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Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age
     

Ada's Algorithm: How Lord Byron's Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched the Digital Age

by James Essinger
 

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The world’s first computer programmer and daughter of Lord Byron finally gets credit for her research in this gossipy short biography

Over 150 years after her death, a widely-used scientific computer program was named “Ada,” after Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of the eighteenth century’s version of a rock star, Lord

Overview

The world’s first computer programmer and daughter of Lord Byron finally gets credit for her research in this gossipy short biography

Over 150 years after her death, a widely-used scientific computer program was named “Ada,” after Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of the eighteenth century’s version of a rock star, Lord Byron. Why?

Because, after computer pioneers such as Alan Turing began to rediscover her, it slowly became apparent that she had been a key but overlooked figure in the invention of the computer.

In Ada Lovelace, James Essinger makes the case that the computer age could have started two centuries ago if Lovelace’s contemporaries had recognized her research and fully grasped its implications.

It’s a remarkable tale, starting with the outrageous behavior of her father, which made Ada instantly famous upon birth. Ada would go on to overcome numerous obstacles to obtain a level of education typically forbidden to women of her day. She would eventually join forces with Charles Babbage, generally credited with inventing the computer, although as Essinger makes clear, Babbage couldn’t have done it without Lovelace. Indeed, Lovelace wrote what is today considered the world’s first computer program—despite opposition that the principles of science were “beyond the strength of a woman’s physical power of application.”

Based on ten years of research and filled with fascinating characters and observations of the period, not to mention numerous illustrations, Essinger tells Ada’s fascinating story in unprecedented detail to absorbing and inspiring effect.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Laura Helmuth
In this engrossing biography, Essinger argues that we might have entered the computing age two centuries ago had the contributions of Ada Lovelace been recognized in her time.
Publishers Weekly
08/11/2014
Behind every great man, there’s a great woman; no other adage more aptly describes the relationship between Charles Babbage, the man credited with thinking up the concept of the programmable computer, and mathematician Ada Lovelace, whose contributions, according to Essinger (Jacquard’s Web) in this absorbing biography, proved indispensable to Babbage’s invention. The Analytical Engine was a series of cogwheels, gear-shafts, camshafts, and power transmission rods controlled by a punch-card system based on the Jacquard loom. Lovelace, the only legitimate child of English poet Lord Byron, wrote extensive notes about the machine, including an algorithm to compute a long sequence of Bernoulli numbers, which some observers now consider to be the world’s first computer program. Essinger’s tome is undergirded by academic research, but it is the author’s prose, both graceful and confident, that will draw in a general readership. Readers are treated to an intimate portrait of Lovelace’s short but significant life—she died at age 36 from uterine cancer—along with an abbreviated history of 19th-century high-society London. A quick denouement and preface add contemporary context and further Essinger’s argument that Lady Lovelace “had seen the computer age clearly ahead... was never allowed to act on what she saw.” Agent: Diane Banks, Diane Banks Associates, U.K. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Ada Lovelace:

“Entertaining and illuminating.”
Times Literary Supplement

“Essinger displays not only verve and affection . . . but also great scholarship.”
Times Educational Supplement

“Essinger tells his story with passion and with a gracious willingness to help the lay reader grasp the intricacies of technology.”
Wall Street Journal
Kirkus Reviews
2014-09-13
The story of Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), the brilliant mathematician and the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, who likely wrote the first computer program in the early 1840s. Due to her gender, however, her research was overlooked, and another two centuries passed before computers became a reality. Despite the fact that Ada was Lord Byron's only legitimate daughter, her mother deemed him unfit to raise her and left him when Ada was just 1 month old. Her father's reputation made Ada famous by association, and throughout her life, this recognition connected her with some of the era's most interesting and accomplished people, including the mathematician Charles Babbage. As a child, Ada was fascinated by mathematics and demonstrated an "imaginative approach to science." Through sheer force of will, she managed to obtain an education rarely available to women in the 19th century and was therefore able to recognize the profound potential in Babbage's lifelong obsession, a machine he called the "Analytical Engine," designed to make calculations. Babbage considered his invention to be purely mathematical, but Ada realized that the possibilities were much grander—that the machine could be capable of "weav[ing] algebraical patterns," a sophisticated idea that did not yet exist at the time. In her writings, she clearly laid out these early concepts of computer science, but because she was female, she was essentially ignored. Essinger (Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling, 2007, etc.) presents Ada's story with great enthusiasm and rich detail, painting her life as one that was rich with opportunity and access but stifled by sexism. Ada continues to inspire, and by using her own voice via letters and research, the author brings her to life for a new generation of intrepid female innovators. A robust, engaging and exciting biography.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781612194080
Publisher:
Melville House Publishing
Publication date:
10/14/2014
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
900,682
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

JAMES ESSINGER is a writer with a particular interest in the history of ideas that have had a practical impact on the modern world. His previous book, Jacquard’s Web: How a Hand-Loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age (2004), was chosen as one of the top 5 popular science books of the year by the Economist.

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