The Man who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer

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Doubleday, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 246 pages
5 Reviews
From one of our most acclaimed novelists, a  David-and-Goliath biography for the digital age: the first entry in Doubleday’s joint Great Innovators series with the Sloan Foundation.

One night in the late 1930s, in a bar on the Illinois–Iowa border, John Vincent Atanasoff, a professor of physics at the University of Iowa, 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.

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Review: The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer

User Review  - Goodreads

Thoroughly enjoyable account of how early computers came to be. I was somewhat shocked to realize I had never heard of several of the key players, Atanasoff in particular. Now I want to read more about von Neumann. From how he was described he may have been the original open source engineer. Read full review

Review: The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer

User Review  - Goodreads

Not just the story of the man who invented the computer but also of other people who invented computers secretly from spare parts in Nazi Germany or to break codes in wartime England and could never ... Read full review

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.

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