by George Dyson

Finished on

The subtitle is “The Origins of the Digital Universe,” though if you really want that see Code for the technical aspects and Ceruzzi’s History for the story. The book does not live up to the subtitle and this seems to have irked some reviewers at Amazon and Goodreads. The IAS machine at the heart of it was not nearly the first digital computer (see this list) nor itself hugely significant in the history of computers. Ceruzzi refers to it as being the basis of the IBM 701 — John von Neumann, in charge of the IAS project, consulted for IBM — but otherwise it doesn’t feature in his book, save for an aside about one of the reports written as part of the project.

This, however, is to entirely miss the point.

Dyson has written an incredibly human book about the beginning of the computing age. While the book might appear to be about the computer built at the IAS, it is really about the people who were involved, what their ideas and concerns were and, maybe, what computers meant or would mean to them.

It’s a book about people and ideas, only tangentially about technology. Recommended.