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The Man Who Invented the Computer

The Biography of John Atanasoff, Digital Pioneer

By Jane Smiley

The Man Who Invented the Computer
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2010,
    256 pages.

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Peter Eckstein (02/17/11)

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy
This book is a major act of historical malpractice. Focusing just on the American side of the story, the one on which the false title is based, the book is researched at the level of a college term paper. Smiley has utilized only three books, one oral history and one journal article (out of dozens available) to tell her story. One of the dozen chapters has 26 references, all but two of them to a single, very one-sided book. She commits at least four dozen out-and-out factual errors--three in the photo captions alone. When she does quote accurately, it is all-too-often out of context or given a twist which was not there in the original.

The same characteristics are treated as virtues in her hero (Atanasoff) and vices in her villain (Mauchly), who in fact was the co-inventor of the country's first automatic electronic digital general-purpose computer but whom she treats as a scheming boob.

This is a book that should never have been commissioned (by the Sloan Foundation), written (by Smiley) or published (by Doubleday). Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
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