The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron’s Daughter

By Benjamin Woolley

Rating: 3 stars

An interesting look at the life of a woman who is mostly recognised today for her impact on the world of computing. While Ada Lovelace is often regarded as the first programmer, for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, Woolley pulls back from this claim, saying that Babbage himself had written such “programs” as well and that Ada’s mathematics wasn’t great. But this book is about much more than her contributions to computing; it pulls back and looks at her life in the context of a rapidly changing world and where science and art were in the process of being torn apart.

Woolley makes a lot of Ada’s parentage. Indeed, the first two chapters are entirely spent on telling of how Annabella Milbanke married Lord Byron, the poet. He portrays Annabella as a cold, analytical woman, contrasts her to the hot-blooded poet and then considers what would happen in the fusion of these two people.

To be honest, while the book is very readable, it’s a bit soap-opera-y too. Woolley does go on a bit about Ada’s split heritage and how her artistic side was suppressed by her mother. He also seems to be “on Byron’s side” for most of the book (despite the fact he dies in Ada’s childhood and never got to see his daughter beyond infancy) and portrays Annabella in a fairly negative light, being a controlling influence on Ada throughout her life. Without going back to the primary sources it’s difficult to know how accurate this portrayal is but I instinctively dislike it in what should be a work of fact. However, to balance that, the book is very readable and provides a decent introduction to someone I’ve known about for so long (my first programming language at University was Ada) but knew very little about.

Book details

ISBN: 9781447272540
Publisher: Pan
Year of publication: 1999

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