Dear Commons Community,
I have just finished reading George Dyson latest book, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. It is a first-rate account of the early years of computing at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. All the key characters of the development of the first computers: John von Newman, Alan Turing, Mauchley and Ekert, Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Teller are included. The book carefully provides insight into the relationship between the first computers and building of the atom bomb. Dyson interviewed several people present at the Institute during von Neumann’s tenure there, including his own father, the physicist Freeman Dyson. It also includes lesser-known but nonetheless important individuals such as Klári von Neumann (John’s wife), a socialite who became one of the world’s first machine-language programmers and committed suicide by downing cocktails before walking into the Pacific surf in a black dress.
In addition to the luminaries, it was fun reading about the trials and tribulations of working with punched cards, computers with 4K of memory, programs stored on paper tape, machine language coding, etc. I am not ashamed to say I started my career with the same type of technology at Hunter College in the Bronx later Lehman College in the 1960s.
I highly recommend Turing’s Cathedral… as a good summer read.