Blog Blitz: Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership by James Essinger

The partnership of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace was one that would change science forever.

They were an unlikely pair – one the professor son of a banker, the other the only child of an acclaimed poet and a social-reforming mathematician – but perhaps that is why their work is so revolutionary. 

They were the pioneers of computer science, creating plans for what could have been the first computer. They each saw things the other did not; it may have been Charles who designed the machines, but it was Ada who could see their potential. 

But what were they like? And how did they work together? Using previously unpublished correspondence between them , Charles and Ada explores the relationship between two remarkable people who shared dreams far ahead of their time.

What I Thought:

A rare foray into non-fiction for me today, and a subject I find quite fascinating – the very earliest inventions that can be traced to modern computing and the work of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace.

In Charles and Ada, James Essinger paints a vivid protrait of the relationship between Babbage and Lovelace from their first meeting, through to her tragically early death from cancer, using primary sources researched over what must have been endless hours in the British Library.

Although the book makes no commitment on the true nature of their relationship, it’s clear from the quoted passages from their letters that Babbage and Lovelace had a very close and warm friendship at the very least. I know it’s tempting to want to assign a romantic angle to these kinds of historical relationships, but I like that this book stops short from doing so, as we simply don’t know.

There is a great deal of information here about Charles and Ada, and their revolutionary ideas about maths and inventions that would prove to be before their time and it’s clear that the book has been lovingly and comprehensively researched. The extracts from their letters and written works are chosen well to show the essence of the pair as people, but also their fondness for each other, despite Babbage clearly being a somewhat irascible man!

If I had to bring up anything I would improve about the book, it’s that I would love to have heard more from Ada – although she obviously features heavily, I still feel that more could be said about her, especially given the very firm views of those who would make her a footnote in the life of Charles Babbage, rather than a valued confidante and an equal in mathematical ability.

This book is an excellent starting point in examining the lives of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, with a comprehensive list of the source material enclosed meaning that, should you wish to read further about either of these revolutionary figures, you can find many excellent places in which to start.

Charles and Ada is published by The History Press.

To find out more about James Essinger and his work, you can check out his website. Alternatively, why not connect with him on Twitter?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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