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The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer by Jane Smiley.. Who knows how she stumbled on her subject, but she does a great job with him, and it is always refreshing to hear about an unsung, early pioneer. Take that, Eniac!

Joel Gardner, LitSnap Editor

"Novelist Smiley explores the story of the now mostly forgotten Atanasoff, a brilliant and engaged physicist and engineer who first dreamed of and built a computational machine that was the prototype for the computer. With her dazzling storytelling, Smiley narrates the tale of a driven young Iowa State University physics professor searching for a way to improve the speed and accuracy of mathematical calculations. In 1936, Atanasoff and his colleague, A.E. Brandt, modified an IBM tabulator--which used punched cards to add or subtract values represented by the holes in the cards--to get it to perform in a better, faster, and more accurate way. One December evening in 1937, Atanasoff, still struggling to hit upon a formula that would allow a machine to replicate the human brain, drove from Ames, Iowa, to Rock Island, Ill., where, over a bourbon and soda in a roadside tavern, he sketched his ideas for a machine that would become the computer. As with many scientific discoveries or inventions, however, the original genius behind the innovation is often obscured by later, more aggressive, and savvy scientists who covet the honor for themselves. Smiley weaves the stories of other claimants to the computer throne (Turing and von Neumann, among others) into Atanasoff's narrative, throwing into relief his own achievements.."

Publishers Weekly

"Smiley takes science history and injects it with a touch of noir and an exciting clash of vanities.."


Author bio: After getting her BA at Vassar College in 1971, Jane traveled in Europe for a year, working on an archeological dig and sightseeing, and then returned to Iowa for graduate school at the University of Iowa. MFA and PhD in hand, she went to work in 1981 at Iowa State University, in Ames, where she taught until 1996. Jane is the author of numerous novels including The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary Love and Good Will, A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, Moo, Horse Heaven, Good Faith, Ten Days in the Hills, and the young adult novel, The Georges and the Jewels, as well as many essays for such magazines as Vogue, The New Yorker, Practical Horseman, Harper’s,The New York Times Magazine, Allure, The Nation and others. She has written on politics, farming, horse training, child-rearing, literature, impulse buying, getting dressed, Barbie, marriage, and many other topics. She is also the author of the nonfiction books A Year at the Races, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel and from Penguin Lives Series, a biography of Charles Dickens. In 2001, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2006, she received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. More information can be found here:

Book Details: General Nonfiction; 246 pp. Technopersonable: Kindle/Audiobook/Print editions

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