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Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age [Paperback]

Kurt W. Beyer

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Book Description

Feb. 10 2012 Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation series

A Hollywood biopic about the life of computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (1906--1992) would go like this: a young professor abandons the ivy-covered walls of academia to serve her country in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and finds herself on the front lines of the computer revolution. She works hard to succeed in the all-male computer industry, is almost brought down by personal problems but survives them, and ends her career as a celebrated elder stateswoman of computing, a heroine to thousands, hailed as the inventor of computer programming. Throughout Hopper's later years, the popular media told this simplified version of her life story. In Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, Kurt Beyer reveals a more authentic Hopper, a vibrant and complex woman whose career paralleled the meteoric trajectory of the postwar computer industry. Both rebellious and collaborative, Hopper was influential in male-dominated military and business organizations at a time when women were encouraged to devote themselves to housework and childbearing. Hopper's greatest technical achievement was to create the tools that would allow humans to communicate with computers in terms other than ones and zeroes. This advance influenced all future programming and software design and laid the foundation for the development of user-friendly personal computers.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (Feb. 10 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262517264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262517263
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.8 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #356,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"I saw Grace Hopper speak when I was a young software programmer at Bell Labs. While she spoke of great technology and the power of computing, she also re-enforced the creative power of youthful thinking, public speaking, and collaborative efforts. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age brings all of those themes together in a compelling way, placing Grace Hopper where she belongs: at the creative genesis of the technology upon which our world depends."--Lucy Sanders, CEO and Co-founder, National Center for Women and Information Technology



"It is a pleasure to finally read a biography of Grace Hopper that does not simply list the clichéd myths about 'Amazing Grace' but instead tells the story of her wonderful life and contributions to the development of programming languages. Beyer reveals interesting facts and aspects of her life that I have never seen published. It portrays Grace as a human being and subject to the whims of both personal and social problems of her era. Along the way it provides insight into the changing social status of technically oriented women and details the personal struggles that this caused Grace and her female colleagues."--Michael R. Williams, Professor Emeritus, Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary

(Michael R. Williams)

"Beyer's meticulously researched biography shows how Hopper was one of the first to realise that software was the key to unlocking the power of the computer." -- The Guardian



"Bravo to Beyer for unearthing the fascinating, many-faceted history...of a phenomenal technology we take for granted and for portraying a woman of astonishing powers." Booklist



"It is a pleasure finally to read a biography of Grace Hopper that does not simply list the clichéd myths about 'Amazing Grace' but instead tells the story of her wonderful life and contributions to the development of programming languages. Beyer reveals interesting facts and aspects of her life that I have never seen published. It portrays Grace as a human being and subject to the whims of both personal and social problems of her era. Along the way it provides insight into the changing social status of technically oriented women and details the personal struggles that this caused Grace and her female colleagues." Michael R. Williams , Professor Emeritus, Department of Computer Science, University of Calgary

About the Author

Kurt W. Beyer is a former professor at the United States Naval Academy and lectures regularly on the process of technological innovation. He is a cofounder of a digital media services company and has authored multiple patents (pending) on high speed digital data processing.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars History vs biography -- history won April 22 2010
By R. Olcott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book brought home to me the difference between history and biography. As a 50-year computer veteran (wrote my first program in 1959) I appreciated many of the firsts and trends that the author highlights. However, I got very little sense of Grace Hopper the person behind the technical and organizational achievements he celebrates. As an example, did she really just casually discard a marriage in order to enlist in the Navy? We're told she had a wonderful sense of humor but in the entire book there's only one example of an office prank she instigated. The author packs the last 20 years of her life into the last 25 pages of the book, and much of that was interspersed with retrospective material. Surely there was more to Cmdr Hopper's life in those years than her honors and awards, but we see none of it.

As history, however, the book misses one of Hopper's most important contributions -- the notion of an industry-wide standard. Hopper's work to convene the CODASYL group was the first of a long line of standards efforts (including ICANN and the rest of the Internet infrastructure) without which the Information Age would have withered for lack of cross-enterprise fertilization.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!!! Sept. 17 2009
By Philip J. Blank - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a great book. While it is from an `Academic' press, it is not at all pedantic or overbearing. In fact, it is a fascinating story of Grace Hopper and the amazing contribution that she and her team made to the development of computers. It also provides an insight into that development unlike any other. The fascinating aspect of this is that much of what we do today - from flow charting to debugging had to be invented and it was - by Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper. If you are at all interested in understanding the amazing tale of our computer development and the amazing impact that Grace Hopper had on that development, this is a must read!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age Nov. 2 2009
By Pam Gilberd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a fascinating woman. What a fascinating era. Kurt Beyer brings her story to life and explains much about the early days of computers and programming that most of us don't know and simply take for granted. Beyer blends history, technological information and human interest into this worthwhile read. Thank you.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great biography, could be better Dec 25 2010
By Luis F. Moreno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book launches on a flat note, but sails away after that on a great voyage. As intended, the story centers on Grace Murray Hopper, whose life is displayed as a major focal point of the emerging field of computer programming. After reading this book, I discovered a woman whose strength was in her marvelous adaptability in the years between 1944 and 1960, when computer hardware went through at least two generations, and programming changed from plugboard wiring to high-level source code.
Kurt Beyer does a good job of conveying the feeling of constantly being at the forefront of this technology, of always facing the unknown. Hopper used her imagination, creativity and knowledge to sculpt part of computer science out of that unknown. She did this better than others because she was also able to marshal the genius of others more successfully than most CEO's of the day (or of today, I suspect). And that included attracting brilliant women programmers, perhaps the first instance of a new field of study emerging with women as intellectual peers.
The book is well researched, judging by the bibliography as well as the many personal quotes we read. But you don't get a drippy Oprah bio of her family life and feelings. Instead, you get a story that Hopper herself would have enjoyed, I think.
On the other hand, I wish that the author had inserted a bit more of Hopper's technological accomplishments. We should see some of the machine code of the Mark I for evaluating the cosine function, and the flow charting used in the UNIVAC. Why not show an example of a COBOL program (I remember studying it)? It's probably on the web, but it should also be in a book like this. Speaking of the web, you might enjoy Mr. Beyer's lecture at [...]
Two small gripes. The first is a general one. Biographers and editors of people in mathematics, the sciences, and the technologies should be conversant in one of those fields. To make an analogy, a good biographer of Victor Hugo should be expected to have read the masterful novels, in French. Beyer seems to be in the proper field, since he flew F-14's. But still, the square root function is not a transcendental function. Other gaffes are strictly editorial, and inexcusable. "Tan" is a color, Mr. Editor, not a substitute for the "tangent" function in standard English. Allowing the illogical "the number of n derivatives," when what is required is "the number n of derivatives," is just as crass as allowing "ain't no way, baby," but the wrong phrase appears twice. This is because the wrong phrase looks like fine technical jargon to editors who don't know mathematics. The moral is, if you don't know the language, then you'll fake editing it, every time.
The second gripe is about Chapter 1, the flat note. Beyer bogs us down in socio-literary mumbo-jumbo about the writing of historical biographies, and almost scuttles his own book. It reads as if some feminist editor planted an earwig in his brain, and it took this chapter to excise both it and her. Take my advice, Chapter 1 is annoying and irrelevant; start with Chapter 2, and enjoy reading about an American original.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great story Sept. 17 2009
By Doug Q. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An inspiring read for anyone who aims to achieve in spite of burdensome social constructs and overwhelming internal conflicts. By telling the story of Hopper's amazing journey to the top of the homogenous programming field, Beyer has presented us with a new and contrasting picture of the early years of computer innovation. This story of success, service and determination, in addition to the very readable prose not often associated with academic publications, make this an absolute read for even those with the slimmest of interest in technology.
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