Electronic Brains: Stories from the Dawn of the Computer Age

Mike Hally

Publisher Granta Books
ISBN 1 86207 663 4


Reviewed by Rachel Burnett, FBCS, IT solicitor
Score 9 out of 10

Electronic Brains This is an easy-to-read account from a British perspective of the development of the modern computer in the UK, the US, Australia (often ignored), and Russia.

'There is enough credit for everyone in the invention and development of the electronic computer,' said John Atanasoff, although the contributions of some have not always been appreciated at the time or properly acknowledged since.

What we understand generically as a 'computer' is still evolving, Hally explains, and there is no universally accepted definition. Taking the now integral features of electronics, memory and processing, the first true computers using von Neumann architecture emerged after the Second World War.

The development of electronic technology was international. No one country was exclusively responsible, and sometimes similar inventions were made coincidentally and completely independently.

The outstanding work in the UK of Alan Turing and Sir Maurice Wilkes, the first BCS President (1957-1960), is put into historical context in Electronic Brains. LEO, the Lyons’ computer, has a chapter devoted to it, as has an early model known as the Rand 409, the first commercial business computer (although it did not have a true stored-program capability), predecessor to the Univac. There is an explanation of how IBM came to be so significant, in spite of the early opportunities it missed.

Each chapter is relatively self-contained and can be read on its own. The personal reminiscences in this book by the talented individuals themselves, or their relatives or colleagues, bring to life the excitement of innovation.

Whether or not you yourself are an IT pioneer, if you are curious about the astonishingly short history of computing to date, this is a fascinating and interesting book to read.

Further information: http://grantabooks.com/Electronic-Brains