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Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age

(Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation)

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  235 ratings  ·  40 reviews
The career of computer visionary Grace Murray Hopper, whose innovative work in programming laid the foundations for the user-friendliness of today's personal computers that sparked the information age.

A Hollywood biopic about the life of computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992) would go like this: a young professor abandons the ivy-covered walls of academia to serv
Hardcover, 389 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by MIT Press (MA) (first published July 10th 2009)
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Jan 12, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book is not what it might seem, but I am not complaining. It is not a biography of Grace Hopper, although it does not claim to be. It is a story of how one woman influenced the development of the machine I am typing on now and the software that allows you and me to communicate.

Beyer tells us that Grace Hopper was a mathematics professor who left her husband to apply her skills to the war effort, but never tells us if she ever went on a date again. He tells us that she was an alcoholic, but
Stephany Wilkes
Oct 27, 2009 rated it liked it
I've long admired Grace Hopper but was relieved to read this biography in particular. Few biographical accounts of her go beyond "She was a pioneer!" and "She was a female computer programmer in the 1930s OMG!"

This biography goes into detail about her career and specific contributions (the development of the first compiler, programming methods, data flow charts, to name just a few things we still use regularly today). At times some of the material was even a bit dry for me, and I'm a geek (a tr
Feb 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
WHEW. I just finished getting through the notes for this book which constitute the last 20%.

I was fully expecting to give this book 4 stars, just because, it's a biography and thus can be challenging at times to push through, but the last chapter won that fifth star.

I went into this book thinking it was entirely about Grace Hopper, but it isn't. At first I was a bit disappointed, but again by the end I was grateful at the thoroughness in which the author decided to cover the "Invention of the In
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Grace Hopper was a pioneer in the history of computing and this book gives an insight into her commendable achievements, which are so relevant even to this day. She was one of the first ones to develop a subroutine that we use relentlessly in our code today. But her main achievement is the invention of a compiler, and she was the mastermind behind the COBOL language.
The first few chapters of this biography focus more on the evolution of the computing world during the WW II, with a considerable
Kate Mcphail
Aug 26, 2019 rated it did not like it
I was expanding my horizons by reading this but it was really dry and I don't understand much about computers so it was double dry.
Apr 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hopper is one of the most famous early computing pioneers. But until I read this book I didn't really understand what she really did, or who she was. This book is not a general biography. The first 35 years of her life are dealt with in one chapter, as are the last 30 or so. Most of the book is dedicated to her time as a computing pioneer, roughly 1943 until 1960 -- from when she joined the navy until the adoption of the COBOL standard. That period involved quite enough achievement to justify a ...more
Feb 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very good summary of the life of Grace Hopper, the third programmer ever, creator of the first compiler A-0 and its subsequent versions A-1 and A-2, driving force behind making programming languages more pseudo-English (instead of mathematical script), possibly inventor of comments in programming (she wrote mathematical formulas with pencil on the punched cards that were fed to the computers), ex-alcoholic, teacher, navy-woman, co-inventor of "debugging" ("bug" was already a word for problems ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Mar 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Summary: Grace Hopper's story was fascinating and inspiring, but the writing was sometimes repetitive.

This is the first book I've finally picked up for my Women in Science History event this month. I'm already excited for next year just so I can do more with this event! Anyway, Grace Hopper was one of the fantastic female scientists in  Headstrong who particularly caught my attention, in part because I'm aware of a computing conference named after her, but didn't previously know about her wor
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well written look into life at the start of what we think of as programming. I don't have a lot of background on the topic, but Beyer doesn't just cover Hopper's life--he covers a good chunk of the history of the computing industry too. There are a lot of parallels to today's industry and some of the differences are really fascinating too. Well worth a read.
Mar 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Definitely the most exciting and boring book I've ever read. It's dry as toast and if you're interested in Grace as a woman, this isn't the place. But I found it thrilling. Beyer takes us back to the creation of the computer. Think giant machines with movable parts and connections that were changed by hand for each function. Gates and Jobs were still in diapers. We take everything for granted, including the name--computers. It's a shock to realize that nothing existed--not even the terminology. ...more
Nov 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Facinating read on the development of progammong, but less about Grace than the book's title and blurb had me believe. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interrest in software development, but the lack of a more human angle might put others off.
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great book that details both historical and technical aspects of the beginning of computers from the perspective of software development. It helps explain why things are the way they are and gives credit to the men and women who made contributions to the field.
Graeme Dunlop
Grace Hopper is often called the mother of COBOL. I started my computing career with COBOL, so I was interested to see its beginnings.

More than that, though, Grace Hopper invented the compiler, a way of communicating with a computer that didn't rely on an intimate understanding of both mathematics, and the machine's hardware to obtain results. I wanted to know how she went about that.

And I found out about those things from this book! The title is a bit misleading, however. Yes, it is about Grace
Duane Pickett
Jun 17, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Better Title: My first EH101 Essay: A survey of early computing challenges and the people solving them, like Grace Hopper

There was a lot of effort here, but this book was not about Grace. It was a serviceable intro to the very beginning of the industry. But Grace as a person does not really show up until chapter 6, and does not become a person (as opposed to just a name) until chapter 9.
The last chapter (11) is actually a nice summary of the the things that were unique about Grace. It would hav
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
I find Grace Hopper's dedicated, collaborative and pioneering work in computer programming inspiring, the writing of this book was so technical I could only skim it. I was reminded of Alan Turing: The Enigma. I tried to read The Enigma after watching The Imitation Game and couldn't get through it. I skimmed most of this book and was amazed at how much information was given about the men Grace worked for and with and how relatively little was supplied about her. Perhaps that wasn't the point of t ...more
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Great content. I learned a lot about some of the earliest computers and the origins of key technologies like compilers and portable programming languages. However the writing is poor and very repetitive.
James Henderson
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great overview of the beginning of the computer industry and one of its most important inventors/engineers. Grace Hopper not only invented the first compiler but also was hugely influential over the creation COBOL. COBOL! which still runs half the internet...
Beyer offers an informative read. Nevertheless, his dry writing and technological jargon made for a lack in connection to the text. This reassured me that the computer field is not for me. But, Grace Hopper sure did make it in that field!
Aug 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Well written...details about her work were above my understanding.
Tony Grimm
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What an extraordinary person!
Feb 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Grace Hopper was a pioneer computer scientist before such a profession ever existed. Brought up in comfortable surroundings in Manhattan and schooled at Vassar, Hopper brought her sharp intellect, organizational powers and unrelenting drive to her work. She started her career at the Harvard Computation Laboratory at the beginning of World War II, working under "Commander" Howard Aiken, who Beyer portrays as a headstrong, demanding and unsympathetic manager - who would do anything for you if you ...more
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
President Obama posthumously awarded Grace Hopper the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. It is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

My interest in the book stemmed from looking for role models of women in computer history. I started with Ada Lovelace and books on her were readily available but this Grace Hopper boo
Dec 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I admit this book took a little time to get into. I ended up skipping the introduction and jumping right into it instead. But I was glad I did.

I have to say it wasn't quite what I expected. It occasionally deals with her challenges as a woman, but the bulk of the book is the history of computing. Other than demonstrating that Grace Hopper’s time in the Navy was all-consuming and would have been impossible with a family to care for, I was disappointed that the book was so brief on these topics in
Mar 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Feminist that I am, I'm always interested in reading about a woman who made a major contribution. In this case, Grace Hopper is credited with being the first computer programmer, male or female, and with being the instigator behind the still most commonly used computer language, COBOL. This book is very readable despite its technical topic. It was amazing to me that this work was done in the 40's and 50's. When I was in college in the 70's, computers were just beginning to be used at DU and I ha ...more
Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, systers
Grace Hopper was an amazing woman. She was one of the first programmers of the Mark I, she developed the first compiler and played a very important role in the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.

This book is not just Grace Hopper's biography, it tells the story of the invention of the information age and her role in all of this. The title is a little misleading since you would think you'll be getting a 400 page book about Grace Hopper's life, instead you get a v
Abigail K
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-non-fiction
Beyer's account of Grace Hopper's life was very interesting once you can get past the opening chapters Beyer writes about himself. In my opinion, he takes too much time describing his research and writing processes. I didn't pick up the book to learn about Kurt Beyer, I chose it to read about Hopper. Even though it started off extremely slow, I still enjoyed the actual historical account of Hopper's life and how passionate she was about computing. She really was an amazing individual with an inc ...more
Jul 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, computers
Very important for anyone interested in the history of one of the most important technologies of our age!

The author writes a compelling story of the challenges, struggles, and triumphs of this amazing person, a true pathfinder in an evolving technology and industry.

The author tells us not only about the inventor of compilers and the driving force behind standardized computer languages, but also about the person behind it, with the excitement, fights, and disappointments of being a leader in some
Dec 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Can't quite put my finger on why I didn't love this book. I did like that provided a very broad and honest look at the subject... Grace Hopper didn't star in this book, but like the history of computers and computer programming, was part of a large group (I am not belittling her role, just explaining how the book was of a broad view, focusing on Hopper as needed). I would have like to have seen more examples of what the programmers were doing, for example...
Not sure, glad other's enjoyed it more
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. There were some dry bits, yes, however the author seemed to really capture the spirit of Admiral Hopper. I had not known how varied and holistic her education was before reading this book. It certainly makes more sense now that she was able to think so innovatively.

I'd really recommend this book to anyone looking for a female role model, a military role model or to find out about how the computer age began. Really interesting reading.

Nov 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Fabulous realistic view of a courageous woman. Think we have it hard these days? Grace Hopper broke through glass ceilings, she was big into Open Source, and she had a great sense of humor. She als had a very dark period in her life. This is definitely a book for any innovator, not just women.
There's also an interview with the author at
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Kurt W. Beyer is a former professor at the United States Naval Academy and lectures regularly on the process of technological innovation. He is a cofounder of a digital media services company and has authored multiple patents (pending) on high speed digital data processing.

Other books in the series

Lemelson Center Studies in Invention and Innovation (10 books)
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