Legendary historian and philosopher of science George Dyson vividly re-creates the scenes of focused experimentation, incredible mathematical insight, and pure creative genius that gave us computers, digital television, modern genetics, models of stellar evolution - in other words, computer code.
In the 1940s and '50s, a group of eccentric geniuses - led by John von Neumann - gathered at the newly created Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Their joint project was the realization of the theoretical universal machine, an idea that had been put forth by mathematician Alan Turing. This group of brilliant engineers worked in isolation, almost entirely independent from industry and the traditional academic community. But because they relied exclusively on government funding, the government wanted its share of the results: the computer that they built also led directly to the hydrogen bomb. George Dyson has uncovered a wealth of new material about this project, and in bringing the story of these men and women and their ideas to life, he shows how the crucial advancements that dominated twentieth-century technology emerged from one computer in one laboratory, where the digital universe as we know it was born.
©2012 George Dyson (P)2012 Random House Audio
“The most powerful technology of the last century was not the atomic bomb, but software - and both were invented by the same folks. Even as they were inventing it, the original geniuses imagined almost everything software has become since. At long last, George Dyson delivers the untold story of software’s creation. It is an amazing tale brilliantly deciphered.” (Kevin Kelly, cofounder of WIRED magazine, author of What Technology Wants)
“It is a joy to read George Dyson’s revelation of the very human story of the invention of the electronic computer, which he tells with wit, authority, and insight. Read Turing’s Cathedral as both the origin story of our digital universe and as a perceptive glimpse into its future.” (W. Daniel Hillis, inventor of The Connection Machine, author of The Pattern on the Stone)
This book has real value to those interested in the history of computation. So many history of science books are thin and give the reader almost nothing, but if you are really interested in mathematics and computation you will enjoy this book.
The Narrator does a good job, not great but solid performance.
Lack of structure in the book. It switches between history and personal prognostication of the author.
Narration was fine
It is actually two books: 1) a history of computing centered around Princeton personalities, and 2) author's dabbling in computer futures
Did I just listen to that audio book, or did the audio book listen to me? Say that phrase a few hundred times and you will know what it feels like listening to 2nd half of the book.
Most scientific discoveries take a long time to make it to the general public. In the case of mathematics this is even more visible, people applying mathematics in real life, usually hear the names from antiquity to the renaissance, but seldom the names of people of the twenty century.
Computer science is a recent science, and here we hear about people that can have existed in our lifetime who changed the world with science and technology.
I was surprised to find out that the architecture of our computers has been thought out so recently. (Which actually shows me how little I thought about the subject) And that for the pioneers of the forties, the choices aren't as evident as they appear to be now.
Recent history can seem so distant when you take things for granted.
The book starts out with a bang: with an explanation of how the atomic bomb and the computer were motivated by the same forces, with the same potential for destruction.
But it quickly gets bogged down details, instead of keeping the overall story firmly in mind. The author uncovered tons of details, and cannot resist showing them off.
I didn't even make it though the first part.
Call me a starry-eyed optimist but when I read the name Turing in the title of a book I expect a little something on computable numbers, perhaps a bit of incompleteness theorem, a little bit about Manchester, but not that a bunch of people drank around 9000 cups of tea at 5.2 cents each. I kept jumping forward with the hope of finding something interesting. I guess I chose the wrong book.
Read with conviction.
Most of them.
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