What would existence be like with no computer? It’s hard to picture but it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have them. Now most of us carry multiple computers, i.e. laptops, e-readers, and smartphones.

How did computers turn into such a key appliance in such a short amount of time? That’s the question that science historian and writer George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing’s Cathedral, a kind of personal history of the computer.

Dyson, the son of scientist Freeman Dyson, has spent much of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The institute was home to a few of the world’s most impressive scientific minds while the first digital computer was being created.

After you’ve read Turing’s Cathedral, you will discover just how much chance went into developing the machine that brought about the computers we now take for granted. The personalities at the Princeton Institute didn’t always mesh well, but somehow they were able to create the world’s first digital computer. This machine was assembled and run from an otherwise nondescript building in New Jersey.

Genius or not, people are still people, and when working closely on the same project there are bound to be rivalries and disagreements that arise. Turing’s Cathedral lays these things open, showing the humanity of the scientist that created the first computer.It wasn’t just the personal disputes that needed to be put aside to make this project productive; there were also ethical issues involved. The work that went into the creation of the computer walked hand in hand with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.

You might think that history books are dry reads and a history of computers must be brimming with technical jargon. Turing’s Cathedral does not fit that image at all. Anybody who uses a computer will find this book intriguing. Which is an awful lot of people nowadays.

 

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