A Bold Look at the History of the Computer

It’s hard to envision life without the computer. Today we carry miniature computers – that’s what smartphones are, after all – in our pockets. However, there was a time when the greater part of consumers didn’t have a single computer within their homes.

How did computers develop into such a key appliance in such a short amount of time? That’s the question that science historian and author George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing’s Cathedral, a sort of personal history of the computer.

Dyson, the son of scientist Freeman Dyson, has spent a lot of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The institute was home to several of the world’s most powerful scientific minds whilst the first digital computer was being developed.

After you’ve read Turing’s Cathedral, you will discover just how much chance went into creating the machine that brought about the computers we currently take for granted. The personalities at the Princeton Institute didn’t always mesh well, but somehow they managed to create the world’s first digital computer. This machine was built and run from an otherwise nondescript building in New Jersey.

When great minds work on a project there are bound to be rivalries and heated disagreements, the creation of the computer was no different. This book demonstrates that the individuals that worked on this project were geniuses, certainly not saints. Additionally there were some moral issues that the creators of the computer faced while working on this project, since the work they were doing had a close connection with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.

You might think that a history of the computer will be a dull read. You might think that it might be loaded with impossible-to-understand lingo. Fortunately, Dyson’s history of the computer is a fascinating read, and you do not need an advanced degree to comprehend it. Anybody who uses a computer – and that’s an awful lot of people today – should pick up a copy of Turing’s Cathedral. You might be surprised at what you learn.