Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
Summary: A slow start made the ending of this fascinating story about a female scientist all the more satisfying.
This is the fictionalized story of Ada Lovelace, the woman credited with writing the first computer program in the 1800s for Charles Babbage’s then theoretical, mechanical calculating machine. As the daughter of the famous Lord Byron, she struggles to follow her passions when her mother views any imagination as a sign she might be dangerously like her father. She also has to face down many people who believe women are constitutionally unsuited to doing math. All this, while being expected to marry suitably, provide her husband with an heir, and avoid scandalizing society along the way!
I loved the style of this book right away. It felt as though it could truly have been written by Ada, with a vocabulary and slightly formal tone that reminded me of classics from that era. I was also fascinated by the topic – I couldn’t resist picking up a book about Ada Lovelace! Those two things carried me through the first 150 pages, during which nothing much happened. Ada’s father was horrible to her mother and Ada’s mother was horrible to her in turn. It was all very depressing and went on for pages. Throughout, Ada also deals with an infuriating amount of sexism, with many of her math tutors fearing that passionately studying math will make her sick. Or worse, that her passion indicates she already has a mania for which she could be locked up in an insane asylum.
The remainder of the book was well worth getting through the slower first section and the depressing bits though! In fact, I think knowing the struggles she faced made the rest even better. I loved reading about Ada coming into her own as an adult and finding a focus for her love of math and science with Babbage’s machine. Her confidence in her ability to do original work and her bravery in pushing on were truly admirable. Hearing about her first original, published work nearly made feel a bit teary at her accomplishments. I also enjoyed hearing about her interactions with many famous scientists and novelists – Babbage, of course, but also Darwin, Lyle, Dickens, and more. It connected her to a lot of science history I’ve previously read about.
Despite the slow start, or perhaps even because of it, I enjoyed this immensely. Especially if you’re someone who like learning about science history or women in history, this would be a great book to pick up.