Turning the cogs

The Cogwheel Brain: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer

By Doron Swade

In 1821, while checking mathematical tables which had been calculated by hand and contained numerous errors, mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage decided to design and build a mechanical calculating engine capable of producing error-free tables.

This quest, which dominated the rest of his life and led him to become known as the first pioneer of the computer, is the subject of The Cogwheel Brain.

Doron Swade, assistant director and head of collections at the Science Museum, tells the story of his six-year project, begun in 1985, to construct a Babbage calculating engine from original 19th century designs.

Swade draws on unused archives to tell the story of Babbage’s quest and the completion of the first full-sized Babbage engine in 1991, the 200th anniversary of Babbage’s birth.

Helen Beasley

£14.99; Little Brown; ISBN 0316648477

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