[Chicago] Good readings on the history of computing

Jordan Bettis jordanb at hafd.org
Wed Sep 25 16:21:47 CEST 2013

On 09/24/2013 02:40 PM, Jason Wirth wrote:

> Does anyone have suggestion for articles on the history of computing? 
> Note, Python specific stuff would be great but it doesn't have to be
> python specific, and almost by definition probably won't be.

I can recommend a few books that I've read:

*Computing in the Middle Ages* by Servero M Ornstein

This guy became a programmer on a drum memory machine, went to Lincoln
Labs at MIT when they were building SAGE. He was part of the transition
from Lincoln Labs to MITRE and worked on the TX-1. He then worked on
LINC (Which became the PDP-8), went to BBN and worked on ArpaNet, then
to Xerox PARC and worked on Alto.

The book is a memorial of his career and what it was like working on the
above projects.

*Before the Computer* by James W Cortada
*A History of Modern Computing* by Paul E Ceruzzi

These are two academic treatments of the subject by academic historians.
The first covers mechanical and electro-mechanical information
processing from the invention of the cash register and type writer,
through adding machines and ends with the creation of vacuum tube computers.

The second begins with UNIVAC and ends with the invention of the Web.

Like I said, they're academic treatments of the subject so fairly
rigorously written.

A final one I might hesitatingly recommend is:

*The Universal History of Computing* by Georges Ifrah

This was written in French and translated into English. The writing is
quite dense and it goes off into the weeds at the end, which is why I
hesitate to recommend it.

But it begins with a discussion of numbering systems, and demonstrates
how the positional numbering system was a precondition for even thinking
about mathematics as something that could be done mechanically.

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