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Eniac: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer

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Based on original interviews with surviving participants and the first study of John Mauchly and Presper Eckert's personal papers, ENIAC tells the story of the three-year race to complete the world's first computer--and of the three-decade struggle to take credit for it. 10 illustrations. Based on original interviews with surviving participants and the first study of John Mauchly and Presper Eckert's personal papers, ENIAC tells the story of the three-year race to complete the world's first computer--and of the three-decade struggle to take credit for it. 10 illustrations.


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Based on original interviews with surviving participants and the first study of John Mauchly and Presper Eckert's personal papers, ENIAC tells the story of the three-year race to complete the world's first computer--and of the three-decade struggle to take credit for it. 10 illustrations. Based on original interviews with surviving participants and the first study of John Mauchly and Presper Eckert's personal papers, ENIAC tells the story of the three-year race to complete the world's first computer--and of the three-decade struggle to take credit for it. 10 illustrations.

30 review for Eniac: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    This book is great. What a fantastic idea to spend the whole focus of a book on the invention of Eniac. I loved every delicious minute of the invention process, court battles, politics, and personal battles surrounding the development of Eniac. When I was very little, my father took me to UPenn to see Eniac. He worked there as a programmer in the late 1970s and took me into his office and explained what email was, at the time a foreign concept. He helped me type a message to one of his coworkers This book is great. What a fantastic idea to spend the whole focus of a book on the invention of Eniac. I loved every delicious minute of the invention process, court battles, politics, and personal battles surrounding the development of Eniac. When I was very little, my father took me to UPenn to see Eniac. He worked there as a programmer in the late 1970s and took me into his office and explained what email was, at the time a foreign concept. He helped me type a message to one of his coworkers and I hit send! It took a lot of explaining on his part for me to understand that I sent a real letter to a real person, just like one the postal worker would deliver, and that I had done it in a fraction of a second. I was really young but understood it enough to be amazed. Email was a brand new phenomenon and could only be sent inside the building itself, but what a rush! I was taken in by the size of Eniac and by my father's words, spouting off the many incredible things it could do when no one else had anything like it-- and how it led to the progress they were making in computing at that point in the 70s. When I later studied cognitive science at UPenn, I went back to see it and remembered how amazed I was as a little girl. On the second time around I was even more captivated. Reading about the politics at Penn was fascinating. I love the struggles that played out between Penn and its workers, the Army and the Navy, and IBM and other companies. It's crazy how often the little guy gets screwed. Money often determines the outcome. In addition to that, being an extrovert really helps... a lot. Programmers and scientists are often not very good at speaking up and asserting dominance. Poor Mauchly. I do not want to provide any spoilers, but the portrayal of his life, until his death, was my favorite part of the book. So if I loved it so much, why 3 stars? The history enthusiast in me wanted to give it 5 stars. The human being in me who cares about basic rights and inequality wanted to give it one star. He allotted one sentence to Ada Lovelace, and it was unbelievably dismissive. When writing about the female computers, he seemed to think himself progressive for stating they were thought of as clerks but were in reality actual programmers. Gee thanks. When authors tell histories that leave out key females, they help to bury their worth even deeper. I am really tired of that. I cannot in good conscience give more than 3 stars to any author who does that, no matter how great the rest of the book was, and the rest of the book was truly great. A main goal for this book, if not the main goal, was to right the wrongs that had been committed by excluding the significant contributions of the very people who made some of the most significant contributions. It is therefore all the more surprising that he would treat Ada Lovelace's contributions so dismissively. He did the very thing he argued against in this book

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    The story of Eniac is a remarkable tale of inspiration, genius, hard work, and triumph, followed by some rather sordid attempts by people on the periphery to claim credit for it. John Mauchley and Presper Eckert were two brilliant men thrown together by the exigencies of World War II and the Army’s pressing need for a fast way to calculate trajectory tables for artillery. Mauchley was a physicist who had been teaching at a liberal arts college and only had a job there because the school’s nursin The story of Eniac is a remarkable tale of inspiration, genius, hard work, and triumph, followed by some rather sordid attempts by people on the periphery to claim credit for it. John Mauchley and Presper Eckert were two brilliant men thrown together by the exigencies of World War II and the Army’s pressing need for a fast way to calculate trajectory tables for artillery. Mauchley was a physicist who had been teaching at a liberal arts college and only had a job there because the school’s nursing program had a science requirement that he was qualified to teach. Eckert was a young electrical engineer who had applied for his first patent at age twenty-one. Their proposal for an electronic computer was not well received. The Army already had a plan for an analog computer built by IBM and Harvard University that they were sure would meet their needs. However, the requirement for a device to make rapid calculations was so great they decided to take a chance on the Mauchley/Eckerd machine as a fallback to the other project, and let a contract to the University of Pennsylvania to build it. Constructing it required solving one complex engineering problem after another. Most famously, they addressed the issue of the unreliability of vacuum tubes by running them at a fraction of their rated voltage, which significantly extended their lives. In its final incarnation after rebuilds in the 1950s Eniac had 20,000 vacuum tubes, and over 5,000,000 hand-soldered joins. It wasn’t ready by the end of World War II, but it was in continuous use after that until 1955, primarily working on calculations for nuclear weapons research. Eniac’s competition is also a fascinating story. The IBM Harvard Mark 1 was an enormous analog computer, and a masterpiece of engineering in its own right. According to its Wikipedia entry it was fifty-one feet long, weighed 9445 pounds, and contained 765,000 components. Eniac was actually not much faster than the Mark 1, but both of them were enormously faster than the old method of working out ballistics problems by hand. Eniac could complete a calculation in thirty seconds that would take a human twenty hours. Once Eniac was up and running it became clear that the future was in electronic computers, and its success led to attempts to steal credit for it. For instance, since the project was awarded to the University of Pennsylvania, they appointed a faculty member to be the nominal project manager. He did not believe in it, took no part in the engineering design or development, and hardly ever even appeared in the lab, but when Eniac was seen to be a great success he filed a patent naming himself as the inventor. Even worse was the behavior of John von Neumann. He was one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century, a true genius by any measure, but his dealings with Eniac do no credit to his memory. Late in the development process Mauchley and Eckert showed him their plans for an improved version. He made some suggestions regarding programmability, then wrote a document that introduced scientists around the world to the potential for electronic computers. In it, however, his description of Mauchley and Eckert made them seem like mere technicians, and while he did not directly claim credit for the device, he left that impression. He also persuaded the Army to release his document unclassified, so it was widely read. When Mauchley and Eckert saw it they wrote a rebuttal with the actual facts, but even though their document was shorter than Von Neumann’s and had less technical information, theirs was classified and reached a much smaller audience. Von Neumann lived for twelve years after the war and had multiple opportunities to correct the misperception that he was responsible for Eniac, but never did. After the success of Eniac Mauchley and Eckert started a company to build computers, but they were better engineers than businessmen, and it foundered. They went their separate ways and tried other ventures, but none were particularly successful and the latter parts of their careers were filled with disappointments. Had it not been for the war there would have been no incentive, and no funding, to build an electronic computer. Analog devices had a track record and seemed to be a better prospect, so it is likely that years would have passed before it became clear that there was a better way to go. It is interesting to think how much farther behind we would be today without Eniac to show the way.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thompson

    I have read a number of books about the history of computers -- Babbage, Turing, Gates, Jobs and so on. I knew a bit about the work of Aitken at Harvard. And I had heard of Eniac and Univac, but knew zero about their history, and I had never heard of Eckert and Mauchly. In most ways, this is just another pretty good book about science history, but I found it fascinating because it taught me about people I had never heard of who made very important contributions to a very important field. Lots of I have read a number of books about the history of computers -- Babbage, Turing, Gates, Jobs and so on. I knew a bit about the work of Aitken at Harvard. And I had heard of Eniac and Univac, but knew zero about their history, and I had never heard of Eckert and Mauchly. In most ways, this is just another pretty good book about science history, but I found it fascinating because it taught me about people I had never heard of who made very important contributions to a very important field. Lots of people had imagined computing machines, many had built machines that could add and do other simple arithmatic, but Eckert and Mauchly were really the first to put it all together into a device that actually worked that had all of the key elements of a modern general purpose computer. That's an awesome achievement. The single most interesting thing in this book is the claim that the so-called Von Neuman architecture, which defines the basic structure of all moden computers was really invented by Eckert and Mauchly, but that Von Neuman was able to claim credit for it by some academic publishing sleight of hand. I haven't had one of my personal heroes take such a body blow since I learned about Hamilton's views on Thomas Jefferson. The second most interesting thing was how the ineptitude of the admnistration at U. Penn. in dealing with patent policies for professors may have cost Philadelphia the leading position as the tech capital of the country. Instead Stanford, Harvard and MIT were able to claim the tech crown for their cities.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    I really enjoy reading books about the history of technology, and this audio book was particularly fascinating. World War II created a demand for lots of number crunching, especially for the development of artillery tables. Human computers — hence the origin of the word for the hardware we all use today — were women who had been math majors. They were recruited in droves to laboriously perform the intricate computations that governed the positioning of field pieces. The tables were all predicated I really enjoy reading books about the history of technology, and this audio book was particularly fascinating. World War II created a demand for lots of number crunching, especially for the development of artillery tables. Human computers — hence the origin of the word for the hardware we all use today — were women who had been math majors. They were recruited in droves to laboriously perform the intricate computations that governed the positioning of field pieces. The tables were all predicated on the environmental conditions in Texas, and unfortunately when they tried to use them in North Africa, they discovered the nature of the soil was so different that it affected the firing of the guns, and the tables were worthless. Teachers and professors had been inducted by the thousands, so when two otherwise less than spectacular individuals presented themselves at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania they were welcomed. J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were very different kinds of individuals but they complemented each other nicely. Eckert had an engineer's desire for perfection and getting something to work, Mauchly was driven was a desire to find a device that would help him solve the intricate computations needed to predict the weather. Mauchly had gotten his Ph.D. in the thirties, and his first job was teaching at Ursinus College where he enlisted his students to use elementary mechanical calculators to do the staggering numbers of calculations required to determine weather patterns. He began playing around with circuits and electronics, knowing there must be something better. He was intrigued by the work being done at Swarthmore College with vacuum tubes. These newfangled devices had the ability to turn off and on very quickly. They were being used to count cosmic rays, so Mauchly wondered if they might have an application for his calculator. Could they be used to replace the pins in a mechanical device he wondered. They would be much faster. Eckert had been a tinkerer all his life, building assorted machines and electrical devices. He wanted to attend MIT, but his parents could see no value in a career in physics or engineering, so he was sent to the University of Pennsylvania to study business. He soon switched to the Moore School after becoming bored. He became bored easily and once fell asleep during a class taught by the dean. He created a little device that he took to dances that would measure the intensity of a kiss by simply measuring the moisture on a couple’s hands. His first patent was for a mechanism to use light to record sound on motion picture film, and it worked much better than what was in current use, but it never caught on. The idea that electronics could be used to create a super-fast calculating machine was pooh-poohed by those trained in traditional principles of science, but the army, desperate for a assistance with their artillery tables was willing to try anything. RCA and the experts in vacuum tube technology had told them what they were doing was impossible. Reliability just wasn’t there. Soon Mauchly and Eckert had come up with a design that used some 18,000 vacuum tubes and required miles of wires to connect them all. Eckert discovered that if he ran the tubes at 10% of the rated voltage, the tubes would last much longer with far fewer failures. That was to be a significant realization, as they obviously could not be replacing vacuum tubes all the time. Eckert did lots of research. He was such a perfectionist that he did studies with starved mice to see if there were cables that the mice would not chew on or eat even when extremely hungry, and that was the only kind of cable he would permit in the machine. The machine took up a large room and generated a considerable amount of heat and used much energy. The project was not actually completed until just after the war, but it was an astonishing feat, the first time an electronic machine had been able to make decisions based on a calculation (it had if-then statements built in to it). Once the machine was completed and working, it became obvious to many in the university that they had a potential goldmine, and other faculty, including the famous John Van Neumann, tried to claim credit for their work. The university administrators made a bad tactical error by insisting that all patents be turned over to the university, a break with tradition at the time, and this caused such hard feeling that both men left Penn just five weeks after the unveiling of the machine. The chance to become the computer/ technological capitol of the country — that Boston was to become — was lost for Philadelphia. Also of interest is The Soul of a New Machine albeit very dated now.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bojan Tunguz

    It is hard to imagine today, when there is literally a computer in each pocket in a form of a smartphone, that digital computers are a relatively recent development in the course of human history. They have more than anything else in the past fifty years changed the way we live and communicate with each other, the way we entertain ourselves, and have touched almost every aspect of our lives in ways that we have increasingly come to take for granted. And yet it is ironic that almost no one would It is hard to imagine today, when there is literally a computer in each pocket in a form of a smartphone, that digital computers are a relatively recent development in the course of human history. They have more than anything else in the past fifty years changed the way we live and communicate with each other, the way we entertain ourselves, and have touched almost every aspect of our lives in ways that we have increasingly come to take for granted. And yet it is ironic that almost no one would be able to tell you who invented the computer. This is in a marked contrast with many other technological inventions that have changed the modern civilization. Almost any kid could tell you who invented the steam engine, the cotton gin, the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, the light bulb or the radio. For better or for worse, all of those inventions have particular name or two associated with them. Unfortunately, because of the series of historical misfortunes, the true inventors of the first functioning digital computer ENIAC are hardly household names. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were the minds behind this WWII seminal effort, and even had the patent to the computer to their credit for a while, but due to a series of historic misfortunes and legal wrangling lost that piece of prestige. This book goes a long way towards righting that wrong. It is well researched and replete with details of the effort that led to the construction of ENIAC, with many interesting and amusing anecdotes. It paints a very humane and sympathetic picture of Eckert and Mauchly, all with their characteristic human foibles and weaknesses. And yet, Scott McCartney is not entirely opposed to the fact that no single individual ultimately benefited from the invention of the computer. To him at least this was the reason why the huge advances in computer industry were possible in such a short span of time. Ultimately, this is a very readable and enjoyable book, with a lot of important historical insight.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hamish Seamus

    Not especially well written. The introduction seemed a little condescending. The content is good though. NOTES: Pascall was the first teenage computer whiz. He was 19 when he built the Pascaline. Vanavar Bush's Differential Analyzer was analogue. Ekhert would starve mice and then put them in a box with a bunch of different types of wires. Whichever wire the mice chewed on the least was used in ENIAC. Thus mice-chewing damage could be avoided. This seems like a poignant illustration of some fundament Not especially well written. The introduction seemed a little condescending. The content is good though. NOTES: Pascall was the first teenage computer whiz. He was 19 when he built the Pascaline. Vanavar Bush's Differential Analyzer was analogue. Ekhert would starve mice and then put them in a box with a bunch of different types of wires. Whichever wire the mice chewed on the least was used in ENIAC. Thus mice-chewing damage could be avoided. This seems like a poignant illustration of some fundamental principle. "Bad luck just means you didn't do enough engineering" perhaps. Von Neumann's role in early computing sheds some light on the mechanics of Stigler's Law of Eponymy - the law that famous discoveries and inventions are never named after their first discoverer or inventor. Eckert and Mauchly were busy actually building the first electronic programmable computers, and were also under military or academic (I forget which) obligations not to publish their results. Von Neumann dropped in during the development of EDVAC, and wrote an elegant sumary of the results so far (First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC). This ended up being widely circulated, and because von Neumann was already a person of interest, lots of ears pricked up. So the architecture which was mostly devised by Eckert and Mauchly ended up being called "von Neumann architecture" because 1) von Neumann could communicate the results well, 2) von Neumann was well connected and had an audience, so most people heard of the architecture through him, 3) he wasn't in the weeds making the damn thing work, so could luxuriate in the more interesting aspects of the project, 4) he was a theoretician so could discern which ideas were fundamental and which were implementation details, 5) because this wasn't his baby, giving it away to the world for free was no skin off of his back, 6) he was still working on other projects and moving in other circles so could get the idea out there quickly, 7) as an outsider, he could see what aspects of the project were most interesting to an outsider. Eckert and Mauchly were working on EDVAC - the successor to ENIAC - at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering, but left after the school demanded ownership of intellectual property. The duo set of to start their own company - the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) - and began work on BINAC and UNIVAC (aka BINAC Pro). BINAC had a speaker attached to the data bus to make noises as it ran. It also released a hard-boiled egg from its innards on command. However, it never really worked as a computer. Too many corners were cut in its construction. This led to the EMCC sinking, and ultimately being acquired by the Remington Rand Corporation. Remington Rand then merged into the Sperry Corporation, which thus inherited the ENIAC patent. Sperry entered into a patent-sharing agreement with IBM, which led the Honeywell Corporation, which was making its own computers, to challenge the patent in court. Sperry ultimately lost the patent, with Atanasoff being declared the true inventor of the electronic digital computer, although this may have had more to do with trust-busting than with who was the true inventor. What exactly happened with Atanasoff and why he never seemed to get past the his original ABC machine is an intersting question and one which isn't entirely clear from this book. Mauchly started Mauchly Associates and created a portable computer in a suitcase, long before the likes of compact computer corporation. However, because communication between computers was an open issue, there was no market. > "The biggest surprise to me, was that development went so slowly" Mauchly said on computing "It seemed to me that it was an obvious direction, that it was laid out, and that a lot of people ought to have taken hold of this thing right away, and the development should have actually gone faster than it actually did." Mauchly: > I'm not a good salesman... I haven't seen how to sell some of my ideas. The selling of the original ENIAC to the army ordinance was a purely fortuitous thing based on the fact that there was a war going on. There was a need there and somehow I had gotten into the Moore School - the right place at the right time. It's a big game of chance. That time I happened to win. And the world happened to win. If one were to narrativise the ENIAC history, it would be a tragedy centered on Mauchly. ENIAC was mostly his idea: he wanted a computer to predict the weather, and yet during its development he was prevented from giving it as much attention as he wanted due to teaching commitments and had to take a back seat. He eventually managed to put more time into ENIAC, but at the cost of a big salary cut. After getting ENIAC off the ground, Mauchly and Eckert found that Von Neumann was getting all the credit for the invention, despite him only playing a quite minor role. They were then pushed out of academia by the Moore School demanding their intellectual property. Before launching their new venture, Mauchly finally took some time off to go on a holiday with his recent wife. During the trip she drowned at sea. The Eckert-Mauchly Corportation completely failed to monetise their invention, despite years of intense work. This wasn't too bad for Eckert who had married into money, but Mauchly ended up broke and almost lost his house. After being forced into the humilitating position of having to sell their company, Eckert and Mauchly ended up being stripped of their patent of ENIAC, and Atanasoff was declared the "true" inventor of the electronic digital computer. Mauchly continued inventing but was never able to achieve the success he deserved. He died at 72, and missed out on being awarded the Medal of Honour with Eckhert. A final humourous thought: John Eckert and John Mauchly should be known as "the ENIAC Johns".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Muschinske

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Provides a good overview of the development of ENIAC, the lives of those involved and their varied success after development and the end of WWII. While von Neumann often is credited as the inventor of modern digital computer architecture due to wide dissemination of a draft article, Eckert and Mauchly actually designed and built it before the article was conceived. In the end, the two inventors turned out to be poor businessmen, IBM soon overtook all other competitors leading to industry in the Provides a good overview of the development of ENIAC, the lives of those involved and their varied success after development and the end of WWII. While von Neumann often is credited as the inventor of modern digital computer architecture due to wide dissemination of a draft article, Eckert and Mauchly actually designed and built it before the article was conceived. In the end, the two inventors turned out to be poor businessmen, IBM soon overtook all other competitors leading to industry in the 1960s being termed “IBM and the Seven Dwarfs”. The final injustice was the invalidation of the computer patent which left the creators with practically nothing. No business success and no recognition for their lives’ work. This book describes the darker sides to invention, the messy lives of those involved, grudges, and stretching the truth as to who truly made major contributions towards the first co,outer. It demonstrates that no idea or invention is born in a vacuum and that it took many small contributions from dozens of people to arrive at the finished product. Another lesson learned: Don’t file just a single patent to make multiple broad claims with no references to prior art; it won’t end well. Better to make multiple filings on certain aspects so if one part/patent is invalided, it won’t invalidate all of your work in its entirety.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Des

    “The Triumphs and Tragedies …” is a good qualifier for the title of this book. Unfortunately I had hoped to read a more detailed history of the development of ENIAC and it’s significance and historical context. The writing style was bland and the interest level diminished accordingly. In my view good historical writing creates a narrative and brings together themes that explain and discuss the historical context and the related problems and issues. This book fails in this regard. If it were designed “The Triumphs and Tragedies …” is a good qualifier for the title of this book. Unfortunately I had hoped to read a more detailed history of the development of ENIAC and it’s significance and historical context. The writing style was bland and the interest level diminished accordingly. In my view good historical writing creates a narrative and brings together themes that explain and discuss the historical context and the related problems and issues. This book fails in this regard. If it were designed as a textbook on the personal papers of the inventors, the detail of what was uncovered, and the aftermath it would have been good, but still quite dull and uninteresting. There is considerable discussion of the business models and development following ENIAC’s invention. The book also examines John Mauchly and Presper Eckert's failure to secure a patent resulting from a 1973 court decision. I found this more interesting and better written than the highly significant technical achievement. The book is more suitable as reference material not for recreational reading. I’ve read much better.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bea Zee

    As a recent convert into the world of programming and code, this book mesmorized me. As a recently made Philadelphian, the story hit even closer to home. Here I am getting into the tech world in the very city where the remarkable characters in this book came up with ingenious solutions that allowed for the building of groundbreaking inventions. Theres more to it, however, as you will read about the politics and general bullshittery that goes into any entrepreneurial goal or dealings with big busi As a recent convert into the world of programming and code, this book mesmorized me. As a recently made Philadelphian, the story hit even closer to home. Here I am getting into the tech world in the very city where the remarkable characters in this book came up with ingenious solutions that allowed for the building of groundbreaking inventions. Theres more to it, however, as you will read about the politics and general bullshittery that goes into any entrepreneurial goal or dealings with big business, big government, or big personalities. I personally finished the book feeling inspired. Van Gogh wasn't recognized in his lifetime, and the main players in this novel faced the same issue. But the imagination, curiosity, determination and intelligence inspired me. Hopefully those that read this book will also be inspired and in that way the legacy of that exciting and tumultuous time and those genius, passionate men can carry on.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Codepoetz

    You probably know who invented the automobile and who invented the light bulb. But you probably don't know who invented the first electronic computer or the fascinating story behind why they aren't richer than God. Personally, I found it fascinating that the young engineers who created the first electronic computer had zero knowledge of Babbage/Ada's early work with analogue computing devices. [Note: Howard Aiken used Babbage's research during the construction of the Mark I at Harvard, but the M You probably know who invented the automobile and who invented the light bulb. But you probably don't know who invented the first electronic computer or the fascinating story behind why they aren't richer than God. Personally, I found it fascinating that the young engineers who created the first electronic computer had zero knowledge of Babbage/Ada's early work with analogue computing devices. [Note: Howard Aiken used Babbage's research during the construction of the Mark I at Harvard, but the Mark I was not an electronic computer so it did not evolve into the computers that we use today.] [Note: Henry Ford did not invent the automobile and Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb.]

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dan Cohen

    A serviceable account of the origins and development of ENIAC and what happened to the key figures afterwards. Much of the book is taken up with the subsequent disputes about who should have received credit for what and I felt the author was heavily invested in certain positions (supporting Mauchly and Eckert) where I needed also to hear the other side of the argument. Frankly, it's difficult to come away from the book with a great deal of liking for any of the protagonists - I don't know if thi A serviceable account of the origins and development of ENIAC and what happened to the key figures afterwards. Much of the book is taken up with the subsequent disputes about who should have received credit for what and I felt the author was heavily invested in certain positions (supporting Mauchly and Eckert) where I needed also to hear the other side of the argument. Frankly, it's difficult to come away from the book with a great deal of liking for any of the protagonists - I don't know if this is due to their shortcomings or to the writing. Certainly worth a read for anyone interested in the history of computing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Pasecky

    This book is another narrow slice of computing history that serves as a great companion to 'The Dream Machine'. The book does a great job of detailing the origins of ENIAC and outline the significance of that computer's impact on society as a whole. I appreciated the effort the author took to tease apart who deserves credit (and for what). This is the second book in a row that goes into what an asshole John Von Neumann was. I would recommend this if you are already interested in computing histor This book is another narrow slice of computing history that serves as a great companion to 'The Dream Machine'. The book does a great job of detailing the origins of ENIAC and outline the significance of that computer's impact on society as a whole. I appreciated the effort the author took to tease apart who deserves credit (and for what). This is the second book in a row that goes into what an asshole John Von Neumann was. I would recommend this if you are already interested in computing history, though I don't think it will ultimately convert you if you aren't .

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jaak Ennuste

    Sometimes it's good to look back and instead of taking the computer as a black box -- you really become to understand how it works. The times, when every single digit was made of radio bulbs and all different directions of the developments were open. This book is not very well written, sometimes not consistent, sometimes repeating itself. But the essence is there, you have to distill it by yourself. Sometimes it's good to look back and instead of taking the computer as a black box -- you really become to understand how it works. The times, when every single digit was made of radio bulbs and all different directions of the developments were open. This book is not very well written, sometimes not consistent, sometimes repeating itself. But the essence is there, you have to distill it by yourself.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick Robinson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The novel was a very factual piece focusing on, obviously, the first computer ever instructed. Not like a Windows or a Macbook, but a machine that is able to make computations, such as addition and multiplication. It was a long journey of putting this product into production consisting of many different trials and new discoveries along with the occasional mishaps and even stolen fame. Many historians credit mathematician and physicist, John von Neumann, for the creation of this great advancement The novel was a very factual piece focusing on, obviously, the first computer ever instructed. Not like a Windows or a Macbook, but a machine that is able to make computations, such as addition and multiplication. It was a long journey of putting this product into production consisting of many different trials and new discoveries along with the occasional mishaps and even stolen fame. Many historians credit mathematician and physicist, John von Neumann, for the creation of this great advancement, but in reality, the original starters of the project were John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. Neumann actually took credit for the project after becoming part of the team to create the project at Moore School in Philadelphia. The confusion aroused when Neumann created the first official documents regarding the Eniac. Mauchly and Eckert did not enjoy filling out paper work and creating patents on their work which came back to bite them in this situation. All that Mauchly and Eckert hope for now, even in death, that historians may one day recognize for all the hard work that they did and put into creating this invention. Overall, I enjoyed the book for everything it offered. It was a very intellectual novel and consisted of factual diction along with a casual tone to create an overall enjoyable experience in reading over a topic that can sometimes be very bland. The factual diction makes the reader feel the intellectual side of the piece while the casual tone brings the entertainment factor into the novel, adding in tidbits of fun information that makes the reader feel that the story is being told to them first hand rather than through written word. I would recommend this book to anybody that enjoys an intellectual read or to anybody that enjoys computer science. I gave this book four stars out of five because I did enjoy the book, but it was not one of my favorites. I felt that the book could be somewhat boring at times, but I think that it was written in the best manner that a novel on this topic could have been written in.

  15. 4 out of 5

    John

    An interesting read on the early history of the computer. The main flaw as I see it is that the story of ENIAC is largely outlined in the first third of the book. The rest of the slender tome goes on to detail the extended battles over patent rights. Plenty of print is spent on the creators' battles with themselves, the marketplace, and the powers that seemed to conspire to deny them their proper place in computing history well after ENIAC was retired. I have read only a little heretofore about An interesting read on the early history of the computer. The main flaw as I see it is that the story of ENIAC is largely outlined in the first third of the book. The rest of the slender tome goes on to detail the extended battles over patent rights. Plenty of print is spent on the creators' battles with themselves, the marketplace, and the powers that seemed to conspire to deny them their proper place in computing history well after ENIAC was retired. I have read only a little heretofore about the intellectual property battles detailed in the book. The author clearly has written the book to take up the cause of Mauchley and Eckert as not only the driving force behind ENIAC, but to laud them as the actual inventors of the modern electronic computer. I'm not inclined to argue - I was just more interested in the actual history and capabilities of the ENIAC itself, and apparently that wasn't worth the whole of the book. Even later, as the author and the inventors move on to found the "world's first computer company" and struggle to create the more powerful successor the UNIVAC, McCartney seems more interested in detailing Mauchley and Eckert's poor business decisions, deteriorating personal lives, and extended legal battles rather than expounding on what UNIVAC could do and how much better it was than ENIAC. Having said that, I did enjoy the book and found it quite interesting. I very much liked how the author detailed the various hurdles the ENIAC team faced and how they overcame them. I apreciated how he put the efforts to build the ENIAC into the context of the ebb and flow of the 2nd World War. The U.S. Army funded the development of ENIAC and it's demands, yoked to the innovative solutions of Mauchley and Eckert, created systems and architectures that literally launched the computer age.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlyn Concilio

    Inventions are invariably a tricky business. With very few exceptions, not many things sprang forth fully-formed from the minds of one (or two, or whatever) people. Even Isaac Newton reminded people of the ideas of those who came before him, when discussing his genius. This is not to diminish those inventors, but to point out that Ford didn't invent the automobile, Edison didn't invent the lightbulb, and if Bell was the first to crank out a telephone, it was by maybe a month. Tops. The computer i Inventions are invariably a tricky business. With very few exceptions, not many things sprang forth fully-formed from the minds of one (or two, or whatever) people. Even Isaac Newton reminded people of the ideas of those who came before him, when discussing his genius. This is not to diminish those inventors, but to point out that Ford didn't invent the automobile, Edison didn't invent the lightbulb, and if Bell was the first to crank out a telephone, it was by maybe a month. Tops. The computer is no different. A number of different people were working in the space of electronic calculating machines, to various degrees of "electronic" and "actually having it work." The two main inventors of the ENIAC machine, Mauchley and Eckert, have been (in the author's view — I haven't read around enough to make a judgment, though Wikipedia backs him up) relegated both in terms of their invention itself (pre-empted by a "digital computer" called the ABC that could only do one operation and, by the way, never actually worked) as well as their role in it, as various collaborators and hangers-on strove to take the credit. McCartney goes in for a deep dive, sourcing journals, interviews and various papers to restore the Digital Dyad (terrible name for a superhero team) to their rightful place in history. He traces them from their nerdy, tinkering roots through the creation of the ENIAC (and its voluminous red tape) through to the (understandably slightly bitter) ends of their lives. Eckert, for one, always hoped that history would prove to be a more fair arbiter of their role in computing history; this book is a good step in that direction.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Grey

    A really interesting story of two guys nobody's ever heard of. A really interesting tale about capitalism, dumb luck, personalities and the way the world sometimes works. Really felt like an insider's view into the back rooms at Penn in the 1940s. The writing, though, is kind of flat. Almost seemed like it took a juicy story and made it drier than it had to be. (And I'm a person interested in the subject matter.) However, loved the detail the author went into on various parts, esp. the Honeywell v. A really interesting story of two guys nobody's ever heard of. A really interesting tale about capitalism, dumb luck, personalities and the way the world sometimes works. Really felt like an insider's view into the back rooms at Penn in the 1940s. The writing, though, is kind of flat. Almost seemed like it took a juicy story and made it drier than it had to be. (And I'm a person interested in the subject matter.) However, loved the detail the author went into on various parts, esp. the Honeywell v. Sperry Rand case later. Obviously a lot of research went into the book, turning up some great interesting nuggets. Could also have been a little more forward-looking, even in a cursory epilogue. The book more-or-less ends at UNIVAC. How did we get from there to here? The book mentions transistors and integrated circuits not at all. (I understand the focus is on ENIAC and its related early computers -- but connecting the dots would have been helpful. What are the ENIAC analogues to modern computing hardware?) Also suffers a bit from being written in 1999, unfortunately. (The first words of Chapter 1 are -- I'm not kidding -- "You've got mail!", but that's more style than substance.) The Web revolution, inasmuch as it's referenced, is treated more as news-of-the-day than something transformative. All in all though, quite a good read. Debated 3 vs. 4 stars.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Krishna Kumar

    This is supposed to be the story of Presper Ekert and John Mauchly, the inventors of ENIAC, the first electronic computer. Actually, it is more about the politics and intrigue surrounding the invention and the various claims to fame by the people who were involved in the invention and the aftermath. The author is of the opinion that Ekert and Mauchly deserved more acclaim than they received, because others including John von Neumann received the credit because of their higher/better positions in This is supposed to be the story of Presper Ekert and John Mauchly, the inventors of ENIAC, the first electronic computer. Actually, it is more about the politics and intrigue surrounding the invention and the various claims to fame by the people who were involved in the invention and the aftermath. The author is of the opinion that Ekert and Mauchly deserved more acclaim than they received, because others including John von Neumann received the credit because of their higher/better positions in the establishment. It depends on what you are looking for in a book such as this. If you are mostly interested in the development of the technology, this book will be unsatisfying. It concentrates more on the personalities and the political games they played, instead of providing us with a deeper understanding of the invention and its challenges. I suppose that may be okay for many non-technical readers, but it was not for me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    J.P.

    The author wanted to make it clear who he thought invented the computer. So much so that the last 50 pages of this book dealt less with ENIAC and more with his effort to overwhelm the reader with facts supporting his case. One can get that idea across in 5 pages without getting beaten over the head with it in the remaining 45. You've made your point, move on. The book was quite readable although in workmanlike prose and yes, the author has a valid arguement that John Mauchly and Presper Eckert sh The author wanted to make it clear who he thought invented the computer. So much so that the last 50 pages of this book dealt less with ENIAC and more with his effort to overwhelm the reader with facts supporting his case. One can get that idea across in 5 pages without getting beaten over the head with it in the remaining 45. You've made your point, move on. The book was quite readable although in workmanlike prose and yes, the author has a valid arguement that John Mauchly and Presper Eckert should have received more credit for their invention. But for me this book didn't spend enough time on the scientific aspects and devoted too many pages over the squabbling of who built the first computer.

  20. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book presents the history behind the development of the first truly usable computer -- the Eniac. It makes a strong case that John W. Mauchly and J. A. Presper Eckert deserve the lion's share of the credit for its development, even though in many circles their names have been swept aside in favor of such notables and John von Neumann, who did much to publicize the work in academic research circles but who really did relatively little in its actual design and construction. In general, the boo This book presents the history behind the development of the first truly usable computer -- the Eniac. It makes a strong case that John W. Mauchly and J. A. Presper Eckert deserve the lion's share of the credit for its development, even though in many circles their names have been swept aside in favor of such notables and John von Neumann, who did much to publicize the work in academic research circles but who really did relatively little in its actual design and construction. In general, the book is an excellent case study in how the history of science and technology is not always "fair". It is engagingly written and well researched.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Curt Jeffreys

    The story of Eniac, the world's first truly programmable electronic computer, is both inspiring and heart breaking. J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were true visionaries, ahead of their time in many ways, yet exactly in the right place at the right time in more ways. Their story is one of technological innovation and political in-fighting. Unfortunately for them victory, fame, and most of the money went to those who could play the game, leaving the creators of this world-changing machine unde The story of Eniac, the world's first truly programmable electronic computer, is both inspiring and heart breaking. J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were true visionaries, ahead of their time in many ways, yet exactly in the right place at the right time in more ways. Their story is one of technological innovation and political in-fighting. Unfortunately for them victory, fame, and most of the money went to those who could play the game, leaving the creators of this world-changing machine under appreciated and, in Mauchly's case, broke. Scott McCartney has written an engaging and well researched tale of creativity, invention, and betrayal. Highly recommended.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    I read this in one sitting, which is rare for me. I won't say the book was remarkable, but it was informative. There are lots of people out there who have done their research, however, regarding the history of ENIAC. To say it if the world's first computer is a bit misleading. It's a great read in terms of some of the players, but the relationships between these people as well as some factual info need to be taken with a grain of salt, and further research should be done to get the real dope if I read this in one sitting, which is rare for me. I won't say the book was remarkable, but it was informative. There are lots of people out there who have done their research, however, regarding the history of ENIAC. To say it if the world's first computer is a bit misleading. It's a great read in terms of some of the players, but the relationships between these people as well as some factual info need to be taken with a grain of salt, and further research should be done to get the real dope if you plan to read this.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Don

    I liked this book, but I felt like the author was a little eager to come to an end. He could have spend some more time on the personal biographies of the two inventors, as well as some more technical information. And where are the pictures!? Instead I felt he skimped a little on both, and before I knew it I reached the end. Left me wanting more. Don't worry--Wikipedia has the technical info behind ENIAC that's missing from the book. I liked this book, but I felt like the author was a little eager to come to an end. He could have spend some more time on the personal biographies of the two inventors, as well as some more technical information. And where are the pictures!? Instead I felt he skimped a little on both, and before I knew it I reached the end. Left me wanting more. Don't worry--Wikipedia has the technical info behind ENIAC that's missing from the book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ivanov

    I remember this being a fairly engaging book - was probably my first dive into computing history, I read it in a few sittings at the (now long gone) Crowne Books in Mountain View as a sophomore in high school. The thing I most remember from this book is that the von Neumann archicture should not be so named, because as McCartney argues, Eckert and Mauchly contributed significantly in developing those ideas with (and perhaps even before) von Neumann.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Interesting history of the first real electronic computer and the two men responsible for it. Quite short, but could have been shorter still because the message is simple: here are these two men who created the first computer, and a few other people (through cunning and lawsuits) stole the credit from them. Reinforces the central role the USG, and the military in particular, played in the development of computers. Audiobook.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom Schulte

    So many history of computing books focus on colorful long hairs with post-hippie philosophies that this is both refreshing and jarring for the business, patent, and priority squabbles it details. Interestingly, John von Neumann comes across as the most unethical in using his prestige to grab more than his share of the credit. This audiobook is so unabridged it includes the source notes. So many history of computing books focus on colorful long hairs with post-hippie philosophies that this is both refreshing and jarring for the business, patent, and priority squabbles it details. Interestingly, John von Neumann comes across as the most unethical in using his prestige to grab more than his share of the credit. This audiobook is so unabridged it includes the source notes.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anneliese Gimpel

    This book was lent to me by Dr. Mauchly's niece. I probably would not have picked it up otherwise, but it was a quick and interesting read - although I did not understand all the technical details (of which there are not that many) I did enjoy learning about the personal and political struggles that were part of this historical development. It saddens me that Mauchly and Eckert are not as famous as they should be, considering the innovations that they introduced into the computing world. This book was lent to me by Dr. Mauchly's niece. I probably would not have picked it up otherwise, but it was a quick and interesting read - although I did not understand all the technical details (of which there are not that many) I did enjoy learning about the personal and political struggles that were part of this historical development. It saddens me that Mauchly and Eckert are not as famous as they should be, considering the innovations that they introduced into the computing world.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David R.

    A workmanlike account of the development of the world's first successful digital computer. McCartney has an axe to grind and spends rather a great deal of time agonizing over a patent rights dispute and the squabbles among the first computer companies. Don't expect a solid understanding of how ENIAC actually worked. A workmanlike account of the development of the world's first successful digital computer. McCartney has an axe to grind and spends rather a great deal of time agonizing over a patent rights dispute and the squabbles among the first computer companies. Don't expect a solid understanding of how ENIAC actually worked.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Furr

    Rereading this -- first read it in Coronado in the mid 1990s I think. The first computer (depending on how you want to define that), ENIAC, was created by Eckert & Mauchly in Philadelphia. Jon von Neumann weaseled in and stole credit for their ideas.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chris Davis

    It is interesting to see who does the work and who gets the credit. This is a good underdog story. Well the underdog does not really win but hey you win some you loose some. The story of how the computer came to be and the people involved and who stood in the way is really entertaining.

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