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Eniac: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  440 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Based on original interviews with surviving participants and the first study of John Mauchly and Presper Eckert's personal papers, ENIAC tells the story of the three-year race to complete the world's first computer--and of the three-decade struggle to take credit for it. 10 illustrations. ...more
Paperback, 262 pages
Published February 1st 2001 by Berkley Trade (first published 1999)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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Feb 26, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is great. What a fantastic idea to spend the whole focus of a book on the invention of Eniac. I loved every delicious minute of the invention process, court battles, politics, and personal battles surrounding the development of Eniac.

When I was very little, my father took me to UPenn to see Eniac. He worked there as a programmer in the late 1970s and took me into his office and explained what email was, at the time a foreign concept. He helped me type a message to one of his coworkers
Oct 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Eniac by Scott McCartney

When I was an undergrad in Electrical Engineering in Ann Arbor there was a large section of ENIAC that was on display in our EECS atrium. I was always fascinated by this enormously complicated morass of vacuum tubes. This book - published during the Y2K crisis - did a good job of laying out the history behind this machine.

The two visionaries that were the focus of this book were:

1. John Mauchley - Physics Professor at Penn
2. John Pres Eckert - Penn engineering student

Jamie Smith
Dec 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The story of Eniac is a remarkable tale of inspiration, genius, hard work, and triumph, followed by some rather sordid attempts by people on the periphery to claim credit for it. John Mauchley and Presper Eckert were two brilliant men thrown together by the exigencies of World War II and the Army’s pressing need for a fast way to calculate trajectory tables for artillery. Mauchley was a physicist who had been teaching at a liberal arts college and only had a job there because the school’s nursin ...more
Jul 20, 2011 rated it liked it
An interesting read on the early history of the computer. The main flaw as I see it is that the story of ENIAC is largely outlined in the first third of the book. The rest of the slender tome goes on to detail the extended battles over patent rights. Plenty of print is spent on the creators' battles with themselves, the marketplace, and the powers that seemed to conspire to deny them their proper place in computing history well after ENIAC was retired. I have read only a little heretofore about ...more
Richard Thompson
Oct 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, technology
I have read a number of books about the history of computers -- Babbage, Turing, Gates, Jobs and so on. I knew a bit about the work of Aitken at Harvard. And I had heard of Eniac and Univac, but knew zero about their history, and I had never heard of Eckert and Mauchly.

In most ways, this is just another pretty good book about science history, but I found it fascinating because it taught me about people I had never heard of who made very important contributions to a very important field. Lots of
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: technology
I really enjoy reading books about the history of technology, and this
audio book was particularly fascinating. World War II created a demand
for lots of number crunching, especially for the development of artillery tables. Human computers — hence the origin of the word for the hardware we all use today — were women who had been math majors. They were recruited in droves to laboriously perform the intricate computations that governed the positioning of field pieces. The tables were all predicated
Apr 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
“The Triumphs and Tragedies …” is a good qualifier for the title of this book.
Unfortunately I had hoped to read a more detailed history of the development of ENIAC and it’s significance and historical context.
The writing style was bland and the interest level diminished accordingly.
In my view good historical writing creates a narrative and brings together themes that explain and discuss the historical context and the related problems and issues.
This book fails in this regard. If it were designed
Bojan Tunguz
Apr 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It is hard to imagine today, when there is literally a computer in each pocket in a form of a smartphone, that digital computers are a relatively recent development in the course of human history. They have more than anything else in the past fifty years changed the way we live and communicate with each other, the way we entertain ourselves, and have touched almost every aspect of our lives in ways that we have increasingly come to take for granted. And yet it is ironic that almost no one would ...more
Krishna Kumar
May 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is supposed to be the story of Presper Ekert and John Mauchly, the inventors of ENIAC, the first electronic computer. Actually, it is more about the politics and intrigue surrounding the invention and the various claims to fame by the people who were involved in the invention and the aftermath. The author is of the opinion that Ekert and Mauchly deserved more acclaim than they received, because others including John von Neumann received the credit because of their higher/better positions in ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
Took what should have been a compelling narrative and made it disjointed and uninteresting. I think the material is there for a better story teller to capitalize on.
Dec 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not especially well written. The introduction seemed a little condescending. The content is good though.


Pascall was the first teenage computer whiz. He was 19 when he built the Pascaline.

Vanavar Bush's Differential Analyzer was analogue.

Ekhert would starve mice and then put them in a box with a bunch of different types of wires. Whichever wire the mice chewed on the least was used in ENIAC. Thus mice-chewing damage could be avoided. This seems like a poignant illustration of some fundament
Chris Esposo
A short, but concisely written (and convincingly evidenced) industrial/professional biography of ENIAC, and the team of Ecker & Mauchly, which brought it to existence during the second world war. Both Mauchly and Ecker were researchers/staff at the Moore School of Engineering at Penn during the early 1940s/late-30’s, which for a short while, in US technology history, sat at the center of science & technology innovation when Philadelphia was host to the nation’s most advanced electronics industr ...more
Nathan Muschinske
Apr 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hoopla
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Bea Zee
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a recent convert into the world of programming and code, this book mesmorized me. As a recently made Philadelphian, the story hit even closer to home. Here I am getting into the tech world in the very city where the remarkable characters in this book came up with ingenious solutions that allowed for the building of groundbreaking inventions.

Theres more to it, however, as you will read about the politics and general bullshittery that goes into any entrepreneurial goal or dealings with big busi
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You probably know who invented the automobile and who invented the light bulb. But you probably don't know who invented the first electronic computer or the fascinating story behind why they aren't richer than God. Personally, I found it fascinating that the young engineers who created the first electronic computer had zero knowledge of Babbage/Ada's early work with analogue computing devices. [Note: Howard Aiken used Babbage's research during the construction of the Mark I at Harvard, but the M ...more
Dan Cohen
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: it, history
A serviceable account of the origins and development of ENIAC and what happened to the key figures afterwards. Much of the book is taken up with the subsequent disputes about who should have received credit for what and I felt the author was heavily invested in certain positions (supporting Mauchly and Eckert) where I needed also to hear the other side of the argument. Frankly, it's difficult to come away from the book with a great deal of liking for any of the protagonists - I don't know if thi ...more
Dec 01, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is another narrow slice of computing history that serves as a great companion to 'The Dream Machine'. The book does a great job of detailing the origins of ENIAC and outline the significance of that computer's impact on society as a whole. I appreciated the effort the author took to tease apart who deserves credit (and for what). This is the second book in a row that goes into what an asshole John Von Neumann was. I would recommend this if you are already interested in computing histor ...more
Jaak Ennuste
Feb 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Sometimes it's good to look back and instead of taking the computer as a black box -- you really become to understand how it works. The times, when every single digit was made of radio bulbs and all different directions of the developments were open.

This book is not very well written, sometimes not consistent, sometimes repeating itself. But the essence is there, you have to distill it by yourself.
Oct 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Easy to read book covering an amazing story with deep impact in our current digital world. A pity that people like Mauchly and Eckert, inventors of the first general purpose electronic computer, are not as well known in the industry and academy circles. They should be at the same level than Von Neuman, Turing, Pascal, Baggage and others.
Jul 23, 2021 rated it it was ok
Very interesting history of the ENIAC which I was not aware of. It went over the drama and business dealings that kickstarted the computer industry, but I was hoping it would go into more detail about the technological development.
Blake Brashear
Mar 20, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
Decent overview about the first computers and the people that developed them.
Ken Torbeck
Aug 25, 2022 rated it it was ok
Started out okay, but will put you to sleep after halfway point with things that really don't need to be in book. ...more
Paul Hartzog
Apr 09, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I quite like books that purport to expose things that have been covered up or forgotten by history, and in particular, things that have happened unjustly. This book is great on both counts.

It's a quick read, only a few hours, and flows quite well.

Let's hope history comes to its senses and restores the proper credit and appreciation to Mauchly and Eckert.
Nick Robinson
Dec 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kaitlyn Concilio
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Inventions are invariably a tricky business. With very few exceptions, not many things sprang forth fully-formed from the minds of one (or two, or whatever) people. Even Isaac Newton reminded people of the ideas of those who came before him, when discussing his genius. This is not to diminish those inventors, but to point out that Ford didn't invent the automobile, Edison didn't invent the lightbulb, and if Bell was the first to crank out a telephone, it was by maybe a month. Tops.

The computer i
Sep 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting story of two guys nobody's ever heard of.

A really interesting tale about capitalism, dumb luck, personalities and the way the world sometimes works. Really felt like an insider's view into the back rooms at Penn in the 1940s.

The writing, though, is kind of flat. Almost seemed like it took a juicy story and made it drier than it had to be. (And I'm a person interested in the subject matter.)

However, loved the detail the author went into on various parts, esp. the Honeywell v.
May 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
The author wanted to make it clear who he thought invented the computer. So much so that the last 50 pages of this book dealt less with ENIAC and more with his effort to overwhelm the reader with facts supporting his case. One can get that idea across in 5 pages without getting beaten over the head with it in the remaining 45. You've made your point, move on.
The book was quite readable although in workmanlike prose and yes, the author has a valid arguement that John Mauchly and Presper Eckert sh
Oct 12, 2009 rated it liked it
This book presents the history behind the development of the first truly usable computer -- the Eniac. It makes a strong case that John W. Mauchly and J. A. Presper Eckert deserve the lion's share of the credit for its development, even though in many circles their names have been swept aside in favor of such notables and John von Neumann, who did much to publicize the work in academic research circles but who really did relatively little in its actual design and construction.

In general, the boo
Curt Jeffreys
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The story of Eniac, the world's first truly programmable electronic computer, is both inspiring and heart breaking. J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were true visionaries, ahead of their time in many ways, yet exactly in the right place at the right time in more ways. Their story is one of technological innovation and political in-fighting. Unfortunately for them victory, fame, and most of the money went to those who could play the game, leaving the creators of this world-changing machine unde ...more
Sep 10, 2013 rated it liked it
I read this in one sitting, which is rare for me. I won't say the book was remarkable, but it was informative. There are lots of people out there who have done their research, however, regarding the history of ENIAC. To say it if the world's first computer is a bit misleading. It's a great read in terms of some of the players, but the relationships between these people as well as some factual info need to be taken with a grain of salt, and further research should be done to get the real dope if ...more
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