Computing: A Concise History by Paul E. Ceruzzi, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum, is part of the M.I.T. Essential Knowledge series. The series started a little over a year ago but topics covered already span the gamut from ocean waves to corporations.
Computing is a short work, barely 200 pages long (and the pages are only 5” X 7”). While a regular user of computers, I admit that my understanding of the actual mechanical aspect of them is a bit sketchy. Even so, Computing is easy to read, leaving almost all jargon aside. When necessary, terms are quickly and clearly explained in such a way as to not impede the story being told.
The story begins with the creation of modern computers in the 1930’s and 1940’s (only deviating briefly to mention earlier systems that influenced modern computers). From there, Ceruzzi traces developments in the field up to the social networking era of the past few years. He focuses on four key themes:
1) Use of binary code to operate machines
2) Convergence of different machine systems
3) Use of solid-state electronics
4) Means of communication between people and computers
This big picture approach makes computing seem much like a social movement - as a complicated and evolving set of events that conflict and complement each other.
If you like this work and are so inclined to delve deeper, there are several interesting histories of computing that LFPL carries. The most current (just released this March) is George Dyson's Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. For a list of some titles available at the library, click here.
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