Computing. A concise history

Paul E. Ceruzzi

Published by

MIT Press

ISBN

9780262517676

RRP

£9.95

Reviewed by

Mike Rees MBCS CITP

Score

7 out of 10

This is one of a series of ‘accessible’, pocket-sized soft-cover books in the MIT ‘Essential knowledge series’.

Although the book is some 200 pages, with 40 pages taken up with notes, a glossary, further reading, a bibliography and an index, there are only 150 or so pages of actual historical narrative.

The chronological history is roughly divided up as follows - pre-WWII, followed by the development of computers and transistors, then chips, followed by microprocessors and finally the internet, mobile phones and social networking. 

So how does the book manage to cover all those areas? Well, largely by creating a fast moving but potted historical account, which does live up to the book’s title. 

To highlight every single invention / development in the history of computing is difficult within the confines of a single volume, however, we go from Aiken (Howard) to Zuse (Konrad) in terms of people, from the Alpha microprocessor to the Zilog Z-80 chip in terms of hardware and AltaVista (a subsidiary of DEC) to Xerox in terms of companies. 

As might be expected, a large proportion of the book is devoted to developments emerging from the USA. However, some of the European pioneers such as Babbage, Ada, Turing, Zuse and Sir Tim Berners-Lee put in an appearance.

The foreword promises a ‘beautifully produced’ book. Most of the black and white illustrations are half page, and every now and then is a disconcerting single or double page with big inverted (white on black) text containing a key message from the previous section. Combine that with some errors that should not have got past the proofing stage, and there is quite a bit of work to do before a more polished second edition is published.

However, good value at under a £10 if you want a fast and furious trip through the historical timeline and if you can put up with the less than perfect production.

Further information: MIT Press

August 2012