The Man Who Invented the Computer

Front Cover
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Oct 19, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 304 pages
6 Reviews
From one of our most acclaimed novelists, a  David-and-Goliath biography for the digital age.

One night in the late 1930s, in a bar on the Illinois–Iowa border, John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor of physics at Iowa State University, after a frustrating day performing tedious mathematical calculations in his lab, hit on the idea that the binary number system and electronic switches, com­bined with an array of capacitors on a moving drum to serve as memory, could yield a computing machine that would make his life and the lives of other similarly burdened scientists easier. Then he went back and built the machine. It worked. The whole world changed.

Why don’t we know the name of John Atanasoff as well as we know those of Alan Turing and John von Neumann? Because he never patented the device, and because the developers of the far-better-known ENIAC almost certainly stole critical ideas from him. But in 1973 a court declared that the patent on that Sperry Rand device was invalid, opening the intellectual property gates to the computer revolution.

Jane Smiley tells the quintessentially American story of the child of immigrants John Atanasoff with technical clarity and narrative drive, making the race to develop digital computing as gripping as a real-life techno-thriller.

From the Hardcover edition.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - KirkLowery - LibraryThing

Interesting story, but the focus was upon the legal and patent issues involved with proving Atanastoff to be the first inventor of a working computer. One gets lost between all the maneuvering of the ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - ljhliesl - LibraryThing

So far (p. 28) Smiley has asserted a couple of head-scratchers: "The measurement required by an analog calculator would be replaced by counting. Since this is similar to the way a child counts on his ... Read full review

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About the author (2010)

JANE SMILEY is the author of eleven novels, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning A Thousand Acres, and three works of nonfiction. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. Smiley lives in Northern California.

From the Hardcover edition.

Bibliographic information