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Turing's cathedral : the origins of the digital universe
George Dyson
Adult Nonfiction QA76.17 .D97 2012

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From Publishers' Weekly:

An overstuffed meditation on all things digital sprouts from this engrossing study of how engineers at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Studies, under charismatic mathematician John von Neumann (the book should really be titled Von Neumann's Cathedral), built a pioneering computer (called MANIAC) in the years after WWII. To readers used to thinking of computers as magical black boxes, historian Dyson (Darwin Among the Machines) gives an arresting view of old-school mechanics hammering the first ones together from vacuum tubes, bicycle wheels, and punch-cards. Unfortunately, his account of technological innovations is too sketchy for laypeople to quite follow. The narrative frames a meandering tour of the breakthroughs enabled by early computers, from hydrogen bombs to weather forecasting, and grandiose musings on the digital worldview of MANIAC's creators, in which the author loosely connects the Internet, DNA, and the possibility of extraterrestrial invasion via interstellar radio signals. Dyson's portrait of the subculture of Von Neumann and other European emigre scientists who midwifed America's postwar technological order is lively and piquant. But the book bites off more science than it can chew, and its expositions of hard-to-digest concepts from Godel's theorem to the Turing machine are too hasty and undeveloped to sink in. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Dyson's (Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship) history of the first computer is a compelling and readable narrative. Under the leadership of John von Neumann, researchers at the Institute of Advanced Study in New Jersey built the first working computer. The book details each of the principal scientists and their part in this grand scheme. Chapter by chapter, readers are introduced to more than 70 individuals, each of whom played a unique role in the project. Even Princeton University gets its own chapter. The novelistic structure of the book makes it more entertaining than a typical, chronological history text, though at times also more difficult to follow. Dyson often has newly introduced persons interact with other figures who do not appear until later chapters, which will make reading more difficult for those who are not already familiar with this topic. Verdict Recommended for readers interested in the history of computers, history of science during World War II, and modern American history.-Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen, Oregon Inst. of Technology, Portland (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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