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Engines of Logic: Mathematicians & the Origin of the Computer

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  371 ratings  ·  48 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
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
Chethan R
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most books on the theory of computation start off with automatons like DFAs, NFAs, Pushdown Automatons, and Turing machines without really talking about the reason for these models of computation. The history and the reason behind the way computers are the way they're today is often omitted.

This book is an essential prerequisite for anyone studying theory of computation. From the vision of Leibniz to reduce all computation to a set of axioms and build upon them to Hilbert who pushed for buildin
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
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.
Peter (Pete) 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.
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great interesting book and finished it in one go. Had read bit and pieces of all the awesome people mentioned in this book. This book provided details in their life and their contributions for the advancement of mathematics, computation and human knowledge.
John Doherty
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good but I would recommend anyone interested in this subject first read Charles Petzold's book "The Annotated Turing". It goes into much more depth. If I hadn't read the Petzold book first I think I would have been confused by this one.
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
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
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.
Jordan Zhu
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
John Doe
Feb 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cs, math, logic, mathhistory
Its a must read for any person works on computers.

There are many people already commented on the contents of this book. Here I want to talk about how and why I picked up this book, or how the hell this book interests me in the first place.

So I was learning and reading how to write programs and getting familiar with several programing languages, then what intricate me most is how similar all those so called programing languages are and in a way they all follow certain patterns, like they all hav
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.
Jeannie L
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci
Read the translated version. It was a really insightful book, introducing the development of logic applied to computing. A little redundant on the life stories of mathematicians, but overall worth a read.
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Intellectual History of Computing
Sam O'Connell
A 3 for me due to being a bit too deep in the weeds regarding the mathematical history. The book is very informative and even has some great first hand experience from the author.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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.
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.
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.
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'

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Martin David Davis (born 1928) is Professor Emeritus at New York University's Computer Science Department.

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