[SIGCIS-Members] Request for biographies (Lovelace in the humanities)

Barbara B Walker bbwalker at unr.edu
Fri Sep 4 20:18:26 PDT 2020

Oops, sorry, I just saw Paul Ceruzzi’s reference to Betty Alexandra’s work on Ada Lovelace, and Aristotle Tympas’ to Brittain on Edith Clarke, so there are a few. My own favorite biography of Lovelace is in video form: “To Dream Tomorrow.” It’s very good indeed, and goes into detail about some of the issues that have held up women the world over – bad health, especially as related to childbirth, little if any financial control, etc. A nice description of the video is to be found at:


My female students have especially appreciated this movie as it reveals both the challenges to women and the persistence of one very talented woman. I have shown it in a humanities course just after teaching Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Emile,” which argues that girls’ education is to be very different from boys’, preparing them for the household rather than the strain of mental activity; and Mary Wollstonecraft’s later “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” in which she argues that it is precisely the education of women to be obedient, emotional, and unable to use their minds that makes them less capable citizens. (Her argument for better female education is in part that this will make them better wives! – I guess she knew her audience…) Ada Lovelace’s mother, Lady Annabella Byron, was a follower of Wollstonecraft and educated her daughter fiercely for the life of the mind; Ada’s childhood illness and a strong inclination to math and invention led her into such 19th-century intellectual circles as that of Michael Faraday; somewhere in those circles she also met Babbage. If I have time I have even had my students declaim a poem or two by Ada’s father, the Romantic cult figure Lord Byron (“mad, bad, and dangerous to know”)! Not that she ever really knew her father…

The story of Ada and female education also dovetails nicely with a class meeting on Faraday and the Royal Institution – I have them read some of his Christmas Lectures for that. Usually the ones on gravity and electro-magnetism. He must have been an excellent speaker – the simplicity and clarity of those lectures amazes and delights my students.

Barbara Walker
Associate Professor
Department of History/308
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno NV 89557

From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> on behalf of Jeffrey Mathias <jm2499 at cornell.edu>
Date: Friday, September 4, 2020 at 10:49 AM
To: "Ceruzzi, Paul" <CeruzziP at si.edu>
Cc: members <members at sigcis.org>
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Request for biographies

Not to throw yet another title at an already overflowing list but Tara Abraham's biography of Warren McCulloch "Rebel Genius" is quite excellent and well worth a read. Also, Helene Mialet's "Hawking Incorporated" can be read really usefully as a new method for doing biography.


On Fri, Sep 4, 2020 at 1:25 PM Ceruzzi, Paul <CeruzziP at si.edu<mailto:CeruzziP at si.edu>> wrote:
Sorry if this response is too much.  There are a lot of biographies about computer pioneers, but less so "computer scientists." I've left off autobiographies & memoirs but can supply a list if you wish.  The following biographies tend to skew older, which is fine with me. Warning:  the quality does vary:

Paul Ceruzzi
John von Neumann and the Origins of Modern Computing
Herman Hollerith: Forgotten Giant of Information Processing
Thomas and Marva
Lengthening Shadow, the: the life of Thomas J, Watson

Man behind the microchip, the: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley
Memoir of the Life and Labours of the Late Charles Babbage ESQ. F.R.S.
I. Bernard
Howard Aiken: Portrait of a Computer Pioneer
Heinz Nixdorf: Eine Biographie [in German]
Alan Turing: The enigma: the extraordinary story of the brilliant scientist…
Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer
John von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence, and Much More
Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry - and Made Himself the Richest Man in America
Clark R.
Atanasoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer
Think: A Biography of the Watsons and IBM
The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer
Betty Alexandra
Ada: The Enchantress of Numbers - Prophet of the Computer Age

Van Dormael
Heinz Nixdorf: A German Computer Pioneer
Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire
G. Pascal
Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century

From: Members <members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org<mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org>> on behalf of Troy Astarte <Troy.Astarte at newcastle.ac.uk<mailto:Troy.Astarte at newcastle.ac.uk>>
Sent: Friday, September 4, 2020 9:06 AM
To: members <members at sigcis.org<mailto:members at sigcis.org>>
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Request for biographies

External Email - Exercise Caution
Dear all,

Very many thanks to everyone who has sent suggestions, I’ve got a great reading list! I’ve already had a look at a few of them, and there’s some high quality work indeed. The only further question I would have is whether there are biographies with a higher technical content? Perhaps that just isn’t common in biographies?


Troy Astarte

School of Computing
Newcastle University

On 3 Sep 2020, at 12:31, Troy Astarte <Troy.Astarte at newcastle.ac.uk<mailto:Troy.Astarte at newcastle.ac.uk>> wrote:


What is your favourite biography of a scientist or mathematician? I’m particularly interested in modern subjects and those who worked in computing/computer science. Ideally the book would cover the subject’s work in a reasonable level of technical detail as well as their life and the broader context in which they lived and worked.

I ask because I am considering applying for funding for an essentially biographical project on a computer scientist and I would like to read some (more) biographies first.


Troy Astarte

School of Computing
Newcastle University

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Jeffrey Mathias
AHA/NASA History of Space Technology Fellow
PhD Candidate
Department of Science and Technology Studies
Cornell University
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