Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age Paperback – Feb 10 2012
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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)
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)
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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.