“ENIAC in Action delivers a breathtakingly original, approachable, and at times even funny reinterpretation of the dawn of computing. More than the story of one hugely important machine, told from technical, institutional, and personal perspectives, it illuminates the invention of the modern computer, the development of programming, the transformation of scientific practice around new technology, and the transition from the mathematical technology of World War II to the simulations culture of the early Cold War.”
—Joseph November, Associate Professor of History, University of South Carolina
“I have a shelf full of books about the ENIAC, the electronic computer whose completion in 1945 heralded the birth of the Information Age. But until now, none have captured the many facets of that machine and its place in history. Basing their book on a wealth of archival research, Haigh, Priestley, and Rope for the first time tell this story in its fullest measure.”
—Paul E. Ceruzzi, Chairman, Division of Space History, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
“This book should be read by anyone who wants to understand the initial evolution of our modern abstraction of what a computer is. The authors weave a convincing account of how ENIAC’s architecture was originally developed and then continued to evolve. They combine a careful reading of the documentation and lab notebooks generated during ENIAC’s development with a deep understanding of the architectural issues behind competing possible implementations.”
—Mitch Marcus, RCA Professor of Artificial Intelligence, Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania
“The history of technology, whether of the last five or five hundred years, is often told as a series of pivotal events or the actions of larger-than-life individuals, of endless ‘revolutions’ and ‘disruptive’ innovations that ‘change everything.’ It is history as hype, offering a distorted view of the past, sometimes through the tinted lenses of contemporary fads and preoccupations. In contrast, ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer is a nuanced, engaging and thoroughly researched account of the early days of computers, the people who built and operated them, and their old and new applications.
[It] sheds new light on women’s role in the emergence of the new discipline of computer science and the new practice of corporate data processing. It turns out that history (of the accurate kind) can be more inspirational than story-telling driven by current interests and agendas, and furnish us (of all genders) with more relevant role-models…. [T]he creativity and intelligence of good historians writing books such as ENIAC in Action will keep us informed and entertained.”
—Gil Press, Forbes.com, April 2016
“This is a fascinating historical recollection of the struggles, setbacks and triumphs inherent in the ENIAC project. The authors also give credit where credit is due, specifically to the women who were so critical to the success of the project. The first six professional programmers were all women. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that if you see a picture of the ENIAC that includes a man and a woman, the man is a prop and the woman is running the thing.”
—Charles Ashbacher, MAA Reviews, April 2016
“Shustek began by saying, ‘We’re here to celebrate people who made history. That’s what we do.’ …. That means there are always new insights and discoveries being made that can change our interpretation of the past. He held up a new book by Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley, and Crispin Rope — ENIAC in Action — that uses primary historical source documents to show that complex software was running on the ENIAC much earlier than was generally known. Shustek continued, ‘This is exactly the kind of history that we encourage and the kind of history that we do. It’s the kind of history that’s complex, that’s nuanced, that is not static and gives us some insight into how this amazing invention, the computer, has changed our civilization and continues to do so.'”
—Len Shustek, Chairman, Computer History Museum. CHM Fellows Awards gala, April 2016
“[A] particularly important, thorough, and balanced account, a major contribution to the history of early computing, and certainly required reading for any student of the subject…. ENIAC in Action is striking for the extreme care and thoroughness with which the authors have collected and interpreted historical evidence, and their effort both to avoid letting hindsight drive interpretation and to comprehend how the people involved understood the ENIAC and their relation to it at the time.”
—Ernest Davis, Professor of Computer Science, New York University’s Courant Institute. SIAM News, October 2016.
“In this technically rigorous exploration of ENIAC’s role as the earliest stored program computer, the authors also trace the changing conception of ENIAC’s role among historians and the general public since its completion in 1945. If you’ve ever wondered how ENIAC worked, this is the book for you. But it is much more than a technical description. Taking the reader on a fascinating historical detective story, ENIAC In Action examines previously unknown or unexplored primary sources to create a highly nuanced narrative about the role of computing after WWII, how early women programmers helped ENIAC achieve its goals, and how ENIAC influenced later computers. If you read one book on ENIAC, this should be the one!”
—Dag Spicer, Senior Curator, Computer History Museum.
Understanding how new technologies come about, and the creation of abstract ideas and design principles that far outlive rusting hardware, takes an understanding of history and context alongside technical material, admirably combined in ENIAC in Action: Making and Remaking the Modern Computer (MIT Press) by Thomas Haigh, Mark Priestley and Crispin Rope.
—Times Higher Education Supplement: “Summer Read” 2016 recommendation, from Ursula Martin, Professor of Computer Science, Oxford University
Det är en detaljerad, skarpsynt och fascinerande detektivhistoria och arkeologisk expedition i de moderna mediernas landskap som tar form. ”Eniac in action” är medie- och vetenskapshistoria när den är som bäst. ( It is a detailed, perceptive and fascinating detective story and archaeological expedition in the modern media landscape that is taking shape. ENIAC in Action is the media and the history of science at its best).
—Jesper Olsson, “Med Eniac föddes moderniteten,” Svenska Dagbladet, 23 June, 2016. (Translation by Google!)
Bad history makes false claims about firsts. Good history makes true claims about firsts. Great history, however, doesn’t primarily concern itself with firsts at all (though it may necessarily deal with them as part of the subject matter), but redirects us to ask deeper, more meaningful questions. Great history, like the work of Tom Haigh, Mark Priestley, and Crispin Rope, goes beyond the baseline of facts, the high-school textbook version, into a whole new realm of interpretation.
—Hansen Hsu, Curator of the Software History Center, Computer History Museum in “The Neverending Quest for ‘Firsts'”.
…this volume has opened up a new vista and as such this work is an important contribution to the history of computers. This reviewed volume demonstrates how ENIAC is critical in understanding how the machine is a first. The question of “firsts” seems simple, but is actually quite complex…. Moreover, the ENIAC is significant not simply because of a “first,” but because of its influence and impact on later computers. [ENIAC in Action] compares favorably with other titles such as those by Ceruzzi [A History of Modern Computing], Burks and Burks [The First Electronic Computer], and Burks [Who Invented the Computer].
—G. Mick Smith, Computing Reviews, July 28, 2016.
…one is sure of the expertise of the authors, who are well aware of how to make the design and the everyday use of ENIAC plastic as a “computing practice”, even for technically less well-educated readers…a methodical blueprint for future studies, which would prescribe fields such as software studies or platform studies… ENIAC in Action is a highly reflective and absolutely readable dive into the science and media technology history of early computing. In addition, the book sketches the development of programming practices as a new cultural technique, which not only changes the forms of scientific work but extends to larger social contexts.
—Sebastian Vehlken, Berichte zur Wiseenschaftsgeschichte 41:1 (March 2017): 98-100. (Translation by Google!). Full review online.
Comments Received on Related Publications
“I have just finished reading your paper “Reconsidering the Stored-Program concept” — what a fine piece of academic work. In the past, I too was wandering about the origins of the term ‘stored program’ (apart from the “First Draft”) but while I was just thinking about it, you have found time and co-authors to do that.”
—Zbigniew Stachniak, York University, author of Inventing the PC: The MCM/70 Story.
“…nothing less than the kind of analysis you have provided will do justice to the technical, cultural, tribal and historical tangle. What astonished me when I first puzzled about this several years ago was that no one had sought to provide any satisfactory account of what was paraded widely as the defining feature of the modern computer. Or indeed to ask the question….Terrific that you are dismantling this tangle in such an historically responsible and admirably accomplished way. Really very fine.” —Doron Swade MBE, author of The Cogwheel Brain.
“I read the article in awe of your scholarship. You and your colleagues have done a fantastic job and I suspect that your efforts will be highly valued as a major contribution to our knowledge of early computing and the origins of the discipline.”
—Tim Bergin, former Editor in Chief of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing