Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I celebrated the fourth birthday of British Isles Friday and shared the first five posts of my A to Z Challenge about the UK and Ireland: A is for Anglophile, B is for Birmingham, C is for Cambridge, D is for Dublin, and E is for Enlightenment. Gaele reviewed four books: Hopjoy Was Here, The Little Perfume Shop off the Champs-Élysées, Lonelyheart 4122, and The Little Wedding Island.
Book: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua
Genre: Nonfiction (mostly), with comics
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publication date: 2015
Source: Library hardcover
Summary: Charles Babbage built (partially) a calculating machine and invented (mostly on paper) a computing machine during the Victorian age. Since my husband and I both have computer science degrees, one of the highlights of our trip to England in 2014 was seeing the remains of Babbage’s works on display in the Science Museum.
The author, Sydney Padua, learned about Ada Lovelace from a friend in a pub in London:
As anybody else would do, I looked up “Ada Lovelace” on Wikipedia. There I found the strange tale of how, in the 1830s, an eccentric genius called Charles Babbage only just failed to invent the computer, and how the daughter of Lord Byron wrote imaginary programs for this imaginary computer. p. 7.
The rest of this book tells their stories in a delightfully eccentric way with comics, footnotes, and endnotes. And, the occasional fanciful story based on the premise “what if Babbage and Lovelace successfully built the Analytical Engine?”
Thoughts: When I mentioned that my favorite episode of the ITV/PBS show Victoria was the one that featured Ada Lovelace, Jean of Howling Frog Books suggested that I read The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. I’m so glad she did! I love this kind of book that’s creative in presentation as well as in story-telling.
Here’s the fun endnote that describes Ada Lovelace’s father, who she never met, largely because her mother wanted her kept away from all of what’s in this description:
“Poet” nowadays implies something rather modest and dainty–Byron wrote epic novels in verse, smash-hit bestsellers full of brilliant scathing wit and brooding misunderstood antiheroes. Add his extraordinary good looks and charm; a fairy-tale elevation to the peerage from boyhood poverty; moody, eccentric behavior; and a predilection for lots and lots of all possible varieties of sex; and Byron was famous enough for ten modern celebrities put together. You’d have to combine Elvis with the chic political radicalism of Che Guevara, and the intellectual stature tinged with ugly sexual rumor of a Roman Polanski, to approach the fame of Byron: Lady Byron coined the term “Byromania” for the cult that surrounded her husband. p. 33.
I was pleased to learn from an endnote on page 34, that everyone called her Ada Lovelace during her lifetime, even though it’s quite the wrong name given her title. It’s a much easier name to remember than Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.
Jane Austen makes a cameo appearance.
Lewis Carroll, aka mathematician Charles Dodgson, visits in the final chapter before the appendices, an excuse to bring in all kinds of Alice in Wonderland references for education and amusement.
My geekiest fan moment was in Appendix 2, when Padua used James Watt’s centrifugal governor for steam engines to explain what “self-acting” mechanisms are — and she describes it as “the spinny-roundy widget” which was pretty much what I called it when it became my favorite thing to photograph while visiting steam engines in the UK. Watch for my post for the letter S for more about those engines.
Appeal: Don’t oversell the comics portion of this book because there is a lot of text in the form of footnotes and endnotes. But as long as the reader is prepared to learn from little vignettes as well as the comics, I think this will appeal to lots of computer geeks and history freaks.
Challenges: Today is the letter L in this month-long adventure to blog the alphabet at the A to Z Challenge. I’m also counting this book as my nonfiction book for April and I’ll link it up to this week’s Nonfiction Friday post at Doing Dewey. Although the author, Sydney Padua, grew up in Canada, she lives in London now, so this is also my April book for the British Books Challenge.
Have you read this book? What did you think?