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Electronic Brains: Stories from the Dawn of the Computer Age Paperback – 3 Apr 2006

3.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (3 April 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862078394
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862078390
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.5 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,187,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘A readable and very human account that brings alive the history of this now ubiquitous technology’ -- Guardian

About the Author

Mike Hally trained as an electronics engineer and worked at British Aerospace for seventeen years. He started working for Radio 4 in 1989 as a freelance, where he still works today. He later formed Pennine Productions, producing programmes for Radio 4.

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One winter evening in 1937 a professor from Iowa State College went for a drive along the open roads across the eastern half of the state into neighbouring Illinois. Read the first page
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover
This is the exciting history of the birth of computing. When a new field of knowledge opens up new possibilities, anything can happen---water computers, tea shops at the cutting edge of technology and, as often happens with technology, parallel development in separate parts of the word; Britain, the U.S., the U.S.S.R. and (a suprise to me) Australia.

This account is full of suprises about the earliest electronic computing machines, with colourful accounts of the pioneers in the field do amazing things that no-one had previously even thought of. A golden age of innovation, both technically and commercially with visionary business executives seeing the potential for the new technology---for example, Lyon's tea shops.

It is a fascinating history, which Mike Hally appears to relish. He avoids technical details of these early computers, but blends in enough information to appreciate the difficulties faced by the engineers who were, effectively, inventing the modern world. He also tackles the more controversial subject of priority of invention, which still rages today, without passing judgements but sticking to the facts.

It is hard to know what it must have been like in those exciting times, but Mike Hally captures a flavour of it in the interviews with some of those involved with these early machines, and one wonders if such a revolutionary step could ever now be taken in quite the same way.

A book not just for the student of computing history, but an accessible history of pioneering, vision and invention.
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Format: Paperback
It often appears that events in history seem to depend on one person: "X" discovered "Y" or invented "Z". Closer investigation reveals that things are more a product of the time with much more collaboration and/or parallel development without any single person able to truly claim pre-eminence. More about evolution than revolution.

This history of the origins of modern computing illustrates the point admirably. It captures the international developments, the personalities and attitudes perfectly. As ever, not every decision was technology-led so, for example Australia abandoned its computer industry (who knew they had one?) in an assumption that its comparative advantage lay elsewhere and IBM's success appears to have resulted from some major entrepreneurial risk taking rather than because they had a business plan the bank manager liked.

It's not a heavy duty read and I'm not sure it needed the appendices on base arithmetic. The Soul of a New Machine and A Computer Called LEO are better reads but they focus on a single aspect. A missing chapter might have discussed the Transputer, another ARM and its close relationship to the BBC Model B. Both were British 'contenders' with the latter proving to be remarkably successful (both were novel, the former an evolutionary failure) in modern computing devices.

I was also unclear why Ada Lovelace required such careful character assasination. On the evidence she seems to have been a visionary. After that it's just hard work.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this book from Mike Hally at the Vintage Computer Fair at Bletchley Park (sorry Amazon!). It's made the daily commute an enjoyable experience! I partly agree with a previous review; covering each country individually does make it feel a little disjointed but I don't think this detracted from the enjoyment. A great book covering not only the hardware but also the people and personalities behind the machines. Recommended.
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