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Jane Smiley’s “Atanasoff” gets a rebuke in the New York Times | ENIAC - The first general-purpose electronic computer
This web site is devoted to ENIAC — “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer”. ENIAC was the first general-purpose electronic computer. It was made at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering during World War II under the code name "Project PX". Physics professor John W. Mauchly and electrical engineer J. Presper Eckert led the team. Both were civilian employees whose computer work was funded by the United States Army Ballistics Research Laboratory. This is a collection of the best online information about the ENIAC and the people that created it. (The information is divided into these categories - Select a link or scroll down to read the blog.)

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Jane Smiley’s “Atanasoff” gets a rebuke in the New York Times

Calculating a Consensus

Published: December 17, buy 2010 The New York Times

Related:    Sunday Book Review: ‘The Man Who Invented the Computer’ by Jane Smiley (November 28, sick 2010)

To the Editor:

Kathryn Schulz’s review of “The Man Who Invented the Computer,” by Jane Smiley, fails to address a basic issue: Is the book true, or at least consistent with the consensus about the development of the computer (“Binary Breakthrough,” Nov. 28)? Contrary to Smiley’s claims, most historians believe that if anyone deserves credit for the invention of the general-purpose electronic computer, it should go to J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, who developed the Eniac. Of course, there are many difficult issues over what it means to “invent” any complex technology. But a review of a work of historical biography should at least inform readers that the book challenges a general scholarly consensus, and evaluate whether the book is adequately based on research and facts.

Kalamazoo, Mich.

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One Response to “Jane Smiley’s “Atanasoff” gets a rebuke in the New York Times”

  1. David Says:

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with your unsupported arguement that there is a “general scholarly consensus” in support of ENIAC. I’ve see that nowhere but from Penn locals and relatives of Mauchly/Eckert. What this book underscores which I think you find threatening, is the visits to Atanasoff after his invention of the first Electronic Digital Computer that Mauchly had, and the numerous letters begging for details about how it worked and how to use a binary system and memory.

    Furthermore he lied under oath about these visits and letters, claiming he had never met the man, until the evidence was embarassingly brought to court. Court clearly showed him “borrowing” heavily from the overlying concepts.

    I think the ENIAC is historically important to computer development, just as the CRAY or Apple II is. But it is undeniable fact (not “consensus”) that Atanasoff’s revolutionary ideas of how to use binary and memory are what created the invention of the electronic computer.

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