Wook Kim
December 03, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Jacquard's Web

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
James Essinger
publisher
Oxford University Press
genre
Nonfiction

We gave it a B+

Up until 1804, a skilled silk weaver could only produce an inch of material per day. That year, Frenchman Joseph-Marie Jacquard devised a loom that could ”read” a stack of perforated cards and generate patterns of amazing complexity 24 times faster than conventional looms. A grateful Napoleon Bonaparte awarded Jacquard a handsome pension. The loom caught the interest of Brit polymath Charles Babbage, who, some 30 years later, used punch cards for his never completed Analytical Engine, widely considered the precursor to modern computers. With wit and imagination, James Essinger has woven in Jacquard’s Web a marvelous tapestry celebrating this rugs-to-riches story and the unlikely birth of the information age.

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