Excuse me (Bill Mauchly) for being thrilled see Peter Eckstein totally demolish Jane Smiley’s The Man Who Invented the Computer: The Biography of John Atanasoff, ed Digital Pioneer in the Columbia Journalism Review. See the review and comments here.
The review of the book by Lauren Kirchner first appeared online Nov 24, 2010. The entire trail of comments is very entertaining in itself. Gini Calcerano dove in to criticize the book. Then in a surprise visit by Jane Smiley herself, the author tries to throw the fight in a different direction by accusing a Gini Calcerano of hiding the fact that she was actually a Mauchly, and even better, a “Mauchlyite.” Yea, the Mauchlyites were awakened and hit back with renewed force. As Rick Moranis says in Ghostbusters: “Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!”
Today Peter Eckstein, author and historian, added a highly detailed criticism of Smiley’s factual errors and extreme bias. Here is his post in its entirety:
I am not related to anyone in this controversy, and I never met Mauchly. I did interview Eckert (and others) extensively and published a long article on his early life in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. My only strong bias is a belief that history should be depicted as accurately as possible. I have read all parts of the Smiley book concerning American computer developments and found them to be superficially researched, riddled with factual errors, and totally biased—nothing short of a publishing scandal.
Smiley’s thesis is entirely borrowed from previous writers on one side of the issue. It is that Atanasoff, a brilliant scientist at Iowa State (where Smiley taught for more than a decade), invented “the computer,” later called the ABC. Then his ideas were stolen by Mauchly (“a space case”) who shared them with Eckert at Penn. Eckert merely “followed through,” making sure that Mauchly’s designs “were properly executed” during World War II in developing the ENIAC computer for the Army. By contrast, many serious computer historians argue that Eckert, who worked closely with Mauchly and others, should be seen as the master engineer of the computer age.