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

Benjamin Woolley, Author
Benjamin Woolley, Author McGraw-Hill Companies $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-07-137329-6
Reviewed on: 12/04/2000
Release date: 12/01/2000
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-07-138860-3
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-330-48449-7
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-1-4472-7254-0
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A life of pure reason, or of dangerous passion? No middle course appeared to be available for Lord Byron's unhappy daughter, Ada (1815-1852), who channeled her brilliance into mathematical pursuits and wrote what is considered one of the world's first computer programs. Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace, never knew her father; her mother, convinced of her husband's moral depravity, fled from him just after the child was born and spent her life protecting Ada from his supposedly corrupting influence by forcing the girl into rigorous studies. Despite her formidable intellectual achievements, however, Ada was never fully able to reconcile her analytical mind with her unruly imagination and feelings. In this accessible biography--which follows at least three others published since 1977, now out of print or available only by special order--Woolley presents Ada as a symbol of her age, determined (but ultimately failing) to bridge the divide between Romantic excess and Victorian control. Subject to bouts of mania and depression and often physically ill, Ada struggled for recognition in a patriarchal society, refused to conform to accepted codes of social and sexual behavior, and insisted on the possibility of a ""poetical science"" that would unite reason with imagination. Woolley, who writes for the BBC, 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, even if it leaves unexplored too many questions about Ada's needs, motivations and constrained position in a male-dominated society. (Jan.) Forecast: Books about daughters of great figures (e.g., Galileo's Daughter and Einstein's Daughter) have been popular of late, and Ada is as fascinating a daughter as ever was born. This book is a natural for handselling, not only to the literati interested in all things Byronic, but to cyber-folk, many of whom will be aware of Ada's early work in computers (the U.S. Dept. of Defense named its computer language ""Ada"" in her honor), and even to the SF crowd, cultivated for this story through William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's classic The Difference Engine. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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