This book is merely an appetizer -- and a lukewarm one at that -- for the great, yet-to-be-written history of thinking machines. How else to explain a final chapter that says, in effect, "Oh yes ... a whole lot has happened since the mid-'60s. Guys like Gates and Jobs and Wozniak did some revolutionary stuff. The end.'' The end should have been prefigured in the beginning. The Information Explosion should have been making its first, tentative rumbles while the writer was still describing the clicking of abacus beads. Worst of all, the trip from counting sticks to Macintoshes is accomplished without a single diagram. What was INSIDE that wonderful ENIAC? How exactly does a computer work? How about core memory? Magnetic storage? Where is ARPANet and the Internet? How does a computer WORK? The last question is the worst betrayal: The book tempts the reader with the drama of how thinking people made thinking machines. Midway, it gets stuck in a subplot about who has the best claim to parenthood of the computer. And after that, it's a very weak business story about IBM's fall and Microsoft's rise, all written with adjectives ("the greatest business failure") substituting for narrative and insight. The reader is left, still wondering, with a counting stick in his hand, on the outside of that beige computer cabinet ... looking in
I have read over 50 books on the subject of computers in the last year (I am a computer trainer), and the book I put at the very top of this list is Joel Shurkin's Engines of the Mind. The book is a look at the early development of computers, and contains particularly fascinating portraits of Charles Babbage, Herman Hollerith, Eckert and Mauchly, and John von Neumann. It is an excellent history of computers from Babbage to the 1960s; my understanding is that it was not the author's intent to address PCs in the book. I usually recommend this book to people along with Robert Cringeley's Accidental Empires -- Shurkin's book as the "pre-PC" book, and Cringeley's as the "post-PC" book. Shurkin's book is extremely well written, and well worth reading.
This outstanding book concisely describes the early years of computing, the personalities involved, and the various external influences impacting the evolution of the art. As noted in other remarks, the focus is on the critical nascent period of the late 1940's through the mid-1960's; microprocessor/desktop development are placed in context but generally left to other works. If limited to a single text on this period, this book would be my unconditional choice. Few other authors synopses impart the excitement of the Moore School as this daunting task is undertaken.
An excellent history of the computer and those individuals who were instumental in developing their ideas which led to the construction of ENIAC in 1946 to the present desktops we use today. Primarily focused on ENIAC's developers, J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchley, the story of their struggle, both technically and legally, is told with clarity and sense of suspense as each chapter unfolds. Consider this book an indispensable volume of how we have arrived at where we are in the current computer/internet/information age.
Shurkin begins his book "This book is about people, not machines" and he delivers. Mauchly, Eckert, Atanasoff, Berry, Goldstein and von Neumann all but come alive. But, the machines are not neglected. We see how hard it actually was to create what our time takes for granted. The history of the computer feels much less neglected because of this book.