A Female Genius

James Essinger

Published by

Gibson Square

ISBN

9781908096661

RRP

£14.99

Reviewed by

A P Sutcliffe PG Dip CCI, MBCS

Score

7 out of 10

Many people consider that Ada, Countess of Lovelace, is an important figure in terms of the computer revolution. Born in the early 1800s, she had a particular gift for mathematics, and when she met Charles Babbage and learned of his revolutionary plans for a computing device, she produced outlines for some of the first computing algorithms.

However, she was also a victim of the age in which she lived, and the common prejudices of the time meant that the value of her work was not recognised until almost a century after her death.

The book tries to piece together the limited amount of information about her life and understand how she came to develop her ideas. It makes use of the letters that she wrote and some of the response to show that in many ways she was ahead of her time.

A considerable portion of the first part of the book focusses on the activities of Ada’s male ancestors; especially their amorous undertakings and the amounts of money that they spent. I felt that the author seemed to concentrate a bit too much on these events. Although they clearly were relevant to the development of the young Ada, he seemed to spend more pages on detailing these than would be strictly necessary.

What was extremely revealing were the extracts of letters in the latter part of the book; in these, Ada put forward her ideas and the belief that the new computing devices could become a platform for much more than just simple calculations. Within the text can be seen the outline of the basic programming ideas that would come to be used almost universally in more modern computing systems.

I did find the book a little difficult to read. I had the sense that it was a bit like the stories of the Brontë sisters or similar works of fiction from the early 1800s. However, the book itself is a good attempt to show the life of a key individual in the computing industry and offers some valuable new information, with a good insight into her thought-processes and how these were refined over the short period of her adult life.

Not the most enjoyable book, but one that is worth reading.

Further information: Gibson Square

December 2013