- Series: The Sloan Technology Series
- Paperback: 378 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 3 edition (July 30, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0813345901
- ISBN-13: 978-0813345901
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #764,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Computer: A History of the Information Machine (The Sloan Technology Series) 3rd Edition
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Prompted by a biography of Gordon Moore, recently published (Thackray et al, 2015) and recently read, to read more about the history of “the computer,” Campbell-Kelly’s history (2014) came to my attention. I had just read Ceruzzi’s history (2003), posting my review on Amazon.com along with others’ reviews of Ceruzzi and other reviews of mine covering other titles referenced here. These four authors are
Campbell-Kelly, Martin, Aspray, William, Ensmenger, Nathan, and Yost, Jeffrey R. "Computer: A history of the information machine" 2014, Third Edition, Westview Press, Boulder CO, xv + 360 pages
employed by universities, Campbell-Kelly by the University of Warwick, Aspray by the University of Texas, Ensmenger by the University of Indiana, and Yost by the University of Minnesota. They work in the “publish or perish” parts of the world’s economies. Their history is interesting, worth reading. However, as with Ceruzzi’s history, I’m left with some important reservations.
The strength of this work is that it examines (in turn) first the purpose of computing, then reviews how computing machinery has entered the activity. This, indeed, is “horse before the cart,” seeing first the social and economic purpose for the human activity, then examining how computing machinery entered the scene. The approach is to be applauded and, for this reader, is an important improvement on Ceruzzi’s history (2003). Very often the entrance of computing machinery has transformed the original activity. These authors treat the theoretical contributions to computing (Babbage, Von Neumann, Turing) as is appropriate. They see and describe the entrepreneurial contributions. They understand and present the social and economic drives (as, for example, US government interest in computing in support of its Cold War effort). While this history understands contributions from Britain, it is a history primarily centered on US experience. That may be appropriate since the US has been at the center of the explosions of usage, 1945 to 2014 … scientific computing, management information systems, introduction of the minicomputer and the personal computer, software as a product separate from hardware, ARPAnet and the internet, internet search capabilities, cell phones and smart phones, and social networking.
However the US is not the whole world. The internet got its start at a physics research facility in Switzerland (CERN) and grew out of a need to be in communication with colleagues, quickly, over long distances, sharing large files. The interpersonal communication enabled by smart phones has had political consequences already that these authors are afraid to touch. Egypt’s shutting down of the internet connections with the rest of the world during the Arab Spring, and China’s current demands upon corporate services entering the Chinese markets (as with Yahoo, Google) have implications not addressed in this history. Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC) experience in having its computer architecture and software stolen by the USSR, reproduced there, and perhaps advancing Russia’s space capabilities is not touched. If Russia did not steal computer advances from the west, what was the history of their advance and how do their capabilities compare with capabilities in the west?
My impression of the Ceruzzi history (2003) was that it traced technological developments, seeing less clearly the underlying needs for information which drove computer usage and opened new markets for the technology. My impression of the Campbell-Kelly history (2014) is that it never gets far from IBM and Microsoft as “hitching posts” and thus loses important trends and insights available from computing over the last 70 or 80 years. The Thackray’s (2015) biography of Gordon Moore is an insightful close up of the development of the printed circuit and its contribution to computing history but, in the larger picture, is a snapshot of a detail. I’m starting my read of Colwell’s (2006) story of the development of a recent aspect of printed circuit computer architecture. Rifkin’s biography of Ken Olsen (1988) and Anderson’s account (2009) of the experience of creating and developing DEC certainly will add detail to the history of computing that is not covered in Ceruzzi or in Campbell-Kelly. The invention of the chip in two places (Reid, 2001) has had something to do with the technological history of computing. I know of no history addressing computing’s and the internet’s impact on education, no history examining the impact of communicating and computing on politics and the world’s sense of direction. There is extensive opportunity here for some insightful historians.
Ceruzzi quotes Mark Twain (2003, p 207) who said: “Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.” It is a humorist’s look at the difficult, nearly impossible, task of the historian. Historians seem to have needed a century to see the causes of World War I and understand how that conflict led on into World War II and the Cold War. It may take yet another decade or more before historians are able to see enough of the many aspects of computing, communicating, and their history to write a truly insightful, seeing-the-whole-picture of the phenomena of computing and communication, technologies that clearly are deeply affecting every aspect of our lives. Meantime, those with a need to know can explore the many views provided by the authors referenced here.
15 May 2016
Copyright © 2016 by Paul F. Ross All rights reserved.
Anderson, Harlan E. Learn, earn & return: My life as a computer pioneer 2009, Locust Press, Redding CT
Campbell-Kelly, Martin, Aspray, William, Ensmenger, Nathan, and Yost, Jeffrey R. Computer: A history of the information machine 2014, Third Edition, Westview Press, Boulder CO
Ceruzzi, Paul E. A history of modern computing 2003, Second Edition, MIT Press, Cambridge MA
Colwell, Robert P. The Pentium chronicles: The people, passion, and politics behind Intel’s landmark chips 2006, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ
Gates, Bill The road ahead 1996, Penguin Books, New York NY
Levy, Steven In the Plex: How Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives 2011, Simon & Schuster, New York NY
Lohr, Steve Go to: The story of the math majors, bridge players, engineers, chess wizards, maverick scientists and iconoclasts – The programmers who created the software revolution 2001, Basic Books, New York NY
Reid, T. R. The chip: How two Americans invented the microchip and launched a revolution Second edition. 2001, Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York NY
Rifkin, Glenn, and Harrar, George The ultimate entrepreneur: The story of Ken olsen and Digital Equipment Corporation 1988, Contemporary Books, Chicago IL
Schein, Edgar H. DEC is dead; Long live DEC: Lessons on innovation, technology, and the business gene – The lasting legacy of Digital Equipment Corporation 2003, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc., San Francisco CA
Segaller, Stephen Nerds 2.0.1: A brief history of the internet 1998, Oregon Public Broadcasting; see TV Books, New York, NY
Thackray, Arnold, Brock, David C., and Jones, Rachel Moore’s Law: The life of Gordon Moore, Sillicon Valley’s quiet revolutionary 2015, Basic Books, New York NY
Wu, Tim The master switch: The rise and fall of information empires 2010, Alfred A. Knopf, New York NY
For those of us who started a career when computers were crude, this is personal. I worked in an office in 1968 with a computer the size of 3 refrigerators. It was capable of doing what a basic hand calculator does today but we were quite impressed with it. It was not until 1986 that I had a personal computer on my desk, an IBM 286, I think. Now, like many people, I spend a large % of my time at the computer.
Midwest Independent Research, educational websites. Technology, mwir-technology.blogspot. There are book lists.