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The First Electronic Computer: The Atanasoff Story Paperback – November 15, 1989


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From Library Journal

John V. Atanasoff, assisted by graduate student Clifford Berry, conceived and built a partially electronic computer, stopping work in 1942 before it was fully operational. But his work predates that of J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, widely credited with inventing the first general purpose electronic computer (the Eniac). Both books under review document Atanasoff's work and the subsequent legal case in which Sperry Rand's original patent was invalidated and aspects of the Eniac were found to "derive" from Atanasoff's work. The Burks, affiliated with the Moore School of Electrical Engineering when the Eniac was being developed, have firsthand knowledge through personal involvement. Their analysis of Atanasoff's work is extremely well done and technically insightful. Mollenhoff is a lawyer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who lived in Iowa. Atanasoff developed his computer while a professor at Iowa State, and Mollenhoff has been championing his case since the decision on the Eniac patent in 1973. His book is a biography of Atanasoff, with an analysis of the patent suit. Though both books suffer from a certain stridency in stating Atanasoff's case and in chastising Mauchly for everything from unpatriotic to illegal behavior in not crediting Atanasoff's work, they both make valuable contributions to the record and do not overlap as much as the titles might indicate. Hilary D. Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., Livermore, Cal.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press; Reprint edition (November 15, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472081047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472081042
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,953,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Vincent on November 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book tells the story of Dr. John Vincent Atanasoff (a Bulgarian name; Dr. Atanasoff was native born in Hamilton, New York, 1903. He is credited by court decision in 1973 with the invention of the computer. The case in dispute was between Honeywell and Sperry Rand for claims of the computer invention. If either party have prevailed, the winner might have had patent rights. IBM was worried and introduced JV (as he was called) who showed that he had invented the computer at Iowa State in 1938 when he was in the mathematics department (JV was a 1930 PhD in physics from the University of Wisconsin). The computer invented belonged to JV and his assistant, Charles Berry (hence the name ABC = Atanasoff Berry Computer). There were several versions built, some in 1939 and in 1940.
The court decision was that as there was a prior invention (the ABC) which had not been patented by anyone, no one could patent the computer comcept. I am delighted that that was the decision and told JV that several times (I lived near him, his home was New Market Maryland and I was in Frederick Maryland) until he died about 10 years. He was always grouchy about my view but did concede (mostly by remaining silent) that the speed of computer advances was because there was no patent restriction in effect.
ENIAC owed much to Dr. Atanasoff as Mauchly saw the ABC in visits to Iowa State. Some visits were for several days ("for the better part of a week" was JV's court testimony). Programming and program languages were not part of JV contribution. Dr. Mauchly's own testimony as reproduced in the book shows he grudgedly agreed that he owed ideas and examples to others.
The original case was filed in 1968 as Honeywell v. Sperry Rand and Illinois Scientific Developments.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By KEVIN COULOMBE on January 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
The First Electronic Computer: The Atanasoff Story is an excellent historical and technical document of the ABC Computer. It traces the ENIAC lineage directly to the ABC and J.V.Atansoff. If there are any Atanasoff skeptics out there, this book is the definitive prescription to win their minds. A must have book for the personal library.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Soshichi Uchii on January 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you have heard something like "Atanasoff computer, or Atanasoff-Berry Machine was never built", or "ABC machine was not a computer", then the best thing you should do is to consult this book. It will tell you everything about the ABC machine, including technical details. An exact replica of the original ABC machine was built in 1997, and the team for this project consulted this book, and the authors. One of the authors, Alice Burks tells us, in her new book "Who invented the computer?" (2003), an amusing story. One day, a member of this team asked Arthur and Alice Burks, "How did you know these details?" They answered "By weekly phone talks with Atanasoff", and the inquirer was delighted.
This book also contains many quotations from the ENIAC patent trial, and you can check yourself the credibility of Atanasoff and Mauchly, and also the credibility of the Judge Larson. Anyone who denounces the ABC machine is either a fake or ignorant; they either ignore this book, or did not read this monumental book.
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8 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Jean J Bartik on July 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read the Alice Burks book "Who Invented the Computer?" before I read this one, and I'm surprised to find this one even worse. It appears to have been written by a god and goddess who know what is in the hearts of men, especially John Mauchly and Pres Eckert. I think the first page should have started with their philosophy of John and Pres's characters expressed on p.181, "they were greedy, for fame and fortune, and did not want to acknowledge any prior invention." This is the premise under which they operate so of course they interpret everything as a proof of this premise. I knew Arthur Burk as a nice, mild-mannered man in the style of the Mr. Milquetoast depicted in the New Yorker cartoon. Apparently, he married a woman with magical powers who turned him into this vicious all-knowing author. I wonder if he would have been as self-righteous if he had been included on the ENIAC patent. He would probably have been able to stifle his virtue and never even dream of beating the drums for Atanasoff. They even include testimony of Mrs. Atanasoff that makes her sound as gracious as a pig at a trough. Of course, she knew Mauchly was staying with them. Her husband had told him that they had plenty of room and he was welcome.

John Mauchly was delighted to meet Atanasoff, who attended one of his lectures and came up to talk to him later. Both were interested in computers and eager to communicate with a kindred spirit. I'm sure they learned many things from each other and discussed many ideas. This was 1940 when they met and not very many people were interested in discussing computing. Both had things they wanted to do and current tools didn't allow them to do them very well. John was eager to find out if Atanasoff's computer could help him with his problems.
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