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Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series)

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series).pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Kurt W Beyer(Author)

    Book details


A Hollywood biopic about the life of computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (1906--1992) would go like this: a young professor abandons the ivy-covered walls of academia to serve her country in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and finds herself on the front lines of the computer revolution. She works hard to succeed in the all-male computer industry, is almost brought down by personal problems but survives them, and ends her career as a celebrated elder stateswoman of computing, a heroine to thousands, hailed as the inventor of computer programming. Throughout Hopper's later years, the popular media told this simplified version of her life story. In Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, Kurt Beyer reveals a more authentic Hopper, a vibrant and complex woman whose career paralleled the meteoric trajectory of the postwar computer industry. Both rebellious and collaborative, Hopper was influential in male-dominated military and business organizations at a time when women were encouraged to devote themselves to housework and childbearing. Hopper's greatest technical achievement was to create the tools that would allow humans to communicate with computers in terms other than ones and zeroes. This advance influenced all future programming and software design and laid the foundation for the development of user-friendly personal computers.

"Beyer's meticulously researched biography shows how Hopper was one of the first to realise that software was the key to unlocking the power of the computer." -- The Guardian "Bravo to Beyer for unearthing the fascinating, many-faceted history...of a phenomenal technology we take for granted and for portraying a woman of astonishing powers." Booklist

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Book details

  • PDF | 408 pages
  • Kurt W Beyer(Author)
  • MIT Press; 1 edition (4 Aug. 2009)
  • English
  • 3
  • Biography

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Review Text

  • By Peter Scott on 30 August 2009

    An interesting book that should have been shorter or longer. First the good things. Beyer explains in clear but non-condescending language the early story of computers. His sources are impeccable and his methods rigorous. For me, who did not start in computers until the early 80s, it was an eye-opener. The technical explanations of the first machines are fascinating. It had always puzzled me that the Harvard Mark 1 used relays. Now I know why. Beyer also describes well the people involved and how their personalities affected the progress of computing.The story of the development of software from machine code to what we would recognise as a high level English-like coding system is well told. Beyer spends time describing the intellectual development of Hopper and her team. One key turning point was the realisation that high-level code frees the programmer from being tied to one type of computer. Hopper realised the need for the compiler and the subroutine library. She was a key actor in seeing the potential of computers for business and that a better, and less technical, interface was needed.Now the criticisms. Beyer really has taken the idea of iteration to heart. He repeats things irritatingly. He tells us over and over again that Hopper wrote 'A Manual of Operation...'. There are other examples of repeated descriptions of events and ideas.The book is very confusingly structured. Beyer jumps backward and forward in time in a very cavalier manner. I don't think that this was necessary, as most of the events fit neatly on a timeline and could have been presented linearly. This would have highlighted the developmental threads much more clearly. I think that this book was a concatenation of several separate accounts and was not subject to sufficiently critical reading and editing. That would account for the repetition and structural weakness.If the author had avoided repetition and had used a better structure, the work would have been perhaps two thirds the length. It would also have been more readable. Another piece of padding was the philosophical discussion about the nature of historical description and the detailing of sources. I ploughed through it through sheer will-power. I don't think it adds to the book and its story.This book has the feel of a PhD thesis that was expanded. If so it was a good idea. However it would have been better either to publish only the essential text or to add further chapters on how Hopper's idea and innovations continued and affected subsequent history. The period from 1967 to 1992 was covered in a mere two pages.Criticism apart, for anyone interested in computing, this is a fascinating book.

  • By lucyconnuk on 28 June 2015

    As a female software engineer I found this book fascinating, but I did feel that there were some holes in the story e.g. how did she recover from her alcoholism? How did she carry on working so long? Did she manage to teach Marilyn? However I would have given it 4 stars if there hadn't been so many typos in the Kindle edition (including referring to her twice as "Grace Flopper").


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