Today, I will share about two books on computer history. Ok, this is a vast subject, so let’s look into the specifics. The first book I want to give feedback on is the very recent Home Computers: 100 Icons that Defined a Digital Generation written by Alex Wiltshire and photographed by John Short (The MIT Press – 2020 – ISBN: 978-0262044011). I was – still am – very excited when I preordered this book. Indeed, I belong 100% to the target audience. I recommend this coffee table book and would repurchase it—however, few comments for the second edition, and maybe for a new version. For the second edition, please increase the font size, you readers are not young chickens anymore, so bump-up that font size (many readers are complaining about this, so It is not just me).
Second, the inner – recycled paper – insert stinks. Please use the same paper as for the rest of the book, or just drop it. It is nauseating. There are also a few typos and picture snafus, but they are minimal, which brings me to the best aspect of the book: the high-quality photos. John Short did a great job here. Now for the suggestions for the next release. First: power-up – and fix if needed – those computers! They are all OFF, which makes me feel as if the authors took a shortcut, going the easy route. I can hear that it is an editorial choice. Fair enough. Second, don’t pick only from the systems available in the museum you worked with. It seems these 100 systems made it into the book simply because they were readily available. Please work with other collection owners and museums. I am sure they will be happy to help. As a consequence, some critical systems are missing, where less-historically-pertinent ones made it. As I wrote, I love this book!
The second book I want to write about is for the French audience: Histoire illustrée de l’informatique co-written by Emmanuel Lazard and Pierre-Eric Mournier-Kuhn (EDP SCIENCES – 2016 – ISBN: 978-2759818198). Note that there may be an English version, but I could not find it. To me, this book is also for the coffee table. More focused on the history side and, therefore, heavier on the text. It probably doesn’t have a single original photo. By this, I mean taken by the authors or the publisher. It claims to cover the entire span of computing history, from a long, long, long time ago, to the 3D printers. The book is a succession of dates/events on a timeline, and each entry is covered in a short paragraph or two. One aspect I like in this book is its focus on the French contribution to Art. This is rare enough to be signaled.
If you want to learn more about the French specificities, I would definitively recommend reading the 720-pages L’informatique en France de la seconde guerre mondiale au Plan Calcul: L’émergence d’une science by Pierre-Eric Mournier-Kuhn. (PU Paris-Sorbonne – 2010 – ISBN: 978-2840506546). The author, a historian by trade, covers the early stages of computer science in France. I will review this monument in a dedicated post as it definitively deserves it. Happy reading!