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The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer Paperback – 25 Aug 2016
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So impossibly funny, clever, demented, charming and altogether wonderful that I was a convert within three pages. Buy it for everyone you know, regardless of what you think they like. Brilliant stuff (Lucy Mangan, Book of the Year Stylist)
An utter joy... Padua has done her research: she has teased out the connections between Babbage, Lovelace and what would seem to be the whole of Victorian culture and society - and done so in a way that appears almost effortless on the page, her light, easy graphic style an excellent vehicle not only for deep and complex thought, but for excellent, and sometimes excellently corny, jokes. This is a book to reread, not just read (Nicholas Lezard Guardian)
My new favourite book. It has everything. Byron, maths, imaginary computers, emotion (Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive)
The book does more than simply celebrate the genius of the first computer programmer, it encourages us to turn our imagination to technology - just as Lovelace did. And that's an inspiration to us all (Nicola Davis Observer Tech Monthly)
The wittiest, best-researched and most original tribute yet paid to the achievements of Ada Lovelace... An astonishing debut... a book that ought to be ordered in triplicate by every school in the land... Ingenious as a textbook, marvellous fun as inventive biography (Miranda Seymour Literary Review)
Rich with in-jokes, warmth and charm... It's difficult not to be ignited by Sydney Padua's enthusiasm. There is so much to discover that I'll treasure my copy for years to come (Hannah Fry BBC Focus)
A stylish, funny graphic novel featuring Ada Lovelace, estranged daughter of Lord Byron, and co-programmer, had it ever been built, of the "mathematical engine". Playful, earnest, and beautifully drawn, the book cuts a swathe through early computing theory, explores Ada's relationship with Charles Babbage, and brings to the fore one of the unsung heroines of science (Sarah Hall Independent)
There is no way around this, Sydney Padua's Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is bloody brilliant... and educational too (Robin Ince)
I love it... everyone is getting a copy (Martha Lane-Fox)
Wonderful and genuinely informative... Padua's gorgeous art and very funny text are combined with factual footnotes to create an utterly unique and enormously enjoyable book - (Anna Carey Irish Times)
About the Author
Sydney Padua is an animator and visual effects artist, usually employed in making giant monsters appear to be attacking people for the movies. She started drawing comics by accident with the webcomic 2D Goggles or The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage and is still trying to figure out how to stop. Originally from the Canadian prairie, she now lives in London with her husband and far too many books.
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The book is based on the true story of the friendship between Ada Lovelace (only child of the poet Byron) and Charles Babbage, inventor of mechanically based computing devices which if they had been completed would have been a century ahead of their time.
It may help prospective purchasers to describe the organisation of the book: the main thread, the graphic novel, is divided into chapters; on many pages, below the graphics panel, there are short footnotes identifying people, quoting sources or further explaining some of the action in the graphics above. At the end of each chapter there is a section of ‘endnotes’, sometimes quite lengthy: it is here you will find the results of Padua’s extensive research including quotes from contemporary sources and often Padua’s own drawings explaining the intricacies of Babbage’s machines. These endnotes range far and wide and are full of fascinating and often quite obscure information. There is further extensive reference material on a website for the book.
Using the (slightly flimsy) excuse that in one of Babbage’s writings he touched on the possibility of the existence of other universes Padua shifts the action of the novel into a ‘Pocket Universe‘ having distortions of time which allow her to include many other well-known (but non-contemporary) 19th-century figures and greatly extend the comic scope of the story. My favourite sequence involves the two protagonists setting up a spell checking service for novelists which results in the shredding of the draft of George Eliot’s first novel in a ‘destructive readout ‘process!
The book can be approached in different ways: I set out with the intention of reading through the graphic novel first and then going back to the more serious stuff but in the event the attraction of the footnotes was too strong and I ended up following many diversions down obscure paths such as Babbage’s autobiography (turgid prose but full of bizarre observations and stories). Another pleasure was discovering the beautiful drawings of the Analytical Engine made by the late Alan Bromley from research he did on Babbage’s original drawings in the London Science Museum. In summary this is a book that demands many different readings and delving into many times.
As other reviewers have mentioned the hardback version of the book is beautifully designed and laid out and well worth the cover price.
Unfortunately, Ada Lovelace died young, at the age of 36, and Charles Babbage never built his Analytical Engine. Had Lovelace lived, and had Babbage actually built his invention, the computer would have been invented a hundred years before it was.
Isn't that an astonishing thought?!
That's where it ended – in this universe. Using the age-old sci-fi trick of positing multiple alternate realities, Padua imagines what might have happened had things turned out differently. This is all done through the medium of a graphic novel, and plenty of humour.
Now, you might think "Who wants to read an imaginary tale? What's the point?". And you would be right, were it not for Padua's meticulous research. This enables her to build on real events, and to extrapolate from them, as the copious notes make clear.
In fact, even if you don't like graphic novels, this book is worth buying for the notes alone. There is also an in-depth illustrated exposition of how the Analytical Engine was designed to work.
I found a number of things fascinating. First, I hadn't realised until I'd read this book that Lovelace anticipated, by a decade, Boolean Logic. I also hadn't realised how close the Analytical Engine was to a modern computer in terms of the way the Analytical Engine was supposed to work. For example, it used a Store – what we would call Memory.
I've always thought of Babbage's Difference Engine as a massive calculator, which is what it was, of course. What I didn't know until I read this book was that Lovelace realised that the principles upon which it worked could be applied to any form of data – including music. She wrote that if sounds were capable of being expressed in notation that could be understood by the "Engine",
"the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent."
The only slight irritation is that the footnotes and endnotes are so multitudinous that reading them interrupts the flow of the novel itself. I'm not sure that anything could be done about that though.
I always think that one indication of a good book is that it makes you want to explore the subject further. Reading this one has made me want to read Lovelace's original paper and read her biography. I'd also like to find out more about Charles Babbage. I think I'll start by reading his autobiography.
This book would make an excellent introduction to computing ideas for both teachers and pupils. Even if you can't understand all of the science involved (some of the footnotes are challenging to the layperson), the humour and the graphics will carry you through.
A must for your classroom bookshelf
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