alumnus of Iowa State University, and thus knowing the story of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer as something of a local legend, one might say. Smiley’s version of the story broadly resembles the simplified, somewhat self-deprecating version of the ABC legend I condensed down for my own purposes, i.e. yes, the com On the whole, informative and entertaining. I may have something of a different perspective from an imaginary “neutral” reader, admittedly, having spent nearly half my life as a student or alumnus of Iowa State University, and thus knowing the story of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer as something of a local legend, one might say. Smiley’s version of the story broadly resembles the simplified, somewhat self-deprecating version of the ABC legend I condensed down for my own purposes, i.e. yes, the computer was invented at Iowa State University… and then put in a closet and forgotten while the computer industry developed elsewhere. That interpretation does seem to match events pretty accurately, it turns out (at least, events as recorded/interpreted by Smiley, an issue I’ll come back to). Though Smiley provides a number of interesting details along the way. One such detail is the funding available to Atanasoff which, even allowing for several decades of inflation, was so laughably small as to be kind of cute, particularly when compared with the money devoted to other computer-development projects. And then there is the fact that Atanasoff and ISU did in fact initiate the patenting process on the computer. Smiley doesn’t speculate much on what might have happened had the patent application actually been filed, and granted. Perhaps Atanasoff’s name would be better-known, though the history of the computer might not have been much different overall, simply because Atanasoff was so far ahead of his time; his patent would presumably have expired in the early 1960s, when computers were still mostly room-sized specialty machines after all. In any event, indifference, assumptions and a little thing called World War II intervened. Atanasoff went off to Washington where he remained throughout the war and after, he assumed that ISU and the attorney they’d hired were pursuing the patent filing, ISU neglected the project instead, neither it nor the attorney thought to mention this to Atanasoff, and by the time he thought to ask, the ENIAC was being demonstrated and Atanasoff felt like the moment had passed. Much like I’d always assumed, then, really: great invention stuffed in a closet and forgotten. Of course, Atanasoff didn’t realize until much later that, contrary to the impression given by Mauchly and Eckert, their computer and its successors drew heavily on Mauchly’s observations of the ABC. At least, according to Smiley and the U.S. courts; apparently the significance of Atanasoff and his invention are still the subject of fierce argument. A few months ago I read an interview with Smiley which made reference to heated wars playing out in Amazon.com reviews over her assertions; the interview itself quickly attracted comments rubbishing Atanasoff, the ABC and Smiley as well. I imagine Wikipedia articles on these subjects are fought over with ferocity I don’t even want to know about. All of which, frankly, I find greatly amusing. I suspect that if 100 randomly-selected Americans were asked who invented the computer, one or two at most would come up with a name of any of the men profiled in Smiley’s book. Far more people would probably guess Steve Jobs, or perhaps Bill Gates; I imagine that most would admit having no idea whatsoever. I sense that the arguments among those who do take notice are, thus, like something Henry Kissinger is supposed to have said: “Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bill Conrad

    This is a fantastic read about the early history of the computer. A lot of people were working on the technology, but John Atanasoff made many of the fundamental contributions. Mainly that binary and electronic was the way to go. Jane Smiley did a wonderful job of presenting the facts and I was really fascinated by the tale. I learned a great deal and this was a fantastic book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Think of “the first computer” and you probably think of the Eniac, that room-filling contraption, all lights and wires, that had less overall computing power than now comes in a $10 digital watch. The Eniac is generally considered the first computer, but author Jane Smiley again turns her hand to nonfiction to tell a different story about the invention of the computer. John Atanasoff, the son of immigrants, had the mind of a mathematician and the sense of an inventor from childhood. A precocious s Think of “the first computer” and you probably think of the Eniac, that room-filling contraption, all lights and wires, that had less overall computing power than now comes in a $10 digital watch. The Eniac is generally considered the first computer, but author Jane Smiley again turns her hand to nonfiction to tell a different story about the invention of the computer. John Atanasoff, the son of immigrants, had the mind of a mathematician and the sense of an inventor from childhood. A precocious student, he went into physics and earned a doctorate at 26. But the complicated calculations necessary for much of his work took up an inordinate amount of time and effort, so he began to think about, and work on, a machine that would perform these functions accurately and quickly. At the same time, Alan Turing in England — best known for his work as an Enigma codebreaker — and Konrad Zuse in Germany were working on calculating machines of their own. And others in the U.S. had projects of varying degrees of similarity in the works. Atanasoff’s machine was uniquely innovative, and though he shared information about it with others, he didn’t realize his ideas were being stolen. He pressed Iowa State College, where he was employed, to patent his machine, but the college never filed the paperwork. The inventors of the Eniac went on to patent their creation. However, a lawsuit that culminated in a federal court decision in 1973 invalidated the Eniac patent, saying that the machine “derived that subject matter from one Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff.” After the decision, the world of computing opened up, and then exploded into what we know today. This story is involved and complicated — a “peculiar and tortured path,” as Smiley puts it — with lots of people, and the author does a good job of helping us keep all the facts and the characters straight. Plus, the book is filled with fascinating facts, and the technical details are explained in such a way that they are clear to non-techies but don’t feel “dumbed down.” The writing feels a little flat sometimes, perhaps because Smiley is pulling in information from numerous sources and having to simplify complex concepts and systems (there are more detailed explanations in the appendices). But overall, the book is an interesting look at the origins of what has become an indispensable part of our society. http://www.kansas.com/2011/01/02/1655...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I set this book aside over a year ago for some reason, and over that time my opinion of it became unfavorable. When I finally picked it up again I was surprised to find it much, much better than I remembered. I think I must have been distracted by something external, and then backed into a poor recollection of the book to justify not finishing. Funny how the mind works... In any case, there's a lot going on in this short book. The main narrative concerns a physicist named John Atanasoff, who desi I set this book aside over a year ago for some reason, and over that time my opinion of it became unfavorable. When I finally picked it up again I was surprised to find it much, much better than I remembered. I think I must have been distracted by something external, and then backed into a poor recollection of the book to justify not finishing. Funny how the mind works... In any case, there's a lot going on in this short book. The main narrative concerns a physicist named John Atanasoff, who designed and built a functioning digital computer while employed at Iowa State College in the late 1930s - early 40s. Among the small number of people who became aware of his work was John Mauchly, who went on to found the company that became Sperry Rand. Many years later, Honeywell and Control Data Corporation filed a lawsuit against Sperry, alleging that Mauchly's original patent on the electronic digital computer was unfairly derived from Atanasoff's work and therefore invalid. Having a very technical intellectual property dispute at the center of the story could result in a mind-numbingly dull book, but Smiley transcends this challenge, in the process delivering little masterpieces of characterization like the following: "When J. Presper Eckert's second wife remarked that Mauchly could not have put together ENIAC without Eckert, but that Eckert would not have thought of it without Mauchly, she was portraying Mauchly as a certain type of genius - a disorganized dreamer full of inspiration that comes from nowhere. However, everyone, including those who knew him through Atanasoff, remarked on his sociable nature and his aptitude for conversation, and so the evidence is that his ideas did come from somewhere - from others, if only in embryonic form. This, too, accords with certain theories of creativity [...] that 'genius' is a social phenomenon, that ideas grow out of human intercourse, that certain communities produce a wealth of talent because of certain mores of interaction." Smiley digresses a bit to include the stories of some other solitary thinkers whose work paralleled Atanasoff's: Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers in England, Konrad Zuse in Germany. Circumstances were such that their work led to dead ends, as far as the later development of digital computers is concerned. Ironically, Atanasoff's ideas may well have suffered the same fate had they not been nicked by the more ambitious and better-connected Mauchly.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Roger Blakesley

    I learned much about the first digital computer that I didn't know from this book. When I was a student at Iowa State in the early '80s a freely touchable replica of the Atanasoff-Berry computer was in an alcove of the Physics buiding and students could walk by and touch touch it if they wished; but they never did. The next time I saw that replica, it was fully restored and behind glass in hushed conditions in a museum in Des Moines, Iowa thirty years later. I laughed at the irony. I think the re I learned much about the first digital computer that I didn't know from this book. When I was a student at Iowa State in the early '80s a freely touchable replica of the Atanasoff-Berry computer was in an alcove of the Physics buiding and students could walk by and touch touch it if they wished; but they never did. The next time I saw that replica, it was fully restored and behind glass in hushed conditions in a museum in Des Moines, Iowa thirty years later. I laughed at the irony. I think the replica is now back home at Iowa State. The book covers the parallel confluent forces that culminated in one of the most culture-changing technologies in history. Sometimes I didn't know where she was going and quite a bit of extraneous material could have been excised; in particular too much material on Alan Turing. The book climaxes with the seeming murder of the co-engineer, Berry, and the trial at which the retired Atanasoff decides to claim his place in history. And he achieves it in a powerful courtroom drama, readily trouncing his ennervated enemy, Mauchly; justice is somewhat accomplished. But Berry's seeming murder remains a closed case. And a fascinating and isolated story of another lone inventor, no math genius he; but an artist; in Nazi Germany who by great cleverness also invents a digital base-two computer, Konrad Zuse. If the history books are to ever be correct, the names of the true inventors of the modern digital computer should be listed as Atanasoff-Berry AND Zuse. I could tell the author was well experienced with much writing behind her. I would have cut the book by 1-4th. But the entirety that I did read was still incredibly informative and enjoyable.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Marty

    I was interested in reading this book because John Atanasoff built his computer while he was at Iowa State in the 1930s and also because the author of the book used to teach at Iowa State. I think the book is mis-titled. It should be "The History of the Computer" or "The Story of the Computer Patent." It really isn't very much about the man John Atanasoff, but about how he really was the first one to come up with the idea for an electrical computing machine and the first to build one. The book t I was interested in reading this book because John Atanasoff built his computer while he was at Iowa State in the 1930s and also because the author of the book used to teach at Iowa State. I think the book is mis-titled. It should be "The History of the Computer" or "The Story of the Computer Patent." It really isn't very much about the man John Atanasoff, but about how he really was the first one to come up with the idea for an electrical computing machine and the first to build one. The book talks about other computer inventors and about how World War II was a great influence on the history of the computer. A man named Mauchly has gotten credit for inventing the computer, but as the book shows, he got his ideas during a visit to Iowa State to see Atanasoff's computer. The author did a good job of explaining how computers work and what calculus is and why calculus is too time-consuming to do by hand and why computers can do it much faster. I kind of understood it at the time I was reading it, but I certainly couldn't explain it now. Interesting fact - the term "bit" is a binary digit. I still don't understand "binary" math as opposed to decimal system of math. (Arabic numerals grow bigger right to left because Arabic is read right to left) The term "digital" refers to counting on the fingers (digits). Interesting. One incident in the book should be turned into a whole book. It is possible that Clifford Berry, who helped Atanasoff build his computer at Iowa State, was murdered because of the legal battle between two big companies over the patent rights to the computer. Now that would make a good book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Torres

    The first half of this book is tremendously more interesting than the second. In the first half the author gives an exceptionally good and interesting explanation of how the second world war gave rise to the creation of the first computers, with several important figures working mostly independently and without much collaboration. Some of the people described in this book are well known like Alan Turing and John von Neuman John von Neuman but others of equal importances are less known (at leas The first half of this book is tremendously more interesting than the second. In the first half the author gives an exceptionally good and interesting explanation of how the second world war gave rise to the creation of the first computers, with several important figures working mostly independently and without much collaboration. Some of the people described in this book are well known like Alan Turing and John von Neuman John von Neuman but others of equal importances are less known (at least to me) like Konrad Zuse, Tommy Flowers and the man in which this book is centered John Vincent Atanasoff . The second half of this book is less interesting, because although it makes an important case, and gives the deserved credit to Atanasoff for creating the first automatic electronic digital computer, it is about the trail Honeywell v. Sperry Rand in which this invention (among other things) was argued. Books I've read that are relevant or related to this book: Speak (Novel) Alan Turing: The Enigma

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pierre Lauzon

    This is a concise (204 text pages), well written biography of the inventor of the modern digital computer. John Atanasoff’s concepts and insights into binary operation, random access memory (using capacitors in rotating drums), and iteration presaged virtually all modern computers. The book also details, through relevant vignettes, other notable individuals in the history of computing such as Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Konrad Zuse, and Tommy Flowers. Atanasoff had his flash of insight while si This is a concise (204 text pages), well written biography of the inventor of the modern digital computer. John Atanasoff’s concepts and insights into binary operation, random access memory (using capacitors in rotating drums), and iteration presaged virtually all modern computers. The book also details, through relevant vignettes, other notable individuals in the history of computing such as Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Konrad Zuse, and Tommy Flowers. Atanasoff had his flash of insight while sitting with a drink at a roadhouse in Rock Island, Illinois, seeking to find a less tedious way of calculating equations with multiple variables. His doctoral dissertation was only 10 pages long, but his calculations with analog multiple-key adding machines drove his inventiveness later. He built a working prototype with graduate student Clifford Berry at Iowa State. Without spoiling the text for readers, his invention was coopted by John Mauchly. Unfortunately, Iowa State did not pursue a patent for Atanasoff’s invention, a wrong that was corrected decades later in a federal trial. The fog of World War II, classified work, and other circumstances are also factors in the anonymity that Atanasoff suffered during his life and beyond. The author, Jane Smiley, is far better known for her novels. She wrote this book with great care and accuracy. Her reverence for Land Grant Colleges and their influence on American and world history shows through.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Gatling

    I think I would have liked this book better with a less contentious title. Jane Smiley, who is an Iowa State professor, wants to defend the honor of John Atanasoff, also an Iowa State professor. The critical reviewers on Amazon argue that as a novelist and not a techno-geek, Smiley doesn't know enough about the science involved to judge whose ideas were most important in the development of the computer. And I don't either. But she does convince me that John Atanasoff did not get his due. He was I think I would have liked this book better with a less contentious title. Jane Smiley, who is an Iowa State professor, wants to defend the honor of John Atanasoff, also an Iowa State professor. The critical reviewers on Amazon argue that as a novelist and not a techno-geek, Smiley doesn't know enough about the science involved to judge whose ideas were most important in the development of the computer. And I don't either. But she does convince me that John Atanasoff did not get his due. He was brilliant, and an original thinker, but not self-aggrandizing, and not a backstabber, as some other computer pioneers would prove to be. I am pleased that Atanasoff's name is creeping back into the historical account. But Smiley also convinces me that many men contributed to the development of the computer as we know it, and the synthesis of all their ideas is what gave us our desktops and laptops. It is unfortunate that Atanasoff's ideas were stolen, as it appears they were, but if they had not been used, the innovations of the ABC (Atanasoff-Berry Computer) might have languished in the basement of the Physics Building in Ames, Iowa, instead of changing the world. Let us now praise John Atanasoff, and also praise all the other flawed geniuses who gave us the computer.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephany Wilkes

    I adore Jane Smiley, Atanasoff deserves more recognition and this book is necessary, and Smiley's work A Thousand Acres is beyond brilliant. But this book just didn't grab me the way other histories of technology often do. The people stories are strong and, if you are looking for a biography of Atanasoff as a person, this is a very good book. I give it three stars because the technology side was not strong enough for my tastes in two ways. First, it did not go into sufficient depth to make a par I adore Jane Smiley, Atanasoff deserves more recognition and this book is necessary, and Smiley's work A Thousand Acres is beyond brilliant. But this book just didn't grab me the way other histories of technology often do. The people stories are strong and, if you are looking for a biography of Atanasoff as a person, this is a very good book. I give it three stars because the technology side was not strong enough for my tastes in two ways. First, it did not go into sufficient depth to make a particular technical contribution's value or impact obvious to the non-technical reader. This would be fine if contributions had been briefly explained in a way to clearly communicate the "wow moment," but they were not. I have worked in software for 15 years and was already familiar with much of this material. I also enjoy reading technology history books. And I had several moments in which I thought "You know, if I didn't know all of this myself, this description wouldn't make me GET the impact that this man's work has since had." This is not true of the entire book, but it was common enough that I really took notice. Despite this minor shortcoming, it is worth the read if for no other reason than to give Atanasoff credit where credit to him is due. It has taken long enough.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Craig Pittman

    A lively and fascinating non-fiction book by one of America's best novelists, incorporating not just a history of the computer but also a spy story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama and an examination of the nature of creativity. This book was full of surprises -- for instance, I had no idea before reading this book that the inventor of the computer, John Atanasoff, had grown up in Florida, where his father worked at a phosphate mining company, and he got his B.S. from UF. All in all he was a A lively and fascinating non-fiction book by one of America's best novelists, incorporating not just a history of the computer but also a spy story, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama and an examination of the nature of creativity. This book was full of surprises -- for instance, I had no idea before reading this book that the inventor of the computer, John Atanasoff, had grown up in Florida, where his father worked at a phosphate mining company, and he got his B.S. from UF. All in all he was a fascinating character, cranky yet brilliant. I saw the NYT didn't think a lot of this book, but I sure did. It was a quick read, too -- slightly more than 200 pages. Smiley chooses a nice framing device, too, as she explains how the computer on which she's writing the book came into being. Incidentally, I see some readers complained about getting bogged down in the technical stuff -- I have to say that I didn't run into that problem at all, and I'm no technogeek. For those who ARE technogeeks, though, Smiley thoughtfully includes some afterwords by a professor to explain some of the more arcane details about Atanasoff's invention. (I didn't read the appendices, so I can't speak to their worthiness.)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    An interesting book about a computing pioneer I had never heard of. The Author weaves John Atanasoff's computer creation story in parallel with the other computer creators of the time: Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers, Max Newman, John Mauchly, Presper Eckert, Konrad Zeus and John von Neumann. She shows most of these individuals had a strong need to solve some heavy calculation problems. These individuals stood out also as very creative people with traits like: self-confidence, independence, high ener An interesting book about a computing pioneer I had never heard of. The Author weaves John Atanasoff's computer creation story in parallel with the other computer creators of the time: Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers, Max Newman, John Mauchly, Presper Eckert, Konrad Zeus and John von Neumann. She shows most of these individuals had a strong need to solve some heavy calculation problems. These individuals stood out also as very creative people with traits like: self-confidence, independence, high energy, willingness to take risks, above-average intelligence, openness to experience, and preference for complexity. Including a key component of a creative mind, what R. Keith Sawyer's (creativity expert) calls "problem finding"—that is, the ability to productively formulate a problem so that the terms of the problem lead to a solution. John Atanasoff certainly appears to have been the first to get a computer going in the USA, neck and neck with Konrad Zeus in Germany. But he is visited by John Mauchly who understands more than John realises. With WWII intervening and patients not being file, it is only resolved years later in 1973 that John Atanasoff ideas had been used in the UNIVAC. The book runs out of steam at the end getting too involved with the patent dispute and court case.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer is an interesting read about how the computer was invented. However, I believe that the title of the book is somewhat misleading. Although the book does include a biography of John Atanasoff, considered the inventor of the computer, it also details the lives of other pioneers in the development of the computer. The book takes us through the development of the first computer at Iowa State College in Ames and then The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer is an interesting read about how the computer was invented. However, I believe that the title of the book is somewhat misleading. Although the book does include a biography of John Atanasoff, considered the inventor of the computer, it also details the lives of other pioneers in the development of the computer. The book takes us through the development of the first computer at Iowa State College in Ames and then launches into a history of the effect WWII had on the development of the computer and private development following the war. The book largely ignores Atanasoff during the middle portion of the book and only brings him back into the story at the end where he is used as an expert witness in the patent fight between the major players in the computer industry. I believe that a more appropriate title would have been The Men Who Invented the Computer: How John Atanasoff Launched the Digital Revolution.

  27. 4 out of 5

    N.

    It's been a bit. So I'll take a bit to get back into the gear of reviewing books. For now, I'll try some bullet points for a review style. -Good focus on our title person, John Atanasoff. I got a good amount of prose in learning how he dealt with his situation. -Some focus on Alan Turing. I got perturbed by learning about the fallout from his Homosexuality being revealed. -Some disjointed focus on other people, particularly Mauchly and Suze. I don't know how I would write the autobiography. But I t It's been a bit. So I'll take a bit to get back into the gear of reviewing books. For now, I'll try some bullet points for a review style. -Good focus on our title person, John Atanasoff. I got a good amount of prose in learning how he dealt with his situation. -Some focus on Alan Turing. I got perturbed by learning about the fallout from his Homosexuality being revealed. -Some disjointed focus on other people, particularly Mauchly and Suze. I don't know how I would write the autobiography. But I think I would like to learn more about Mauchly and Suze. -The viewpoints felt disjointed in some places. Particularly since I was in the middle of reading one section. And then I was introduced to Suze, a guy who tried to work on his take on a computer. Thank you to Jane Smiley for being around. I'm going to see what else I can learn about different people who tried to interpret the idea of a calculating machine.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Fure

    It is a disputed issue of who is the real person to invent the first computer. Many were credited for it, and this book covers how the computer was being invented around the word simultaneously by various people under different cultural and social pressures. I love the part in the book when Atanasoff, a college professor, and scientist, finally gives up on his problem and decides to take his new Ford on a joy ride to the next town over. During this drive of desperation, the answer to his problem It is a disputed issue of who is the real person to invent the first computer. Many were credited for it, and this book covers how the computer was being invented around the word simultaneously by various people under different cultural and social pressures. I love the part in the book when Atanasoff, a college professor, and scientist, finally gives up on his problem and decides to take his new Ford on a joy ride to the next town over. During this drive of desperation, the answer to his problem flashed into his mind and he stopped at a bar to write it all down on a napkin. This concept is similar to how Einstein's answer flashed into his mind after he was giving up on his theory of relativity. I think they even recommended a book on creativity related to this concept, i wish i could remember...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    It's an interesting story, but not quite gripping. Pros: Discusion of Turing & von Neumann, Colossus & WWII. Cons: One of the key elements is the aspects of the original ABC computer which were reproduced (copied) into ENIAC/EDVAC, but I didn't get much feeling for what innovations were actually copied. Perhaps this would have been a stronger connection if Smiley was a computer scientist or engineer. There is a lot (too much?) about John Mauchly, who just isn't that interesting, and whose Smiley c It's an interesting story, but not quite gripping. Pros: Discusion of Turing & von Neumann, Colossus & WWII. Cons: One of the key elements is the aspects of the original ABC computer which were reproduced (copied) into ENIAC/EDVAC, but I didn't get much feeling for what innovations were actually copied. Perhaps this would have been a stronger connection if Smiley was a computer scientist or engineer. There is a lot (too much?) about John Mauchly, who just isn't that interesting, and whose Smiley considers important as an interface between other scientists -- often stealing ideas from one to present to others as his own. Note: About 15% appears to be appendices by John Gustafson, computer historian. Another 15% is various additional notes.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David Schwan

    This book really deserved two reviews, a two star rating for the first 130 pages, and a four star rating for the remaining 90 pages. The first part of the book outlines the early work on computing in the US, UK, and Germany. This book makes a very good case for the notion that John Atanasoff at Iowa State University is the father of the electronic comnputer. None of the devices described in the book could be considered modern computers. They were manually programmed, and needed to be re-wired to This book really deserved two reviews, a two star rating for the first 130 pages, and a four star rating for the remaining 90 pages. The first part of the book outlines the early work on computing in the US, UK, and Germany. This book makes a very good case for the notion that John Atanasoff at Iowa State University is the father of the electronic comnputer. None of the devices described in the book could be considered modern computers. They were manually programmed, and needed to be re-wired to solve a different problem; yet they were able to solve equations significantly faster the the adding machines used at the time.

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