#WomenInScience Review: Enchantress of Numbers

January 22, 2018 Uncategorized 22

#WomenInScience Review: Enchantress of NumbersTitle: Enchantress of Numbers
Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Source: Library
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads
Rating: four-stars

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.

22 Responses to “#WomenInScience Review: Enchantress of Numbers”

  1. Kim@Time2Read

    I’m going to have to give this one another look. I have it on my iPad and I’ve read maybe the first third of the book. But as you said, it is incredibly slow, and I had trouble sticking with it. Other books called me. But I hope to have a short commitment-free reading break in another week or two, so I’ll pick it up and see if I can make it work for me.
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  2. BJ

    I want to read this book, but haven’t found the time yet. I’m hoping to find the time sometime this year. It sounds like she had to overcome numerous challenges, despite her famous father, and succeeded.

  3. TJ @ MyBookStrings

    I was very happy when I found out that there was finally a fiction book about Ada Lovelace, but unfortunately, I had read this author before and didn’t like the book all that much. So I had no intention to read this one, until I read your review. I’m glad you enjoyed it after the slow start. I will give it a try.
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  4. Tara

    Oooh, what a great find! I hate that it starts off so slowly, always makes for an early struggle, but I think the story would be interesting to read. Thanks for sharing this one!

    • DoingDewey

      I would say I was only just starting to wonder when something would happen as it picked up, so for all that it was a slow start, it wasn’t slow enough to put me off too much 🙂

  5. Laurie @ RelevantObscurity

    Making a note of this. 🙂

    I am absolutely excited by all these books coming out about women in science (and related subjects) in the 1800s and the early 19th century. It is so sad that their contributions were hidden for so long. But so glad for the research for these really good books that are bringing them to light.

    • DoingDewey

      I recently realized how little I know about science history in general and women in science in particular and since I’m also a woman in science, I’ve been trying to remedy that a bit. If you’re interested in other books on the topic, I’d especially recommend Lab Girl, Closer to the Machine, and The Stargazer’s Sister 🙂
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    • DoingDewey

      I’ve tried a few graphic novels, nonfiction and otherwise, and I have to admit that they haven’t won me over. I might give them more of a chance yet though and I would love to read more about Lovelace if I do 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      It was fascinating to hear about this first idea for a computer, well before we could easily build the machines being considered. Very cool!