The Universal Machine

Ian Watson

Published by






Reviewed by



8 out of 10

A book entitled The Universal Machine and a front cover with a passport style photograph of Alan Turing and an apple with a bite taken out of it might be perceived as yet another publication marking the centenary of his birth.

However, this is definitely not all about Turing, and even though his unique contributions are covered, this is done in the chronological context of computer history.

An interesting and reasonably priced book, which concentrates on some of the people (from Ada to Zuse), companies (from Apple to Xerox) and machines (from the Acorn to the Z1) that have contributed to computer development.

The first third of the book gets us to the 1960s, the second third to the present, and the last third the future up to 2030.

On the way we get a few surprises

  • a chapter on computer hacking;
  • the text of Gordon Brown’s apology to Turing on behalf of the British government;
  • some interesting photographs;
  • several myth-busters - including that America was not first with an electronic computer (the British were), and that Apple’s corporate logo was not based on Alan Turing’s cyanide coated apple (the original Apple logo was a depiction of Newton sitting under an apple tree, and the current logo was developed from there).

The book contains plenty of references (though unfortunately the second reference was incorrect!), as well as a ‘Further Reading’ section.

There is also a ‘where are they now?’ section - a potted life history of some of the key players, though they are not in any apparent order.

One significant weakness of the book is the absence of an index. The book isn’t packed with numbers and statistics either and its chatty style might grate some readers.

It is described as ‘popular science history’, so it appeals to a wide audience, and at over 350 pages there is something in here for anyone who has the vaguest interest in a history of computers including the internet, some of the major pioneers and some of the companies that have risen (and in some cases, fallen) along the way.

Further information: Springer

August 2012