The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

I’d heard of this book before, and probably of the webcomic it derives from, but for incomprehensible reasons I hadn’t read either until recently when a Twitterite posted news of a new Lovelace and Babbage story, the first in quite some time. I binge-read what comics are still online (some which are in this book have been removed), then decided I had to read the book. I tried first getting it from the library as a Kindle book but found it too hard to read — text too small and, unlike with a textual ebook, not really enlargeable. So I put in a request for the paper and ink book and waited for it.

Worth the wait.

One of the most delightful books I’ve read in recent memory. The comics themselves are funny (“This must be Twittered! Wait. This is a fan.”), engaging, and wonderfully drawn. And they, like Lovelace’s translation of Menabrea’s description of the Analytical Engine, are supplemented almost to a tail-wagging-dog level with entertaining footnotes and endnotes detailing information about the historical Lovelace, Babbage, Babbage’s Engines, and various people caught up in the story — I. K. Brunel, William Hamilton, Marian Evans (alias George Eliot), the Charleses Dickens and Dodgson, and others. The book concludes with extracts from various primary sources — including a couple of letters, hitherto little-known, that pretty much obliterate the notion that Lovelace was anything less than a highly skilled mathematician, a vital contributor to the development of computing, and someone genuinely admired and liked by Babbage — and an illustrated summary of the working principles of the Analytical Engine.

That in reality Lovelace died at 36 and Babbage never completed his computation engines is proof, if any still is needed, that the universe in which we live is woefully defective.

That Padua has produced this book is proof that it still has its great moments.

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