The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

Being somewhat fan of both the difference and analytical engines, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua sounded like a book I definitely should read. It tells a story of polymath Charles Babbage, mathematician-writer Countess of Lovelace (better known as Ada Lovelace) and their ingenious analytical engine in graphical novel format. Since analytical engine was never built, the story is set in the alternative universe.

While the book is a graphical novel, there’s lots of text. Sometimes it feels that there’s actually more text than comic on pages (sort of like how Lovelace’s translation of Luigi Menabrea’s article had more text in footnotes than in the original article). Underneath the actual comic is text that explains background of many things shown in the current page and at the end of the chapter there’s footnotes that shed even more light to the matter. I was extremely delighted how much the author referred to the various sources like diaries, newspaper articles and such. There’s even nice selection of them at the end of the book. I didn’t find the comic particularly hard to read because of the footnotes, on the contrary. They probably were responsible keeping me glued to the book.

I liked the art in the book. It’s not hyper-detailed and the focus is on the characters. I loved how well the author captures emotions and movement of the characters with few simple looking lines. While characters are very evocative and full of movement and emotion, the analytical engine is shown as very precise with towers and towers of cogs and other mechanical parts. Padua actually studied the blueprints for the machine and it’s intented functionality so she could draw well, and that truly shows.

Very delightful surprise was waiting for me at the end of the book. There’s full chapter outlining how the machine was supposed to work. The chapter goes in many details on how the machine was supposed to store numbers, move them from memory to central processing unit (or the mill, as Babbage referred to it), how calculations worked and how logic was implemented. Carry operation (which is needed when sum of two digits is greater than 9) is described in detail, as this was one of very clever parts that Babbage designed over and over again.

If it’s still unclear at this point, I really loved the book. The story is somewhat sad when you remember how analytical engine was never built and how young Ada Lovelace died. I can recommend the book for those who are intersted in Babbage’s and Lovelace’s work, beginning of computing or steampunk. The story is interesting even if you have no idea whatsoever about analytical engine, Babbage or Lovelace.

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