Wednesday, January 31, 2018

780 (2018 #3). Enchantress of Numbers


by Jennifer Chiaverini

This is a biographical novel about Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron and the woman many consider to be the first computer programmer.  Ada died at age 36, so much of the book focuses on her childhood.  That part of the story is set up by a prologue in third person, told from the viewpoint of Ada's mother, which helps explain why she (the mother) was such a control freak.  Ada never met her father, as her parents separated shortly after she was born, and he left the country not long after that, dying when she was only eight.  Ada's mother feared the "madness" of her father would manifest in her daughter, and thus forbade anything that smacked of poetry or other creativity.  She did encourage the study of math and science, however.

The rest of the book is first-person Ada, and is rather unbelievable when Ada recalls her early childhood in minute (and impossible) detail.  There are a few anachronisms as well, with references to Ada swimming in 1828 (page 118), when it was very uncommon for women in England, especially the upperclass, to swim, and to her use of an air mattress (page 128) in 1830, when it was not invented until 1889.

I think this book would have been much better if its 433 pages had run at least a hundred less.  Jennifer Chiaverini does not devote much attention to Ada's mathematical pursuits, and her chronicling of Ada's illnesses and studies and frustrations with her mother's restrictions gets rather tiresome. 

© Amanda Pape - 2018

[This print book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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