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Engines of Logic: Mathematicians & the Origin of the Computer

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  294 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Computers are ubiquitous yet to many they remain objects of irreducible mystery. This text looks at the question of how today's computers can perform such a variety of tasks if computing is just glorified arithmetic. The author illustrates how the answer lies in the fact that computers are essentially engines of logic and that their hardware and software embody concepts de ...more
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Published September 1st 2001 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published October 1st 2000)
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Andrew Nguyen
Apr 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Originally assigned as an optional read in a theory of computation class 5 years ago, I finally got around to reading this (Dr. Lutz, please revise my grade to an A). I'm going to heavily caveat this review because I'm a big fan of both history and computing, a pretty specific niche. Further, a reader probably won't enjoy this book without a little formal training in mathematics.

This book is a whirlwind tour of mathematical ideas and people that led to the birth of the digital computer. Startin
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Adam Casto
Mar 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An excellent overview of the history of mathematics as it pertains to the development of the concept of the modern computer. It can be a little difficult to follow at times as it chronologically jumps around between references and anecdotes. However with a bit of attention, it works to weave a wonderful picture of how a machine many of us take for granted these days came to be.
Chinchilla_clouds
Ένα βιβλίο και για (εμάς) τους μη γνώστες. Καλογραμμένο (όπως και η μετάφρασή του) και προσιτό, περιέχει βιογραφικά στοιχεία για τον εκάστοτε επιστήμονα, κάτι που το κάνει πολύ συμπαθητικό και ξεκουράζει κατά την ανάγνωση, αφήνοντας την αίσθηση πως διηγείται ιστορίες, με έναν πιο ακαδημαϊκό τρόπο.
Maurizio Codogno
Il 2012 è stato il centenario della nascita di Alan Turing, e nell'occasione sono state pubblicate molte opere su di lui. Questo libro in realtà è del 2000, ma Martin Davis l'ha aggiornato in alcune parti, compreso un rapido accenno al programma di computer Watson che nel 2011 vinse una gara del quiz televisivo "Jeopardy", proprio per l'occasione.

L'approccio di Davis non è esattamente biografico, anche se il testo contiene varie brevi biografie da quella di Leibniz a quella di Turing; il filo co
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Steve
Jan 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: yes.
Recommended to Steve by: Logicomix
Martin Davis, a notable logician who work for (and with) very notable mathematicians and scientists, writes about the relationship amongst math, logic, and computation.

He surveys the lives and achievements of thinkers from Leibniz and Babbage to von Neumann and Turing and discusses what these ideas mean for modern computing.

The Universal Computer is a rather quick read, with the biographical content being particularly brisk, and there are points where some readers may like more detail, but this
...more
Ushan
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computer-science
This short book consists of mini-biographies of Leibnitz, Boole, Cantor, Hilbert, Frege, Gödel and Turing. Davis is a co-discoverer of the Davis-Putnam algorithm, and he knew personally some of the people he mentions; other than his short reminiscences, there is little in this book that a reader of Neal Stephenson does not already know. There is of course much more to the story; the P=?NP problem was first formulated in Gödel's letter to von Neumann; Davis mentions a biographer of Leibnitz who w ...more
Alex
Jan 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Since picking up "Logicomix", I realized I have a few other books on the mathematical foundations of computing. While Logicomix disappointed, "Engines of Logic" certainly had to meaty math goods I was looking for. If nothing else, it was a good pointer to topics that warrant further investigation from a variety of other sources.

I can't imagine anyone but a computer-dork like me would find this interesting. Kinda like Rush…for books. But if you're into this sort of thing, it's worth picking up.
Jim Mccormick
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding review of key personalities behind the development of logic. Interesting summary of the design of the earliest computers. Very reasonable perspective based on first-hand experience of mid-century computer developments. Objective presentation of divergent personal views of many of these great minds.
Peter Mcloughlin
This book is a fun book to read on the history and development of the idea behind the universal computer. It is not very deep in terms of the Mathematical ideas involved but it gives a flavor of the ideas. It is really good at profiling the colorful characters who developed these ideas and their often dramatic lives. A fun book to read and not very technical despite the title.
Griffin Strain
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was tasked to read this discussion of the evolution of logical thought and mathematics for my final class in my computer science degree, introduction to computational theory. Overall, I was very impressed with the work and the ability of the author to work the line between presentation of mathematical theory and historical background on the important figures in the creation of computable thought. On several occasions, it is evident that the author has strong opinions on certain facts and makes ...more
Kerem
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably one of the most fascinating "history" books I've ever read. Starting with Leibniz' far ahead vision, the book goes through the history of "logic" that resulted in today's computers (and whatever will come next of them). The exciting lives of Boole, Frege, Cantor, Hilbert and Gobel, how they reached the major milestones in this history, and their failures and problems are presented almost in a novel fashion (rather than heavy maths). The book's final is a lengthy tribute to Turing, who w ...more
Roberto Paredes
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I really enjoyed this one. It has some math and logic concepts that are easy to digest, along with their historical context.

The Universal Computer will show you who are the fathers of modern computing: how their lives where; their science, ideas, and how each one put a piece on the puzzle that was finally solved by Alan Turing.
Kevin Gross
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Davis’ book has an interesting enough goal: to draw a line connecting some of the great modern mathematicians and their work in the field of logic, to the development of digital computer. Start with Leibniz’s ideas around symbolic mathematics, trace the path to Turing and von Neumann’s designs. There is a chapter for each of the big brains, including Boole, Frege, Cantor, Hilbert, and Goedel – but oddly omitting von Neumann and his contemporaries as chapter-worthy. Von Neumann (along with Turing ...more
Damian O
Nov 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I wouldn't have said this until reading the other reviews, and agreeing. I've never read it in one go ( or rather never found myself able to ). It sometimes spends a long time explaining some relatively trivial concept, and a short time will skim through another idea in a couple of chapters.

All in all, this serves as a good reference manual for anyone interested in computer science, information theory and to some degree cognitive science.

I think the ' Subjects-in-sequence ' approach is an attemp
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Jim Andrews
Dec 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an important book concerning the history of mathematics, logic, and computer science. It shows how very important threads in the history of mathematics dating from the work of Leibniz to that of Boole, Frege, Cantor, Hilbert, and Godel led to Turing's formulation of the contemporary computer. The book situates the computer in the history of mathematics so that we see the development of the computer in relation to the historical 'crisis of foundations'.

While the book is astute as a histo
...more
Dennis O'Brien
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing book describing the history of computational logic and the mathematicians who made major contributions to the field that eventually led to the computer. Each chapter focuses on a single contributor, looking at his life and times as well as the radical breakthroughs made. Though the story stretches almost four hundred years, there is a feeling of continuity in the development of logic and it is really exciting to watch the culmination in the intellectual powerhouse of Alan Turi ...more
Blair
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think the mathematical history behind the development of the computer is interesting, but not having much mathematical background makes is hard to find books on it that I can understand, but I found this book to be pleasantly accessible. It is structured chronologically, and follows the key players whose mathematical ideas allowed for the development of modern computers. I liked that it included bibliographic information and interesting anecdotes about the people as well. My only complaint is ...more
Paul Berg
Nov 22, 2008 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
After reading "Cryptonomicon" and currently on "Quicksilver" by Neal Stephenson this book at the San Juan College library caught my eye. Martin Davis (who's PHD predates my birth by 8 years) follows the development of the ideas from Leibniz to Turing that lead to the universal computer. I credit Stephenson for sparking an interest in line of thought that is inherent in Crypto' and "The Baroque Cycle". What I found interesting, so far, is that Newton does not have a chapter in this book and is on ...more
Guy Ferguson
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
only partially read - a library book. The book followed the development of teh computer, from very non-hardware origins - e.g. philosophers and logisticians work that led the way to its development. Of those I read, they were well written and helped me understand where computers came from. And also helped me to see them as more than a tool we use to print and brows. Incompleteness and halting states are phrases I hear often and this book helped understand them.
If you are not tech minded, or don'
...more
Mike
Dec 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
A fascinating exposition of the factors leading to the development of the universal computer and its partial embodiments in today's computers. Martin Davis writes with a charm and directness that I cannot help but find engaging; he doesn't "talk down" to his readers, and the copious notes at the end of the book are, if anything, even more interesting than the main content itself. His focus on the role of Alan Turing is especially gratifying.

[My thanks to Graham Birtwistle for lending me his copy
...more
Javier Cano
Sep 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The history not of computing, but the history of the general purpose computer. The storytelling is from the perspective of the minds that provided the ideas and principles behind such an amazing device, instead of a historical point of view. The author talk about the motivations of these seven characters which lead them to conceive such amazing ideas that converged in a general purpuse computer. The author also discusses philosophical issues and the consequences of these ideas.
Thore Husfeldt
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A solid, lucid, focussed, well-structured, and highly readable exposition of the logical foundations of computation. From Leibniz’s dream of a rational and computable universe, via the logical formalisms of Boole and Frege and Hilbert’s program to heartbreak and catastrophe in the form of Gödel’s results. Until, like a mechanical Phoenix, the Turing machine rises from the ashes and transforms the world.

This book is a model of popular scientific writing.
Jose Carlos
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sin duda, un libro que cualquiera que se dedique a la Ing. Informática debe leer. Aunque, por supuesto, lo recomiendo a cualquiera que tenga cierta curiosidad en el tema. Un viaje de tres siglos, en el que se muestra los pasos por los se pasó para llegar a la idea de la computadora universal.
Sarah
Dec 31, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grownup
This book traces the developments and the lives of the people who made them, that advanced logic theory until it was fit for digital computers. Excellently written and easy to read, I was equally intrigued by the theory and by the diverse characters who created it.
Dragos
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Choosing to rate this book is an undecidable problem.
In this case it's a good thing that I'm only human.

To hyperbolize the spirit of the book:

'the author writes about all logicians who didn't write about themselves'

Vasco
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, a must-read for any computer scientist.
If you like logic and computers, this is the book for you. It goes into the deepest math of computers, from the mathematicians of the XVII century to today, it talks about how computers rose from mathematical theorems.
zedoul
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I high recommend this book to understand theoretical basis of modern computer, especially for programmers. There are number of books about those subject, Gödel, Escher, and Bach / The Code / Logicomix for example, but this book is much easier to understand without any detours.
Peter Flom
Mar 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math
A "pre-history" of the digital computer, covering the ideas that led up to its invention and some of the key participants in that development
Yupa
Nov 14, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un tentativo non del tutto riuscito di replicare il ben più celebre Gödel, Escher, Bach...
Mike Murray
Jun 07, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology
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Martin David Davis (born 1928) is Professor Emeritus at New York University's Computer Science Department.