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Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series) Hardcover – July 10, 2009


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Product Details

  • Series: Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series
  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (July 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026201310X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262013109
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"I saw Grace Hopper speak when I was a young software programmer at Bell Labs. While she spoke of great technology and the power of computing, she also re-enforced the creative power of youthful thinking, public speaking, and collaborative efforts. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age brings all of those themes together in a compelling way, placing Grace Hopper where she belongs: at the creative genesis of the technology upon which our world depends."--Lucy Sanders, CEO and Co-founder, National Center for Women and Information Technology



"It is a pleasure to finally read a biography of Grace Hopper that does not simply list the clichéd myths about 'Amazing Grace' but instead tells the story of her wonderful life and contributions to the development of programming languages. Beyer reveals interesting facts and aspects of her life that I have never seen published. It portrays Grace as a human being and subject to the whims of both personal and social problems of her era. Along the way it provides insight into the changing social status of technically oriented women and details the personal struggles that this caused Grace and her female colleagues."--Michael R. Williams, Professor Emeritus, Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary

(Michael R. Williams)

"Beyer's meticulously researched biography shows how Hopper was one of the first to realise that software was the key to unlocking the power of the computer." -- The Guardian



"Bravo to Beyer for unearthing the fascinating, many-faceted history...of a phenomenal technology we take for granted and for portraying a woman of astonishing powers." Booklist



"It is a pleasure finally to read a biography of Grace Hopper that does not simply list the clichéd myths about 'Amazing Grace' but instead tells the story of her wonderful life and contributions to the development of programming languages. Beyer reveals interesting facts and aspects of her life that I have never seen published. It portrays Grace as a human being and subject to the whims of both personal and social problems of her era. Along the way it provides insight into the changing social status of technically oriented women and details the personal struggles that this caused Grace and her female colleagues." Michael R. Williams , Professor Emeritus, Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary

About the Author

Kurt W. Beyer is a former professor at the United States Naval Academy and lectures regularly on the process of technological innovation. He is a cofounder of a digital media services company and has authored multiple patents (pending) on high speed digital data processing.

More About the Author

Did you ever meet Grace Hopper?

I first came across Admiral Grace Hopper when I was a teenager attending my sister's graduation from the College of William and Mary. Two things stand out about that experience. First, I remember this old, fragile looking woman sitting there, knitting, while the other college dignitaries spoke. Not everyday do you get to see an Admiral knit. But once she began speaking, I was struck by her confident, commanding voice, her humor, and her vision of the computing future. I guess I was used to my own grandmother constantly talking about the past...so it was striking to hear this older woman talking about a future that I couldn't even imagine at the time.

What made you decide to write about Grace Hopper and the first 30 years of the computer industry?

Grace Hopper influenced my own career choices, first as a naval officer, then as an academic, and finally as an entrepreneur. When I arrived at the United States Naval Academy on a hot day in July during the summer of 1986, Admiral Hopper had been influencing naval computer policy for twenty years. I was issued a personal computer, we had access to mil.net, the precursor to the internet. We emailed our professors, signed up for classes online, and our medical and dental records were digitized. The Academy's core curriculum was modified to incorporate computer use into many of our engineering and math classes, and Hopper herself came to speak to us lowly Plebes to encourage us to lead the computer revolution in and out of the navy.

By this time she was pretty legendary in the Navy, so I was shocked to arrive in Silicon Valley during the great dot.com boom of the 1990s and I found that few people my age knew who she was or what she had accomplished. As I pieced together the evolution of the computer industry for my PhD work at the University of California, Berkeley, I was actually surprised how influential the younger Hopper was during the first 30 years of the industry, so in the end my editors and I at MIT Press thought it best to tell the story of the early computer age through Hopper's career.


About Kurt Beyer

Kurt grew up in a blue-collar, immigrant family in Huntington, Long Island. Kurt's Dad Karl was a baker and his Mom Ann a nurse. Kurt was captain of the baseball and basketball teams at John Glenn High School, an accomplished trumpet player, and received his nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan. While at Annapolis Kurt played baseball and senior year was named Brigade Commander, in charge of the 4500 person brigade of midshipman. He graduated Annapolis in 1990 and was commissioned an officer in the United States Navy. Before attending flight school Kurt continued his education at the University of Oxford for two years. At Oxford, he completed a masters degree and rowed for Oxford where his crew competed in the finals of the Henley Royal Regatta in 1991. He also played on the University basketball team which won the British University Championship in 1992.

Following Oxford Kurt headed to Pensacola for Naval Flight School where he graduated first in his class. Kurt flew F-14 Tomcats and was assigned to a fighter squadron at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. Injury cut his naval career short, and Kurt was honorably discharged, receiving a Navy Commendation Medal and National Defense Service Medal. In 1997 Kurt moved to California to convalesce and complete a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Kurt fully immersed himself in the Bay area dot.com revolution, co-founded a digital media start-up, and married a beautiful 4th generation San Franciscan.

The tragedy of September 11th changed Kurt's path and he returned to Annapolis as a civilian professor to help create the Naval Academy's new Information Technology major and lectured regularly on the process of technological innovation. He served on the Academy faculty 3 1/2 years and helped direct the international scholarships program. During this period the Naval Academy had the most British scholarship winners of any American University, including 8 Rhodes, 3 Marshall, and 4 Fitzgerald scholars. In January 2006 Kurt returned to the San Francisco Bay area to head up full time his digital media start-up and co-authored multiple patents (pending) on high speed digital data processing. Currently he advises start-ups and executives in Silicon Valley and lives in Mill Valley, Ca with his wife and two sons.

Customer Reviews

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Programming is still a very new profession and it is beneficial to see where it all started.
Justin B
In fact, it is a fascinating story of Grace Hopper and the amazing contribution that she and her team made to the development of computers.
Philip J. Blank
Beyer blends history, technological information and human interest into this worthwhile read.
Pam Gilberd

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Olcott on April 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book brought home to me the difference between history and biography. As a 50-year computer veteran (wrote my first program in 1959) I appreciated many of the firsts and trends that the author highlights. However, I got very little sense of Grace Hopper the person behind the technical and organizational achievements he celebrates. As an example, did she really just casually discard a marriage in order to enlist in the Navy? We're told she had a wonderful sense of humor but in the entire book there's only one example of an office prank she instigated. The author packs the last 20 years of her life into the last 25 pages of the book, and much of that was interspersed with retrospective material. Surely there was more to Cmdr Hopper's life in those years than her honors and awards, but we see none of it.

As history, however, the book misses one of Hopper's most important contributions -- the notion of an industry-wide standard. Hopper's work to convene the CODASYL group was the first of a long line of standards efforts (including ICANN and the rest of the Internet infrastructure) without which the Information Age would have withered for lack of cross-enterprise fertilization.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Philip J. Blank on September 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book. While it is from an `Academic' press, it is not at all pedantic or overbearing. In fact, it is a fascinating story of Grace Hopper and the amazing contribution that she and her team made to the development of computers. It also provides an insight into that development unlike any other. The fascinating aspect of this is that much of what we do today - from flow charting to debugging had to be invented and it was - by Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper. If you are at all interested in understanding the amazing tale of our computer development and the amazing impact that Grace Hopper had on that development, this is a must read!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Pam Gilberd on November 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a fascinating woman. What a fascinating era. Kurt Beyer brings her story to life and explains much about the early days of computers and programming that most of us don't know and simply take for granted. Beyer blends history, technological information and human interest into this worthwhile read. Thank you.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Luis F. Moreno on December 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book launches on a flat note, but sails away after that on a great voyage. As intended, the story centers on Grace Murray Hopper, whose life is displayed as a major focal point of the emerging field of computer programming. After reading this book, I discovered a woman whose strength was in her marvelous adaptability in the years between 1944 and 1960, when computer hardware went through at least two generations, and programming changed from plugboard wiring to high-level source code.
Kurt Beyer does a good job of conveying the feeling of constantly being at the forefront of this technology, of always facing the unknown. Hopper used her imagination, creativity and knowledge to sculpt part of computer science out of that unknown. She did this better than others because she was also able to marshal the genius of others more successfully than most CEO's of the day (or of today, I suspect). And that included attracting brilliant women programmers, perhaps the first instance of a new field of study emerging with women as intellectual peers.
The book is well researched, judging by the bibliography as well as the many personal quotes we read. But you don't get a drippy Oprah bio of her family life and feelings. Instead, you get a story that Hopper herself would have enjoyed, I think.
On the other hand, I wish that the author had inserted a bit more of Hopper's technological accomplishments. We should see some of the machine code of the Mark I for evaluating the cosine function, and the flow charting used in the UNIVAC. Why not show an example of a COBOL program (I remember studying it)? It's probably on the web, but it should also be in a book like this. Speaking of the web, you might enjoy Mr. Beyer's lecture at [...]
Two small gripes. The first is a general one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Doug Q. on September 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
An inspiring read for anyone who aims to achieve in spite of burdensome social constructs and overwhelming internal conflicts. By telling the story of Hopper's amazing journey to the top of the homogenous programming field, Beyer has presented us with a new and contrasting picture of the early years of computer innovation. This story of success, service and determination, in addition to the very readable prose not often associated with academic publications, make this an absolute read for even those with the slimmest of interest in technology.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Smith on December 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this for my husband for his birthday. He is a computer engineer. He read the book in three or four days and enjoyed it. We bought a second copy for my sister for Christmas.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Maxine Moritz on October 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Think you have it hard in the corporate or academic world these days? Think again. Grace Hopper's courage, ability to grasp professional situations and make the best of them, and her ultimate contribution to computing today are absolutely awe-inspiring. Kurt Beyer has also highlighted the importance of individuals in the making of history, not just political and social forces. Individuals can STILL make a difference!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Justin B on December 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is a great read and very interesting. I think that every current programmer should read this book because much of what we do day in and day out started with Grace Hopper and her team in the Harvard Computation Laboratory. It was very intriguing to see the very beginning of computers and how Grace believed, even when so many others didn't, that computers could be and should be made available to more than only scientists and universities. And all those who love the open source movement have Grace Hopper to thank for it because she was the one who decided that the entire community of programmers should have the chance to improve upon a piece of software. Programming is still a very new profession and it is beneficial to see where it all started. It is very well written and kept me interested and wanting more throughout the whole book. I didn't want to put it down. I recommend this book to any technology lover whether they be a programmer, business analyst, or IT manager.
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