Book review: “Enchantress of Numbers” by J. Chiaverini

by Rebecca Henderson Palmer on February 5, 2018

Augusta Ada Byron had a tumultuous childhood as her mother fled with Ada to the safety of her parents’ home only weeks after her birth. Ada’s father, the famous poet Lord Byron, was never to see his daughter again. Ada would grow up traveling from rented home to rented home with her mother, a woman of substantial means but a cold, critical, and fearful woman who was determined her only child would not replicate her father’s immoral lifestyle. Ada proved to be a precocious child, interested in science, mathematics, and learning. Her mother was more interested in moral turpitude, social graces, and finding a suitable match for her daughter. Ada became friends with Charles Dickens, Mr. Babbage, the creator of the first “Analytical Machine”, and Mrs. Mary Somerville, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society. Ada lived predominantly under the shadow of her father’s obscure legacy, never obtaining a clear understanding of who he really was as a poet or a person. Her mother ensured that Ada’s childhood was a confined one, but Ada’s love of learning eventually earned her the title of the world’s “first computer programmer”.

This novel is clearly well researched, and yet it suffers on a few levels. First is that this story painstakingly details Ada’s earliest years, where she is bundled from house to house with a endless parade of tutors, her absent and disapproving mother, and the rotating list of her mother’s friends who treat Ada poorly. This goes on for over half the book which kills any momentum and tells us little about Ada’s natural curiosity or outlook. Secondly, we see Ada defined primarily through her interactions with others (Babbage, Somerville, etc.). We don’t really get a sense of what drives her. We’re told she’s curious and enthusiastic, but we see her personality appear mostly through those she interacts with and that keeps the reader apart from the main character. I would have preferred to see all of the details of her sad and lonely childhood dropped in favor of a deeper look at the thoughts, readings, and experiences that shaped Ada’s interests in science and mathematic. A worthy subject to be sure, but not executed in a way that best highlights the woman and her intellectual gifts.

If you are currently watching PBS’ “Victoria” Season 2, Episode 1″, you saw Prince Albert interact with Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage at the Royal Society.

I’d like to thank NetGalley for a complimentary copy in return for my honest review.

Amazon link is here.

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