A couple new reviews, including a few that are short but sweet:
In The Computer Boys Take Over: Computers, Programmers, and the Politics of Technical Expertise, Nathan Ensmenger offers an in-depth and well- researched analysis of the difficulties faced in the early decades of digital computer programming… The Computer Boys Take Over offers a detailed account of the rise of computer programming, the history of software, and how these histories have come to play such a central role in the so-called ‘‘ease’’ with which we compute today.
I highly recommend this book.
Technology & Culture
Overall, Ensmenger’s book is an eloquent and very interesting read. His methodic approach is convincing. Thanks to his broad sources and his entertaining style he often invites those who know the field to a humorous self- reflection. He consequently uses general language and aims at reaching out to readers from different fields. The book deserves such a broad reader audience.
The Information Society
Read The Computer Boys Take Over, by Nathan Ensmenger, a lively history of the computer scientists and software engineers who have changed our world.
This past month has witnessed a flood of reviews for The Computer Boys:
From the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing:
“It is to the author’s credit that he has crafted an account that is at once engaging to professional historians of computing and accessible to a wider audience. By liberally injecting colorful anecdotes and pithy quotes into a highly polished analytical narrative, Ensmenger has written one of those rare books that is both scholarly and a pleasure to read.”
From Enterprise and Society:
“one of the most complete histories of computing ever produced and is highly admirable for its attention to detail…”
From the Chartered Institute for IT in the UK:
“I have enjoyed reading this book so much that I could simply republish it ‘verbatim’ as my review – so that you can appreciate every single droplet. It is quite simply a ‘must read’ for any programming type and especially so for those of us who entered the industry from the university or polytechnic milk round of the seventies and beyond. All is revealed!”
From the review:
Those interested in computer history will enjoy it; those hiring or managing programmers need to read it.
I had always hoped that, despite the constraints of the academic monograph, that The Computer Boys would be useful and interesting to working programmers. Glad to see that at least one reviewer agrees!
A good book review is hard to write.
Book reviews are a difficult genre. A good book review has to quickly and concisely summarize an author’s argument, situate that argument in a larger literature, and critically analyze its strengths and weaknesses. All a thousand words or so.
A really stellar book review will do all these things and will add additional insight to the original question that an author was trying to address.
In another serendipitous discover of another exceptionally smart blog, I discovered High Tech History, which is dedicated to exploring the connections between the history of technology and contemporary innovations. They liked my book, which was gratifying, but they also made some interesting connections that even I had not thought of. The most fun and interesting was to everyone’s favorite engineering anti-hero, Dilbert. Dilbert is the obvious analog to my 1960s computer boys. I should have made this connection myself.
Here is a selection from their review:
Ensmenger has crafted an orderly and well-organized argument that the dynamics of managing computer firms have often been as complex as the subject matter itself. Social interaction, management structures and gender have played pivotal roles in the development of computer technology, which defy the traditional notion that mathematics and computers are somehow above such dynamics. In this important way, The Computer Boys Take Over is learned, well-documented with citations, and often humorous – with numerous period cartoons and company advertisements that nicely support the text. Such a study of computing’s early and arguably most important years, is long overdue.
Check out the full review, and add High Tech History to your RSS feed reader and blogroll. A real gem of a site.
One of the nice things about online reviews is that, by tracking them back, you can discover new and interesting blogs. The latest in my list is The Enlightened Economist, where Diane Coyle reviews a prodigious range and number of books. Here is an excerpt from her review of The Computer Boys.
This interesting social history of computer programming, The Computer Boys Take Over by Nathan Ensmenger, is essentially a story of the struggle for power inside corporations. As I noted in my pre-view of the book, programming was initially thought of as a rather lowly support function, and it took some time for the designers of the massive early computers to realise that writing software was going to be a key function. When they did, out went the women programmers who were rather prominent in those early days (although some, such as Admiral Grace Hopper, remained influential), and in came the ‘boys’.
Reading The Enlightened Economist reminds me how many good books there are for me to read (and how few of these I am actually able to get around to — even as a professional academic). An impressive blog.