What would existence be like with no computer? It’s tough to imagine but it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have them. Now most people carry multiple computers, i.e. laptops, e-readers, and smartphones.
How did computers grow to be such an important appliance in such a short amount of time? This is the question that science historian and writer George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing’s Cathedral, a sort of personal history of the computer.
Dyson, the son of scientist Freeman Dyson, has spent a lot of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The institute was home to many of the world’s most powerful scientific minds whilst the first digital computer was being created.
After you’ve read Turing’s Cathedral, you’ll discover just how much chance went into creating the machine that brought about the computers we currently take for granted. The personalities at the Princeton Institute didn’t often mesh well, but somehow they managed to create the world’s first digital computer. This machine was created and run from an otherwise nondescript building in New Jersey.
Like all great projects, this one included more than its share of rivalries, fall-outs, and, certainly, salty language. The people behind this project were geniuses. They weren’t saints. The book also covers the important moral issues the creators of the computer faced by the close relationship of their computer work to the U.S. nuclear weapons project.
You might think that history books are dry reads and a history of computers must be crammed with technical jargon. Turing’s Cathedral doesn’t fit that image at all. Anybody who uses a computer will find this book interesting. Which is an awful lot of people nowadays.