I was perusing the Macworld Bookshelf the other day when I discovered a previously unknown gem of a book called Jacqard’s Web: How a hand loom led to the birth of the information age.
Most books on the history of computing take you back to 1944 and the British secret Colosssus; if you’re lucky they go back a bit further to the Zuse Z3 and mention a few earlier 20th century inventions for good measure.
Jaquard’s Web, however, goes back, way back to the turn of the 19th centaury when Joseph Marie Jaquard invented a hand held loom that used punch cards to automate the process of weaving patterned silk.
It then takes you on a guided tour through Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine and Analytical Engine, before moving slowly up to the present day. Tracing modern computer developments right back to Monsieur Jaquard’s loom.
The joy of it – for me at least – is that it’s written in style not totally dissimilar to Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History Of Nearly Everything’ because it goes into great detail about the people who made these inventions, and brings the time and place they lived in to life. In other words it’s not a dry history lesson, but a fun traipse through the history of the mad geniuses that created contraptions that led to the MacBook Pro I’m typing on today.
It was first printed in 2004 and I can’t believe I missed it until now. Anyway, better late than never. Pick up a copy if you find one. ISBN is 0-19-280577-0. Here's an Amazon link.