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Saturday, January 06, 2018

Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini


The only legitimate child of Lord Byron, the most brilliant, revered, and scandalous of the Romantic poets, Ada was destined for fame long before her birth. Estranged from Ada’s father, who was infamously “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Ada’s mathematician mother is determined to save her only child from her perilous Byron heritage. Banishing fairy tales and make-believe from the nursery, Ada’s mother provides her daughter with a rigorous education grounded in mathematics and science. Any troubling spark of imagination—or worse yet, passion or poetry—is promptly extinguished. Or so her mother believes.

When Ada is introduced into London society as a highly eligible young heiress, she at last discovers the intellectual and social circles she has craved all her life. Little does she realize that her delightful new friendship with inventor Charles Babbage—brilliant, charming, and occasionally curmudgeonly—will shape her destiny. Intrigued by the prototype of his first calculating machine, the Difference Engine, and enthralled by the plans for his even more advanced Analytical Engine, Ada resolves to help Babbage realize his extraordinary vision, unique in her understanding of how his invention could transform the world. All the while, she passionately studies mathematics—ignoring skeptics who consider it an unusual, even unhealthy pursuit for a woman—falls in love, discovers the shocking secrets behind her parents’ estrangement, and comes to terms with the unquenchable fire of her imagination.

Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Imprint: Dutton
Publisher: Penguin Group Dutton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Received From: Netgalley in exchange for honest feedback
My Rating: 4/5

This cover is gorgeous and I was interested to find out more about Ada Lovelace's work with Charles Babbage as I knew they were associated, but only vaguely.  This was a slow read for me, tedious at times as so much of it is Ada, alone with her governesses or her mother's friends, angry and lonely, a brilliant mind with not enough to keep it busy.  She did not have an exciting life, and was often ill, but in spite of being the daughter of a wealthy mother, she was nearly a prisoner, as her mother sought to keep her from falling prey to her bad Byron blood, by keeping her imagination reined in.  Luckily her mother did approve studies in math and science, or the world might not be where we are now!

This is my first read by Chiaverini, but I am interested in more.  While it was not a quick and smooth read, as I mentioned above parts were somewhat tedious as there was much description of not a lot happening, that does serve to give an idea of how Ada herself must have felt, wanting so badly to experience life and being held in check by her mother's fears that she will turn out like her father.  Apparently I was the only person who didn't already know that Lord Byron the poet was her father!

I think lovers of historical fiction with an interest in Ada Lovelace's life will enjoy this, it is not heavy in actual math and science, but more description of Ada's experiences and interests in those studies and relationships with some of the great minds of the time.  The Analytical and Difference Engines of Babbage are mentioned, and described in a way that a person not familiar with them should be able to follow along and have a good idea why they were important. Even though it is told from Ada's point of view, there is a lot of set up from before her birth and while she was very young that helps to establish her mother's feelings about her father, which will in turn affect Ada's entire life.  Her story is often a sad and lonely one, but then I wonder, had she not been watched so closely and kept focused on math and science, but allowed more freedom of imagination, what might she have done instead with her brilliant and all too short life? Would we have computers as we now know them?

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely looking forward to reading this one. I currently have it on hold at the library.


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