The History of the Computer is exactly what it sounds like, and it does a wonderful job. Over the course of the book it highlights the beginnings of algorithmic thinking via Ada Lovelace, through the mainframe computers like UNIVAC, up to a forward looking take on modern computing that, shockingly, already feels a little outdated because it was written pre-ChatGPT, and many of the things it speculates about with generative AI are already coming true.
This is another one where I really can’t say a lot because I would just be regurgitating the contents that you, hopeful future reader, will be consuming yourself. I would encourage any reader of any age to consume this because we’ve seen so much change in computing over the past twenty years that it’s getting harder to remember that inside of your slick social media device is just the same electrified sand it’s always been. A reminder that the Commodore 64 was once the hottest piece of technology on the block helps remind us that these systems are tools designed to help us, not literal magic. We can all be competent in their use and be richer for it.
It’s also good, while not explicitly stated, to see some of the ways in which disruptors like Steve Jobs, whose primary superpower was sociopathy, used the good will of innovators who came before or alongside him to make their many billions. Every Apple machine runs a derivative of the C programming language, which Dennis Ritchie made for and kept free. They use the Unix file architecture, which Donald Knuth made for and kept free. And, just for extra points, every modern computer uses the generalized “code on a chip” PoC that Gary Killdall did for fun because he saw the promise of generalizing the architecture and use of integrated circuits. Between this, and the members of the Homebrew Computer Club, whose slogan was about doing good for many, I’ll thank every modern Elon Musk apologist to stop telling me that you have to be a bastard to be a disruptor.
Definitely recommend this book, it is fun and digestible history that gives broad strokes covering the machines that make up our modern world.