Review of ‘Computer’ in ‘Public Understanding of Science’

Public Understanding of Science
September 2011 Vol. 20 No. 05, p. 720.

I recently came across the following review of Computer from September’s edition of the journal Public Understanding of Science:

Historians and sociologists of technology, long fearful of the spectre of technological determinism, have recently begun to confront the issue of technology’s materiality. Paul Atkinson’s Computer, part of the Objekt series published by Reaktion Books, is a timely contribution to the material turn. Peppered with images and pithy analysis it offers a design history perspective on the material and visual in the social construction of computing. …

Each chapter successfully conveys the nonlinear nature of technological development, highlighting the computer’s multiple contemporaneous forms before specific uses were fixed. The book is at its best when exploring the design process: the precursor to the laptop is revealed to be a secret agent-inspired computer in a briefcase; the Palm Pilot PDA began life as a Post-it note on a wooden block prototype; and IBM has the Bauhaus movement to thank for its large-scale computer design. …

Computer remains a lively and highly readable book with broad appeal and one that is a welcome addition to the historiography of computing.
Ian Martin, Open University

The full review can be read online at the Journal’s website (subscription required).

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