A Computer Perspective


Harvard University Press
A Computer Perspective
By the Office of Charles & Ray Eames
Edited by Glen Fleck
Produced by Robert Staples
Introduction by I. Bernard Cohen

Published in 1973, reprinted in 1990.

Charles and Ray based A Computer Perspective: Background to the Computer Age on their 1971 exhibition designed for IBM. Like the exhibition, the book is a pictorial essay on the origins and development of the computer from 1890 to 1950.

The Eameses used the text and images from the History Wall panel in their 1961 exhibition Mathematica, which displayed material on the ideas, events, and individuals relevant to the history of the computer.

The book outlines three categories of innovation: logical automata, statistical machines, and calculating machines.  The Office organized A Computer Perspective by decade, but it is more than a simple chronology of devices or ideas; it also includes elements of the intellectual and socioeconomic environment of each period to illuminate the rich historical forces that contributed to the development of the modern computer.

The A.I.G.A. named it one of “The Fifty Best Books of the Year” in 1973.

Here are some additional reviews of the book:

A Computer Perspective is the first truly graphic history of the origin and development of the computer…This book will long remain a unique anthology of the great events that occur when dreamers and theorists can get together with engineers and inventors.” – The Economist

A Computer Perspective: Background to the Computer Age sets out to . . .[place] the digital computer in its historical context, taking 1950 as its terminal date. By then, the digital computer revolution had been fully inaugurated with the first generation of modern stored-program computers. The book casts a wide net as it presents, mainly with pictures and captions, the many contributory ideas and developments that provide the foundation and background for the computer age. . . . This is a book full of interesting pictures and quotations. It brings out the technical, human and social aspects of the development of computers in an imaginative way. Who could resist a book containing such fascinating information?” – Antony Anderson, New Scientist

“The volume is a must for everyone interested in computer history and an important tool for anyone wanting to understand how the computer age started.” – Heinz Zemanek, Science of Computer Programming

P.E. Ceruzzi of Computing Reviews believed this “book set a standard for the history of computing.”