The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter

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9780071388603: The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter

Published by Macmillan in the U.K. and by us in the U.S. in hardcover to critical acclaim, The Bride of Science tells the story of Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace, the inventor of computer programming and daughter of Romantic poet Lord Byron. Ada's story is that of a woman who came to embody the separation of two worlds: the world of Romanticism and the world of science and machines. Ada's efforts to reconcile these opposites - to create what she came to call a "poetical science" - produced one of the most remarkable careers of the Victorian age. In collaboration with Charles Babbage, the inventor of a clockwork "thinking machine" that predated the computer by over a century, Ada wrote a plan to use the machine for the calculation of Bernoulli numbers. This plan is now regarded as the first computer program, making Ada the world's first computer programmer. It was in her honor that, in 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense named its computer language "Ada." Ada has been iconised as a woman whose contribution to technology has been hidden. That contribution is now revealed in the first comprehensive biography of Lady Lovelace. The Bride of Science is not only a brilliant examination of an extraordinary life in math and science, it is also a fascinating analysis of the death of Romanticism and the birth of the machine age, offering devastating insight into the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between art and science, the consequences of which are still with us today.

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Review:

Ada Lovelace, the result of Lord Byron's short- lived marriage to Annabella Milbanke, is an extraordinary figure in 19th-century society. Not only was she the daughter of a celebrity, but she was the first computer programmer the world has known.

From the moment she was born, in 1815, Ada was a controversial figure. Her mother, a woman known for her piety and intellect, had fled the marital home taking her three-week-old baby with her. In this first comprehensive biography of Lovelace, Benjamin Woolley contends that the child embodied a chasm between Romanticism as represented by her father, and Reason as represented by his wife. He examines how, as an adult, she struggled to reconcile these opposites by creating a "poetical science". But first he deals with her childhood. We learn of Annabella's ferocious educational regime, and a young girl who, understandably, took refuge in the imagination.

Woolley's achievement is in making accessible the scientific theories that absorbed Lovelace and that led to her breakthrough in computer science. His approach to her work is grounded in her domestic setting which he portrays as oppressive, and as hastening her early death in 1852 from cervical cancer. The Bride of Science is a powerful piece of work, entirely appropriate for a revolutionary woman. --Lilian Pizzichini

Review:

"A splendid and enthralling portrait"-The Sunday Times (London); "It's a thriller"-New Scientist; "Woolley...skillfully conveys the excitement and contradictions of the era, and builds maximum suspense into the book's episodic structure - an approach that serves well in this popular account of a complex life and time..." - Publishers Weekly; "Although the colorful cast of luminaries and rogues sometimes diverts us from Ada's tragic story, this biography provides an intriguing glimpse into the beginnings of computer science and a reminder that character is destiny." - The Wall Street Journal

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