Cover image for Charles Babbage and the engines of perfection
Charles Babbage and the engines of perfection
Collier, Bruce.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
123 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Traces the life and work of the man whose nineteenth century inventions led to the development of the computer.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library QA29.B2 C65 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Charles Babbage, "the grandfather of the modern computer," did not live to see even one of his calculating machines at work. A dazzling genius with vision extending far beyond the limitations of the Victorian age, Babbage successfully calculated a table of logarithms during his years atCambridge University, allowing mathematical calculations to be executed with extreme precision. Only the possibility of human error prevented complete accuracy, and Babbage understood that the only way to attain perfection is to leave the human mind entirely out of the equation. He devoted most ofhis life and spent most of his private fortune and government stipend trying to improve his difference engines and analytical engines. Bruce Collier and James MacLachlan chronicle Babbage's education and scientific career, his remarkably active social life and long string of personal tragedies, his forays into philosophy and economics, his successes and failures, and the biggest disappointment of his life-- his ingeniousinventions were centuries ahead of the primitive capabilities of Victorian technology.

Author Notes

Bruce Collier is formerly of Harvard University. James MacLachlan is a Retired Professor of History, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-12. This title in the Portraits in Science series profiles English mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage, "the grandfather of the modern computer." His lifework, the Analytical Engine, was a calculating machine that used gears and levers to rapidly and accurately perform mathematical functions, long the work of error-prone humans. However, technology was not up to speed with his imagination, and Babbage was unable to complete his invention. The book examines Babbage's innovative ideas and pioneer spirit within the social and political framework of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century Europe; sidebars on logarithms, differentials, and early mechanical calculators help put his work in context. Although the biography often reads like a math textbook, with technical, dense prose and challenging concepts, it also provides a look into the mental processes of a creative scientist. The book will appeal to those interested in higher mathematics, mechanical engineering, or the history of the scientific arts. Web sites; further reading; bibliography. --Shelle Rosenfeld

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up‘Intertwining Babbage's personal life with his work as an inventor, this book tells the story of the mathematician's conception of and work on the first computers. Collier and MacLachlan discuss their subject's upbringing, education, and marriage as backdrops to his work. Babbage's interest in how things work is traced to his childhood fascination with his toys; his somewhat distant father is seen as a precursor to his relationships with his own children. An interesting sidelight concerns his discontentment with existing British scientific societies and his role as founder of the Astronomical Society of London. The book describes Babbage's interest in mathematics and how his longing for a way to automatically calculate long tables of numbers spurred him to begin designing calculating machines. The text outlines information on the design of his original Difference Engine as well as his plans for the later Analytical Engine, which contained the beginnings of the concepts of computer programming. Informative photos and diagrams illustrate the principles of Babbage's designs. Libraries that do not own Dan Halacy's Charles Babbage (Crowell-Collier, 1970; o.p.) will find this book nearly essential; others should evaluate this new title as more of an update than a replacement for the older book.‘Jeffrey A. French, Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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