Monday, April 11, 2011

Jacquard's Web

Jacquard's Web reminded me of Connections.  Not just because James Burke covered several of the same topics, but because James Essinger seamlessly traveled from Prince Albert's inspection of a woven portrait of JM Jacquard, to the history of silk weaving, to the 1890 US Census with stops along the way for the French Revolution and Lord Byron.  The bulk of the book, however, discusses Charles Babbage and his two machines, the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine.  Babbage never managed to build working models of either machine, but they're considered the precursor to the modern computer, and their description, written and annotated by Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace is considered the first computer program.  Essenger is an engaging writer, and Jacquard's Web strikes the right balance between a collection of trivia facts and deep thought.