Can you imagine life without the computer? It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t have them, yet today we carry them around inside our purses in the form of smartphones.

George Dyson, a science historian, asks how we went from having no computers to having so many in such a brief time period in his book, Turing’s Cathedral.

The son of scientist Freeman Dyson, George Dyson spent much of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The very first digital computers were built here with the direction of scientist Josh von Neumann.

Turing’s Cathedral examines the invention of the computer, featuring the clashing personalities that were thrown together to work on the project. It also examines what was involved in the creation of the computer, much of which was chance.

Like all great projects, this one included more than its share of rivalries, fall-outs, and, of course, salty language. The people powering this project were geniuses. They were not saints. The book also covers the important ethical issues the creators of the computer faced by the close relationship of their computer work to the U.S. nuclear weapons project.

You may have the notion that a history book about computers will not only be dry but probably full of complicated jargon. This is not true with Turing’s Cathedral; most people who use computers will find this book fascinating. And that is a lot of people these days.

 

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