Eniac: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer

Scott McCartney, Author
Scott McCartney, Author Walker & Company $23 (262p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1348-3
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7861-1633-1
Mass Market Paperbound - 272 pages - 978-0-425-17644-3
Compact Disc - 978-1-4551-2805-1
MP3 CD - 978-1-4551-2806-8
Book - 1 pages - 978-1-4417-9975-3
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This account of how an engineer barely out of college and a physicist with dreams of predicting the weather, conceived and built the world's first computer. But it tells a great story, and Wall Street Journal staff writer McCartney (Defying the Gods: Inside the New Frontiers of Organ Transplants) makes a strong case that J. Presper Eckert, the engineer, and John Mauchly, the physicist, deserve better treatment from posterity than they have received. His narrative of the conception and construction in the mid-1940s of the giant ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) centers on the lives and work of these two unlikely collaborators, who met by chance in an engineering course. Funding for the project was tied directly to the war effort and an army desperate for fast number crunching. Among McCartney's controversial claims is that the ""von Neumann architecture"" for stored-program machines, the basis for all computers, did not originate with German migr John von Neumann but rather with the ENIAC duo. The feuds and legal battles that dominate the second half of the book as various corporations battle for trade secrets and patents will be of interest mainly to buffs, though the unsuccessful struggles of Eckert and Mauchly to make a profit in the postwar shadow of IBM are poignant. McCartney offers excellent documentation, interesting asides (the world's first computer programmers were all women) and real drama as the team races to complete the apartment-sized, vacuum tube-powered ENIAC before the war's end. Doubleday Select Bookclubs special selection; author tour; audio rights to Blackstone. (June)
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