Book Title: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer
Author: Sydney Padua
Style: Graphic Novel
Target Audience: Adult
Genres: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Page Count: 320
Format: Hardcover (library)
Reading time: 2 hours
Date Finished: 2/05/17
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My impressions: I’ll begin by saying I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started reading The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage – I knew who Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage were (the eccentric precursors to the modern field of computer science), and I thought it’d be fun to read a graphic novel about them. But this book is so much more than that – it’s a love letter not just to who these two remarkable people were, but also an obsessively researched projection of who they might have become in a “pocket universe” where Lovelace didn’t die at the age of 36 and where she and Babbage succeeded in building his Difference Engine and Analytical Engine during the Victorian Era.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this graphic novel is how extensively footnoted every panel is – author and illustrator Sydney Padua spent a lot of time reading about these persons and their contemporaries and tried to work as much of that knowledge into every panel as possible. She incorporates all sorts of famous mathematicians, scientists, writers and luminaries from the day (including a hilarious visit from Queen Victoria herself) and provides justifications for why things might have happened a certain way if the universe had shaped interactions between key players just a little bit differently. Padua even offers a lengthy appendix with detailed research and attempts to render Babbage’s inventions (which were only theoretical and never actually built in our own universe).
And yet, she also makes the story so enjoyable and funny that it’s a sheer joy to read. The narrative itself is a quick read with some great characterizations, from Babbage’s clownish haughty mathematician to Lovelace’s no-nonsense demeanor and inner conflict between math and poetry. But it’s also a book that provides much for the reader who really wants to dive into the details; there’s such a wealth of information on every page that the book requires multiple readings to fully absorb, and Padua’s love for the story of these characters is infectious.
I’ll never think about Babbage or Lovelace the same way again, and I also feel like I learned a thing or two about computer science that I never knew before. I loved this book, and I laughed a lot reading it, enough that I plan to pick up my own copy to enjoy again once this challenge is over.