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Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age Paperback – 29 Oct 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Gibson Square Books Ltd (29 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1908096667
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908096661
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 277,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

'Anyone who thinks [Lovelace's] famous contribution to computer science is overrated, should read James Essinger's new biography... This concise and readable account gives Lovelace's work the respect it deserves.' --Christine Evans-Pughe, Engineering and Technology Magazine

'Appealing.' --Andrew Robinson, BBC Focus Magazine

'Notable.' --Scotsman

About the Author

James Essinger previously wrote Jacquard's Web: How a Hand-Loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age (OUP 2004), which was chosen as one of the top 5 popular science books of the year by the Economist. While doing research for this book, he became fascinated by Ada Lovelace. He was educated at Lincoln College (University of Oxford) and lives in Canterbury.


Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Mr. Essinger has taken on the difficult task of producing an interesting, very readable book from the unlikely subjects of a fiendishly complicated calculating machine, its inventor the 19th century mathematician Charles Babbage, and a largely unknown heroine Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron.....and he has succeeded admirably. Few of us today have ever heard of Charles Babbage, let alone Ada Lovelace, a brilliant mathematician in her own right who became Babbages's friend, confidante and collaborator. She, alone, was able to see the enormous future potential of his calculating machine, far beyond mathematics. Sadly, the machine was never built during their lifetimes due to the enormous expense involved and Babbage's poor public relations skills in his approaches to Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister of the day, but there is no doubt that their combined genius laid the groundwork for modern-day computing.
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If it was not for this book I would probably not know about Ada Lovelace and that the first computer language was named after her. The book is well researched but the style of writing is appalling at places. When the author refers to one particular person he keeps repeating her/his name in practically every sentence as if there was no equivalent in the English language. I found it so amateurish and annoying that I had to skip many paragraphs. There are also quite a few printing mistakes. It looks like the publisher did not bother about proof-reading.

Having gone through ¾ of the book and learnt nothing about Ada’s actual contribution to mathematics and computing I gave up.
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would recommend to anyone in the computer business who likes to understand the history, having recently read the secrets of bletchly park and finding this goes back even further to babbage, Ada was a programming language as far as I was concerned, no idea about why it was named Ada.....
having recently discovered Adults of nearly 40 who didn't know a tardis was based on a police box (or even what and why they existed) I realise technology is moving so fast that less than a generation doesn't keep up with the recent past (through no fault of their own).
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Once upon a time, when I was a programmer, someone I worked with told me about Ada Lovelace. Since then I have read a lot about her, mostly in fragments here and there, but until now I haven't found a book that captured the whole story, both good and bad.
This book does it all. It is fabulously well researched and the story very well told.
James Essinger manages to capture Ada's spirit as well as her genius and incorporate everything in a beautifully produced book. This is not only an excellent biography about a wonderful woman but also the best biography I read in the past few years.
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As this year is the bicentenary of Ada Lovelace's birth, I thought it appropriate to read this book. It's a biography of Ada, and highlights the astonishing grasp of the concept of computer programming before computers had been invented. In a nutshell, Charles Babbage saw his Analytical Engine as an automated calculator that would be able to work with fractions (in effect), but didn't really get beyond that. Lovelace, on the other hand, reasoned that if a machine could manipulate numbers, then it would be able to manipulate other kinds of symbols too. She even suggested that music could be encoded by the machine.

Ada's Algorithm, by James Essinger, goes into minute detail, not just of Ada's life but of her parents' lives before she was born. It is, as it happens, relevant, but I did find the detail somewhat irritating. I read it on a Kindle, and it was not until I reached the 48% mark that the author started to address Ada's appreciation of what Babbage's machine might be programmed to do.

While the amount of detail earlier in the book is, I feel, an obstacle to enjoyment, the detail once we get on to Ada's relationship with the Analytical Engine is absolutely riveting.

Reading the almost line by line account of Ada's notes on the article she translated (her notes were longer than the article itself), I could really appreciate the description often applied to Ada Lovelace, that of being the world's first computer programmer.

Three thoughts struck me while reading the book:

First, a sense of outrage that in her day women were thought to be too fragile, both physically and mentally, to study maths and science.
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I wasn't sure whether this book was aimed at men, too. But I enjoyed it. There is something very uplifting about this book in that intelligence is irrepressible. Even if you throw all the garbage of the nineteenth century at it, you will still find a brilliant mind that does something breath-taking. Who knew that the daughter of Byron was as a famed as her own father. Him we don't read anymore, I fear, but with her ideas we live every day: more and more...
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I am not really a fan of biographies, but read this because of the subject matter. I found it much more readable than most biographies and enjoyed the author's musings on how to interpret phrases in correspondence. My main gripe is lack of proof reading by the publishers, as I find these errors of misspelling and repeated words distracting. Also had a few wry smiles as the author mentioned spelling mistakes by Babbage in his spelling Jacard rather than Jacquard - and then the publishers allowed Ordinance Survey instead of Ordnance Survey. So, a readable book by the author, spoilt by the publishers lack of good proof readers.
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