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Engines of the Mind: The Evolution of the Computer from Mainframes to Microprocessors Paperback – February 17, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
It does give a good insight into the extensive history and heritage of the first real computers, the UNIVACs. It's easy these days to be fooled into feeling that history begins around 1969 with UNIX, and this book is helpful in illuminating the "Dark Ages".
The preamble sections about Babbage, and about computing prehistory, are interesting too, but a little disconnected from the later stuff (as indeed they were, historically).
However, I have a couple of complaints. Firstly, the book is in desperate need of a thorough proof-reading: the technical details have mostly been relegated to footnotes, but are frequently wrong in obvious ways, or consist of unhelpful analogies, and give the impression that the author has little scientific knowledge. The final chapter repeats, verbatim, sections of earlier ones, and is clearly tacked on (for a better coverage of the 70s-80s, read Steven Levy's "Hackers").
Secondly, there is very little computer science history in the book: no reference to Post, Turing (except as an engineer) or Church, or to their work of the 30s. (Read Andrew Hodges' "Turing..." for this); nor serious technical discussions of the subject matter covered. There is also no mention anywhere of FORTRAN or Lisp which were critical innovations occuring in the late 50s, the same timeframe as this book.
I guess "the History of UNIVAC" wouldn't have been such a catchy title.
Mr. Shurkin starts his novel at the beginning, quite literally, walking through early usage of numbers and counting through the development of modern numbers. Anyone familiar with early history will recognize the tale, although some interesting insights are provided. He then walks us through a fairly detailed treatment of Charles Babbage, and even describes fairly well the theory behind the development of his Difference Engine. We are then walked through the development of punch card machines to aid the US in post Civil War censuses, which leads to Hollerith's founding Tabulating Machine Co. which would become IBM. Shurkin focuses on the individuals that developed these main frames, so we then spend some time on ENIAC and its many offspring. Here the author starts to diverge into a somewhat personal discussion of who was the "real" founder of the mainframe, and thus the computer. The author does a good job of saying he does not believe Von Neumann's claims to be this father, and that Atanasoff's claims appear fictitious as well. Regardless of who 'wins' this argument, it would have been nice to know more of the author's own background in order to understand whether or how he was biased.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The ability to work with large numbers quickly and accurately evolved slowly, as the need required and society and science advanced. Read morePublished on January 19, 2008 by James Hoogerwerf
Shurkin begins his book "This book is about people, not machines" and he delivers. Mauchly, Eckert, Atanasoff, Berry, Goldstein and von Neumann all but come alive. Read morePublished on July 23, 2000 by Chris McKinstry
Recently I read a few books on John von Neumann, I don't see myself as an expert, but I do have some knowledge. Read morePublished on December 1, 1999 by Michael Krammer
This outstanding book concisely describes the early years of computing, the personalities involved, and the various external influences impacting the evolution of the art. Read morePublished on April 23, 1999
This book is merely an appetizer -- and a lukewarm one at that -- for the great, yet-to-be-written history of thinking machines. Read morePublished on February 11, 1997