Cover image for ENIAC, the triumphs and tragedies of the world's first computer
ENIAC, the triumphs and tragedies of the world's first computer
McCartney, Scott.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Walker, 1999.
Physical Description:
viii, 262 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Reading Level:
1180 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QA76.5 .M15 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Based on original interviews with surviving participants and the first study of John Mauchly and Presper Eckert's personal papers, "ENIAC" tells the story of the three-year race to complete the world's first computer--and of the three-decade struggle to take credit for it. 10 illustrations.

Author Notes

Scott McCartney is a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of Defying the Gods: Inside the New Frontiers of Organ Transplants and coauthor of Trinity's Children: Living Along America's Nuclear Highway. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Despite the ubiquity of the computer, little is known about its origins. McCartney explores that irony. He recalls the circumstances behind the chance meeting of John Mauchly and Presper Eckert in 1941 at the University of Pennsylvania and their collaboration to create the first programmable computer. Both men worked with the Defense Department on the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) project to build a machine to accurately calculate firing tables. McCartney carefully researched documents, archives, and the personal papers of Mauchly and Eckert and interviewed surviving ENIAC participants. He also traces the concepts behind the computer through earlier efforts as far back as the 1600s, when Blaise Pascal developed an adding machine to track tax payments in France. McCartney puts the development of computers into context--their ability to bring order to modern life by quickly counting and comparing data, and the promise of chaos by so small a thing as whether they will recognize the year 2000. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

This account of how an engineer barely out of college and a physicist with dreams of predicting the weather, conceived and built the world's first computer. But it tells a great story, and Wall Street Journal staff writer McCartney (Defying the Gods: Inside the New Frontiers of Organ Transplants) makes a strong case that J. Presper Eckert, the engineer, and John Mauchly, the physicist, deserve better treatment from posterity than they have received. His narrative of the conception and construction in the mid-1940s of the giant ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) centers on the lives and work of these two unlikely collaborators, who met by chance in an engineering course. Funding for the project was tied directly to the war effort and an army desperate for fast number crunching. Among McCartney's controversial claims is that the "von Neumann architecture" for stored-program machines, the basis for all computers, did not originate with German ‚migr‚ John von Neumann but rather with the ENIAC duo. The feuds and legal battles that dominate the second half of the book as various corporations battle for trade secrets and patents will be of interest mainly to buffs, though the unsuccessful struggles of Eckert and Mauchly to make a profit in the postwar shadow of IBM are poignant. McCartney offers excellent documentation, interesting asides (the world's first computer programmers were all women) and real drama as the team races to complete the apartment-sized, vacuum tube-powered ENIAC before the war's end. Doubleday Select Bookclubs special selection; author tour; audio rights to Blackstone. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Over the past decades, computers have played an increasing role in society; they are now used for writing papers, forecasting the weather, and even buying groceries. The computer revolution can be traced back to the creation of the ENIAC, the first electronic programmable computer. McCartney (Defying the Gods: Inside the New Frontiers of Organ Transplants, LJ 5/15/94) details the creation of this monumental machine and its two main inventors, John Mauchly and Presper Eckert. The ENIAC was the first computing machine to use electrical instead of mechanical devices to perform its calculations. The result was a huge increase in speed and accuracy. McCartney further narrates how Mauchly and Eckert also developed the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC, which catapulted the computer industry into a market of its own. Well researched and written, McCartneys book is good reading for those interested in computers or the history of technological innovation. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.William Baer, Brigham Young Univ. Lib., Provo, UT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-McCartney begins with a quick review of the history of calculating machines and the basic principles of "computing." This background allows readers lacking technical savvy to understand the technical designs that follow. What makes the book most interesting is the interweaving of the personalities of the men who created the first computer. It was the work of many people, but McCartney attributes the groundbreaking ideas to John Mauchly, an unconventional physics professor, and Presper Eckert, a young genius with an engineering background. While the academics at the University of Pennsylvania, MIT, and Harvard scoffed at Mauchly's idea for a "high speed vacuum tube device for calculation," the Army, desperate for a way to produce the firing tables for its artillery guns, decided to gamble on it. The Army awarded the contract for an Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) in 1943. Mauchly, Eckert, and their team worked feverishly night and day, seven days a week and were able to unveil their computer on February 14, 1946. The story does not stop there. McCartney follows these great inventors through their unsuccessful attempts at creating a commercial business, the lawsuit in which they lost their patent for ENIAC, and the continuing battle over their place in history. McCartney writes in a clean, smooth, journalistic style, as free as possible of jargon, which makes the story of ENIAC's development a fascinating, yet easy read.-Jane S. Drabkin, Potomac Community Library, Woodbridge, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Thinking Man's Gamep. 1
Chapter 1 The Ancestorsp. 9
Chapter 2 A Kid and a Dreamerp. 28
Chapter 3 Crunched by Numbersp. 52
Chapter 4 Getting Startedp. 62
Chapter 5 Five Times One Thousandp. 87
Chapter 6 Whose Machine Was It, Anyway?p. 109
Chapter 7 Out on Their Ownp. 135
Chapter 8 Whose Idea Was It, Anyway?p. 175
Epilogue: So Much Has Been Taken Awayp. 215
Notesp. 229
Bibliographyp. 243
Acknowledgmentsp. 252
Indexp. 255