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

James Essinger. . Melville House (Random, dist.), $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61219-408-0
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... [but] was never allowed to act on what she saw.” Agent: Diane Banks, Diane Banks Associates, U.K. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/11/2014
Release date: 10/14/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-1-61219-457-8
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