The cogwheel brain : Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer

by Doron Swade

Paperback, 2001




London : Abacus, 2001.


In 1821, Charles Babbage was reviewing a set of mathematical tables with a colleague in preparation for a scientific presentation when, after finding a wealth of errors, he exclaimed in frustration, "I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam!" With this outburst, Babbage began to envision an end to human errors in the numerical tables upon which finance, trade, science, and navigation relied. The Difference Engine is the fascinating story of his heroic quest, against all odds, to build the first computing machine more than one hundred years before the modern computer we use today was invented. Set against the politics and science of the explosive early Victorian era, The Difference Engine is a thrilling tale of Babbage's exuberant determination. Like Longitude, The Difference Engine is a fascinating portrait of the human story behind a pivotal moment in history and one of the most influential inventions of our time.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member JBD1
A very well done account of Charles Babbage's attempts to design and build his Difference and Analytical Engines, followed by Swade's narration of the Science Museum's efforts to build an actual working model based on Babbage's designs. A good read filled with interesting details about Babbage's efforts and the practical difficulties of converting them from paper into reality.… (more)
LibraryThing member fernig
Meeting between John Herschel and Babbage 1821. Babbage" "I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam"
LibraryThing member gbsallery
Impressively readable account of Babbage's life, engines, and contributions to computing. The subject is handled objectively, not falling for the flat assertion that Babbage was the "father of computing" (and incidentally prompting a reappraisal of the role of Ada Lovelace); that said, the book still sets forth the tremendous (if isolated) contributions Babbage made to the idea of mechanised logic. The account of the construction of a Babbage difference engine at the
Science Museum is also fascinating, and makes me regret the loss of ICL.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Eoin
Hounded to death by organ grinders? Failed to build the engines that may have changed the world? Bunch of weird British engineer=historians try to build a maybe impossible machine from antique plans to prove you right by your 200th birthday? Awesome. Stole my title though...
LibraryThing member waitingtoderail
This is 2/3 a biography of Charles Babbage and his efforts to produce a calculating machine, and 1/3 a dry discussion of the author's inclusion in an effort to build the machine (which never got fully built in Babbage's day). This can be pretty safely skipped if you're just interested in Babbage, the machine did work in the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member MikeRhode
Very enjoyable popular accound of Charles Babbage's attempts to build a calculating machine in the early 19th century, and then the Science Museum of London's attempt to build one based on his drawings.



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