It’s hard to envision life without the computer. Today we carry tiny computers – that’s what smartphones are, after all – in our pockets. Nevertheless, there was a time when the majority of consumers did not have a single computer within their homes.

How did computers grow to be such an important appliance in such a short amount of time? That’s the question that science historian and writer George Dyson asks, and answers, in his new book, Turing’s Cathedral, a sort of personal history of the pc.

Dyson, the son of scientist Freeman Dyson, has spent much of his life at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. The institute was home to several of the world’s most impressive scientific minds while the first digital computer was being created.

Turing’s Cathedral explores the invention of the computer, featuring the contrasting personalities that were thrown together to work on the project. Additionally, it explores what was involved in the creation of the computer, much of which was chance.

When great minds work on a project there are sure to be rivalries and heated disagreements, the creation of the computer was no different. This book shows that the individuals that worked on this project were geniuses, not necessarily saints. Moreover there were some ethical problems that the creators of the computer faced while working on this project, because the work they were doing had a close connection with the U.S. nuclear weapons project.

You may think that a history of the computer would be a dry read. You might think that it’d be filled with impossible-to-understand jargon. Fortunately, Dyson’s history of the computer is an interesting read, and you do not need an advanced degree to understand it. Anyone who uses a computer – and that’s a great deal of people today – should grab a copy of Turing’s Cathedral. You could be astonished at what you learn.

 

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