“[Ada Lovelace], like Steve Jobs, stands at the intersection of arts and technology."—Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators
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.
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."