The Computer: An Illustrated History

c.jpgTitle: The Computer: An Illustrated History
Author: Mark Frauenfelder
ISBN10: 1847320139
ISBN13: 978-1847320131
Publisher: Carlton Publishing Group
Cost: $35.00
Format: Hardcover, 256 pages – Coffee Table Size.
Published: May 1, 2007
Reviewed by ArsGeek

When I first opened the package that contained this book, I was absolutely amazed. I knew the book would be fairly big and that it was a hardcover. I knew it was about computers. I didn’t expect it to be so artfully done. The cover is immediately striking and at about 4 lbs., this is a lot of book!

The Computer is an overview of the history of computing, from tabulation sticks which appeared 35,000 years ago straight through to a few years in the future. Mark Frauenfelder has compiled a massive collection of interesting pictures, wonderful historical tidbits and a solid background in what makes computers what they are – from ancient, gear driven devices to the dense microprocessors of today.

The Computer is comprised of a four page introduction and 10 chapters, concluding with an index.

Digital Dawn looks at the rise of computation, from ancient man to the counting machines of the 19th century.

Machines Learn to Remember looks at the genesis of computer memory, from external devices to punch cards.

Sparks of an Idea shows the beginning of vacuum tube technology, IBM and other binary processors.

Computers go to War
looks at the Enigma Machine, Turing and others who helped to break codes, guide artillery and eventually track satellites.

Getting Down to Business starts with the invention of the transistor and ends with the first commercial leases of computers to corporations.

Getting Personal, as you might guess, covers the birth of the personal computer. The electronics clubs of the late 60’s and early 70’s give way to Xerox fumbling the ball which Apple and later Microsoft picked up and ran with.

Game On
traces the history of computer gaming from the earliest mainframe games to home gaming consoles and persistent, massive multiplayer role playing games.

Jacking In brings us through the birth of the Internet and the World Wide Web with stops for email and cybersex. Also featured are a few other start ups you may have heard about, from Linux to Google.

Let me Entertain You shows us the computer’s effect on the silver screen – for better and for worse, as well as the rise of the digital music player and peer to peer sharing.

The World of Tomorrow looks towards the future, focusing on robotics, personal computing shrinking to wearable levels and of course, nanotech.

This book is the kind of book I love to get my hands on. Give me a good technology book or a good history book and I’m happy. Chock it full of amazing and hard to find pictures, bits of trivia and quotes from the great minds featured in the book and I’m in heaven.

Even though this book is heavy, I took it to bed with me the first night I had gotten it just to finish it. My arms were tired but my mind was happy by the time I finally hit the index, sometime early yesterday morning.

The early mechanical computation devices are fascinating to look at, whether in plans like Davinci’s or constructed like Babbage’s machines, they invoke a sort of post-modern, steam punk feel. Except these were the real deal and not a SciFi author’s fancy. I was fascinated pouring over the pictures and descriptions of differential machines and tabulators.

I really perked up however once the book hit the early 40’s. Seeing over the course of a few hours reading how technology changed so rapidly over such a short amount of time – pretty much from the day my Dad was born until this moment, it’s amazing. In less than one lifetime we’ve gone from clunky, vacuum tube driven behemoths to the razor sharp, tiny computers of today. If you’ve read any of my previous thoughts on where we’re headed, you’ll know I think that this is just the beginning! To see this all in detailed photos and descriptions. To live through the heady days of Apple, Atari, IBM PCs and Microsoft once again is very cool.

It’s easy to tell that Frauenfelder loves this stuff even more than I do. He’s put a lot of time and effort into crafting a book that I’m eagerly putting on my coffee table. I know that my friends and colleagues will head right for it when they come over!

If you’re into big, artsy books about the history of computing, well you won’t find one much better than The Computer. Cover to cover it is a fascinating read full of wonderful pictures. Even if this isn’t your thing, if you know someone who adores the history of computers as much as the computers themselves, this book will be a welcome addition to their collection.