Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity. -- Charles Mingus

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

When I teach, I often recommend books for fun related reading.  These typically include Logicomix, by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou and David Foster Wallace's Everything and more.

I am going to be adding The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua to my list. This new graphic novel tells the story of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, and the inventions of the Difference and Analytical Engines.

The book primarily focuses on Lovelace, and the first part tells the true story of how Lovelace and Babbage met and collaborated.  There's a cast of colorful characters - all of the leading thinkers of the day, it seems. 

The main panels are black and white and evince a plainly Victorian feel, even while using all of the tools of a modern graphic novelist.  In addition, there are  footnotes, and endnotes to the footnotes, which add an academic feel and some pretty dense context.  Fun fact: Augustus de Morgan was Lovelace's math teacher.

In the second, much longer part of the book, Padua imagines what might have happened had Lovelace and Babbage succeeded in building the Analytical Engine in Vicotrian England.   This is not a new conceit, of course, Sterling and Gibson's The Difference Engine, is the predecessor that most readily came to my mind.  Padua takes Lovelace and Babbage through many adventures in this invented "pocket universe", and enables us to meet, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and Queen Victoria herself, among other characters.

Finally, in an appendix we are treated to a graphical description of the workings of the Analytical Engine.

Its fun stuff.  Padua is clearly fascinated, if not obsessed, with her subjects.  Her passion comes through in every page, and brings a joyousness to the book which is infectious.  Don't miss it.

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