Jacquard's Web: How a Hand-loom Led to the Birth of the Information Age

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Oxford University Press, 2004 - Science - 302 pages
4 Reviews
In Jacquard's Web, James Essinger tells the story of some of the most brilliant inventors the world has ever known, in this fascinating account of how a hand-loom invented in Napoleonic France led to the development of the modern information age.
Essinger, a master story-teller, describes how Joseph-Marie Jacquard's loom enabled the silk-weavers of Lyons to weave fabrics 25 times faster than had previously been possible. The device used punched cards, which stored instructions for weaving whatever pattern or design was required. These cards can very reasonably be described as the world's first computer programs. Indeed, Essinger shows through a series of remarkable and meticulously researched historical connections--connections never before investigated--that the Jacquard loom kick-started a process of scientific evolution which would lead directly to the development of the modern computer. The book examines a wealth of extraordinary links between the nineteenth-century world of weaving and today's computer age: for example, modern computer graphics displays are based on exactly the same principles as those employed in Jacquard's special woven tableaux. Jacquard's Web also introduces some of the most colorful and interesting characters in the history of science and technology: the modest but exceptionally dedicated Jacquard himself; the brilliant but temperamental Victorian polymath Charles Babbage, who dreamed of a cogwheel computer operated using Jacquard cards; and the imaginative and perceptive Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's only legitimate daughter.
Attractively illustrated and compellingly narrated, Jacquard's Web is an engaging and delightful volume. It is an impressive case of historical detective work, one that will leave the reader mesmerized.

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User Review  - MarthaJeanne - LibraryThing

I had hoped for more about Jacquard and his loom. There is a lot more about Babbage than about Jaquard. Still, an interesting treatment of how punchcards led to today's computers. Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ceruleandaze - LibraryThing

Interesting exploration of an oft-forgotten but important forerunner of today's computers... the Jacquard loom of early 18th-century France. The book traces the loom's beginnings and evolution from ... Read full review

About the author (2004)


James Essinger is a freelance writer living in the United Kingdom.

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