The best books about Ada Byron Lovelace

Emily Arnold McCully Author Of Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business - And Won!
By Emily Arnold McCully

Who am I?

I’ve enjoyed a long career as an author-illustrator of picture books for children. I search for stories of girls and women whose greatness has been overlooked: - Caroline Herschel, pioneering astronomer, - Oney Judge, the slave who escaped from George and Martha Washington, - Margaret Knight, the inventor who fought the man who tried to steal her idea and won in court - and Lizzie Murphy, the big-league baseball star. Every one of them had to overcome centuries of fierce resistance to female empowerment. A few of my biographies began as picture books, but their subjects quickly outgrew that format.


I wrote...

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business - And Won!

By Emily Arnold McCully,

Book cover of Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business - And Won!

What is my book about?

Tarbell’s brave, scrupulous, serial expose of Rockefeller in McClure’s Magazine riveted the nation and led to the breakup of the Standard Oil monopoly. Her work made her the most famous woman in America. The only female Muckraker, Tarbell was born in Western Pennsylvania just as oil was discovered there. During her early years, Oil came to dominate the industry and seep into every other aspect of modern life. Using predatory and illegal tactics, John D Rockefeller came to dominate Oil.

As a single woman in a hyper-masculine age, Tarbell found a way to be one of the boys, and was uniquely respected for her views on issues of the day. She is a complex, flawed, but admirable model for girls and young women drawn to journalism, or the history of ascendancies over a world stubbornly shaped by male entitlement.

The books I picked & why

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ADA Lovelace

By Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, Adrian Rice

Book cover of ADA Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist

Why this book?

Written by mathematicians with a great literary flair, and beautifully illustrated with archival materials, this most recent Lovelace book is a comprehensive and lively recounting of her genius and its consummation in her collaboration with Charles Babbage.  It should banish any lingering doubts about Lovelace’s ability to interpret Babbage’s invention (even better than he did, at times) and to envision the potential that could only be realized nearly 100 years after her tragically early death. 

If just one book is to be read about Ada (other than my own), this is it!


Ada, Countess of Lovelace

By Doris Langley-Levy Moore,

Book cover of Ada, Countess of Lovelace: Byron's Legitimate Daughter

Why this book?

This was the first biography of Ada. It is opinionated, comprehensive, and entertaining. Ada’s short, tumultuous life is related with little attention to mathematics or proto-computing, but much to her psychology and that of her family and friends. It’s a gothic tale of emotional hypocrisy and cruelty. Ada’s mother, Lady Byron, encouraged the aura of wickedness surrounding Lord Byron and styled herself its victim. Virulently self-righteous, she encouraged her daughter’s mathematical gifts in order to smother her imaginative ones. Despite Victorian piety, superstition, Old Boy network science, drug addiction, the confinement of women - and her overbearing Mother - Ada managed to engage the latest ideas in England and Germany and, working with Babbage, to produce an astonishingly prescient analysis of the “first computer.”


Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers

By Betty Alexandra Toole,

Book cover of Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: Poetical Science

Why this book?

Toole, the first expert in computing to tackle Ada’s story, gathered her letters from British archives and libraries, then arranged their highlights to tell the story of Lovelace’s life in all of its complexity. Her introductions to each decade of life set the context but Ada herself tells the story in her inimitable voice. This book was published before scholars were willing to credit Ada with her achievement. In fact, many dismissed it altogether. It was Toole’s mission to correct the record and she succeeded admirably. This is the essential Lovelace Reader.


The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

By Sydney Padua,

Book cover of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer

Why this book?

Babbage’s computer, the Analytical Engine, was never built, but in this steampunk graphic novel, he and Ada do, enlisting Queen Victoria (who at last provides the government funding that was denied Babbage), George Eliot, and a host of others in a brilliant imagining based on thorough research and astounding comprehension. Padua even visually renders the massive machine and its operation. I can’t emphasize enough the richness of this book, or commend the herculean effort that must have gone into its making. A gem and another invaluable contribution to the long resurrection of Ada Lovelace.


The Information

By James Gleick,

Book cover of The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

Why this book?

We are often reminded that we live in the Information Age and this witty, lucid, wide-ranging book tells how that happened and what it means. Ada plays an important role, but it is the stage that matters here. Where did she fit in, how have her ideas helped to create our world? Gleick’s profound erudition equips him to link all the disparate fields that make up Information. Ada, with her appetite for all kinds of ideas, from flight, to rainbows, musical composition, mesmerism, electricity, hydrodynamics, poetry, ethics, and, of course, information, embodies an ongoing transformation of human consciousness.  Gleick introduces her and many others in dramatic set pieces that make this a thrilling book to read.

Finally, anyone seriously interested in Ada Byron Lovelace should consult the online proceedings of the Ada Lovelace Symposium conducted at the Mathematical Institute at Oxford in December 2015.

Over the course of two days, literary, mathematical, cultural, and other experts delivered fascinating papers on various aspects of Ada’s life and work. Original insights abound, and there is even a nod to the controversy that stubbornly hangs around her name.


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