When I finished my internship at DCCS in the summer holidays, Damon presented me with the perfect gift for an aspiring female mathematician with a newfound appreciation for comics – The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. At first glance it is a humorous tale of two eccentrically brilliant characters, but as soon as you dive in, the sheer amount of research and information that Padua has packed into this densely illustrated and written book becomes clear.
The novel starts by telling the true story of Ada Lovelace, imaginative mathematician and daughter of infamous poet Lord Byron, and her collaborations with Charles Babbage, a mechanical engineer / “supergenius inventor” who originated the concept of the computer. However Babbage’s invention the Analytical Engine – basically the first computer – was never completed, hence inspiring Padua’s imagination and compelling her to write the rest of the book set in a ‘Pocket Universe’; an alternate reality where Babbage and Lovelace did finish the Analytical Engine in 1840, and embarked on many a crime-fighting adventure with it. I found the book captivating through its humorous portrayal of two historical figures who played hugely influential roles in the development of maths and computing, yet who I knew next to nothing about; we learn that Ada was raised to be the exact opposite of her father and was conditioned from an early age towards science and against imagination, yet it was her imagination that helped her conceptualise advanced maths. We learn that Babbage was an under appreciated, misunderstood, eccentric inventor who sometimes needed Ada to keep him under control (in the Pocket Universe, she prevents him from offending Queen Victoria who pops up in need of assistance).
The book also explores complicated concepts such as imaginary numbers and how the original Difference Engine worked, so anyone with an interest in maths would also be entertained! As a maths geek myself I was inspired by Ada’s story and though a lot of the engineering ideas went over my head, it was great to read about maths in a light hearted form. Because of the incredible amount of historical information contained in the book, it is quite a commitment to read, but you are also able to skim over the footnotes and purely appreciate Padua’s detailed yet light art style. It is definitely one to reread as I gained a lot more from it the second time around!