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The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter [Paperback]

Benjamin Woolley
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Feb 2002
Published by Macmillan in the U.K. and by us in the U.S. in hardcover to critical acclaim, The Bride of Science tells the story of Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace, the inventor of computer programming and daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron. Ada's story is that of a woman who came to embody the separation of two worlds: the world of Romanticism and the world of science and machines. Ada's efforts to reconcile these opposites - to create what she came to call a "poetical science" - produced one of the most remarkable careers of the Victorian age. In collaboration with Charles Babbage, the inventor of a clockwork "thinking machine" that predated the computer by over a century, Ada wrote a plan to use the machine for the calculation of Bernoulli numbers. This plan is now regarded as the first computer program, making Ada the world's first computer programmer. It was in her honor that, in 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense named its computer language "Ada." Ada has been iconised as a woman whose contribution to technology has been hidden. That contribution is now revealed in the first comprehensive biography of Lady Lovelace. The Bride of Science is not only a brilliant examination of an extraordinary life in math and science, it is also a fascinating analysis of the death of Romanticism and the birth of the machine age, offering devastating insight into the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between art and science, the consequences of which are still with us today.


Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Inc.,US; Reprint edition (1 Feb 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071388605
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071388603
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.9 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,832,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Benjamin Woolley is a writer and broadcaster, author of five non-fiction books published around the world, and Emmy-award-winning writer and presenter of TV documentaries on subjects ranging from ancient board games to the Space Age.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Ada Lovelace, the result of Lord Byron's short- lived marriage to Annabella Milbanke, is an extraordinary figure in 19th-century society. Not only was she the daughter of a celebrity, but she was the first computer programmer the world has known.

From the moment she was born, in 1815, Ada was a controversial figure. Her mother, a woman known for her piety and intellect, had fled the marital home taking her three-week-old baby with her. In this first comprehensive biography of Lovelace, Benjamin Woolley contends that the child embodied a chasm between Romanticism as represented by her father, and Reason as represented by his wife. He examines how, as an adult, she struggled to reconcile these opposites by creating a "poetical science". But first he deals with her childhood. We learn of Annabella's ferocious educational regime, and a young girl who, understandably, took refuge in the imagination.

Woolley's achievement is in making accessible the scientific theories that absorbed Lovelace and that led to her breakthrough in computer science. His approach to her work is grounded in her domestic setting which he portrays as oppressive, and as hastening her early death in 1852 from cervical cancer. The Bride of Science is a powerful piece of work, entirely appropriate for a revolutionary woman. --Lilian Pizzichini --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"A splendid and enthralling portrait"-The Sunday Times (London); "It's a thriller"-New Scientist; "Woolley...skillfully conveys the excitement and contradictions of the era, and builds maximum suspense into the book's episodic structure - an approach that serves well in this popular account of a complex life and time..." - Publishers Weekly; "Although the colorful cast of luminaries and rogues sometimes diverts us from Ada's tragic story, this biography provides an intriguing glimpse into the beginnings of computer science and a reminder that character is destiny." - The Wall Street Journal


Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Human drama, poetry, science, historical fact and the most vividly and lovingly portrayed characters make this the most readable biography I have ever encountered. More amazingly, the technical bits that in similar books I would have skipped, were as exciting and compelling as the rest! Nobody could fail to be captivated by the remarkable Ada, Countess of Lovelace.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science and Poetry 3 April 2000
Format:Hardcover
Who better than Ada Byron can represent the turn from Romanticism to Victorian age in England? Ada, the heiress of the great poet Lord Byron has not only lived in such transitory epoch, but Passion and Science were running in her very own blood. She was brought up by her mother, Lady Byron, and initiated by her to mathematical and rational studies, everything that would keep Ada as far as possible from the tenebrous, irrational, dangerous and very passionate style of life of her father. This life style is what had led to the separation after only one year of merriage between Lord and Lady Byron, accompained by scandals, grief and resentment. Lady Byron's reaction to it was to try to repress Ada's paternal romantic vein with science. This will bring Ada to be in contact with the best scientists of the moment and even to be remembered as the first computer programmer, but won't preclude her from being a real Byron...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good read 15 Nov 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Book in good condition and arrived quickly. Would recommend this book to anyone but especially those who are interested in the accomplishments of women in science..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read 27 April 2001
By Caterpillar Girl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Romance and Byron certainly reign supreme in this book. Science, however, is lacking. A very interesting account of Byron and his brief marriage fills the first quarter of the book. His daughter, Ada, is the subject of the other three-quarters. The book uses Ada as a biographical example of the ever-more-intense clash between Reason (science, industry, etc) and Romance (poetry, religion, arts, etc). Ada seems to be unable to cope with this conflict within herself and the author details several periods of mental illness. Though the biography of Ada Lovelace is intriguing, the main focus is on the society in which she lived. A fascinating history lesson, and an eye-opening look into a hitherto neglected woman. That said, there are quiet a few mispellings (not unusual for a first edition). If you are interested in the period, Byron, or love biographies - this is a good choice. If your bent runs to the specific scientific contributions or more widely to a reflection on the conflict between Romance and Reason, you might try another work such as the Calculating Passion of Ada Byron or Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers (though neither of those includes the actual program she wrote) and Victorian Minds/a Study of Intellectuals in Crisis and Ideologies in Transition or In Pursuit of a Scientific Culture : Science, Art, and Society in the Victorian Age.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but not really that great 11 Oct 2002
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As a historian of science and technology, and also a person very interested in computer science and fascinated by poetry as well, this book looked like a full 5 stars at first. Like some of the other reviewers, I felt swamped by the details of Ada's emotional life; yet, there are flashes of brilliance where the author makes a clear connection between her social position, her interior life as we can best judge it, and her pursuits. I wonder if there would have been a better way to organize the book; as it stands now, the book is almost purely narrative (with some asides and flashbacks), and appears to be aimed at the popular reader with a seasoning of technical information to goad the more serious critic into reading on. On the positive side, I was pleased to read a clarification of Ada's role in the Babbage Difference Engine's precocious presentation. And at times, the story was fascinating. Other times, it was just plain soggy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Window into early nineteenth century England 17 Nov 2009
By Snap Dragon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
More than just a biography of Ada Lovelace Byron, this is a narrative of the social setting of early 19th century England. In the span of under 4 decades of Ada's life, Charles Babbage had demonstrated his Difference Engine with a working model, created the design for his Analytical Engine, many scientists were performing experiments related to electricity and magnetism, and some were dabbling in their relationship to the human mind, the great railway system emerged with the steam powered engine making distances shorter and travel less of a hardship. The debates surrounding progress of science versus keeping the tranquility of nature undisturbed are well represented in this narrative.

The story covers a lot of the scandals of incest associated with Byron and his separation from his wife - this separation dominated Ada's life and had far-reaching effects on her children as well. Ada's mother Annabella - Lady Byron comes across as a domineering, influential, cruel and manipulative woman.

Speculation, reconstruction, historical evidence all play their parts in this most fascinating story of the "Enchantress of Numbers" as Ada came to be known. This well written biography talks about Ada's early interest in flying and other "impossible" projects, absorption with mesmerism, phrenology, and above all, her quest for tying the cold mathematical world (of her mother) to the hot, passionate, poetic world of her father. Due to the unique legacy of her parents, Ada sees her purpose in life as one of somehow reconciling the two disparate worlds.

Despite her mother's best efforts to keep Byronic passions out of Ada's personality, those are what Ada naturally leans towards, as is evident from her failed elopement in her teens, then several "episodes" with men at various points in her life, and her obsession with gambling, her (medically prescribed) consumption of laudanum / opium, and subsequent addiction. Her professional relationship with several imminent scientists including Charles Babbage, her writing of "notes" on scientific subjects, study of mathematics in her adulthood, her desperation to immerse herself in science in order to avoid her father's legacy - in spite of all her efforts Ada proves to be a Byron more than a Milbanke (her mother's maiden name).

The human story is more in evidence than the story of a scientific or mathematical mind. So if you are looking for just facts and details related to Ada as a scientist or "first computer programmer" this book will not be enough.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science and Poetry 1 April 2000
By euge@gmx.net - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Who better than Ada Byron can represent the turn from Romanticism to Victorian age in England? Ada, the heiress of the great poet Lord Byron has not only lived in such transitory epoch, but Passion and Science were running in her very own blood. She was brought up by her mother, Lady Byron, and initiated by her to mathematical and rational studies, everything that would keep Ada as far as possible from the tenebrous, irrational, dangerous and very passionate style of life of her father. This life style is what had led to the separation after only one year of merriage, between Lord and Lady Byron accompained by scandals grief and resentment. Lady Byron's reaction to it was to try to repress Ada's paternal romantic vein with science. This will bring Ada to be in contact with the best scientists of the moment and even to be remembered as the first computer programmer, but won't preclude her from being a real Byron...
9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Huge Disappointment 24 Mar 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ada Lovelace had a rich intellectual life.
As a huge disservice to her, this book is one extended gossip column of speculation and opinion about her personal life and that of her parents. In contrast, only a few pages are devoted to the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine.
At first I thought the author was gossiping about her parents as what he considered a necessary background to understanding Ada, so I kept reading, hoping to get to the substance of the book soon-- but the gossip never stopped, right through the description of her death.
If you too have a rich intellectual life, you will enjoy this book as much as you enjoy reading gossip about celebrities in the National Enquirer.
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