I Love These Books

Do you have a favourite book to share?

Today is World Book Day which for me is nothing unusual because books are a feature of my life every single day.

It’s impossible to say I have a favourite because I don’t. I do have favourites though.

My favourite books change all the time as I discover a new author or stumble across a treasure that has been waiting somewhere for me.

Three I’d like to share on World Book Day all relate to someone that has suddenly attracted a lot of attention – someone I have admired for years: Ada Lovelace.

Ada Lovelace is known to many as the daughter of Lord Byron, ‘the mad, bad and dangerous to know’ celebrity poet.

What is probably less well-known is that Ada was brilliant at maths, read numbers like words and published a paper containing a computer program long before there were even computers.

Accessibility is everything when teaching children about significant women like Ada Lovelace and two books I’d recommend for any school are Lucy Lethbridges’ ‘Ada Lovelace: Computer wizard of Victorian England’ and Laurie Wallmark’s ‘Ada Byron LoveLace and the Thinking Machine’, superbly illustrated by April Chu.

For a quick and easy overview of Ada’s life then I’d start with Laurie Wallmark’s book. This award-winning book is a very informative and narrative-based introduction into Ada’s life told in words and pictures.

Laurie tells Ada’s life well.

Ada’s mother, Lady Byron had a passion for geometry and was nicknamed the “The Princess of Parallelograms” and so its easy to see where the mathematical influence came from in her life. But Ada’s mother often went travelling and left alone Ada alone – this is when Ada filled her journals with pages of inventions and equations. Numbers mattered to her more than anything else.

Tutors were hired so Ada could learn maths to even higher levels and her favourite was the polymath Mary Fairfax Somerville. Ada attended scientific gatherings where she met Charles Babbage.

Babbage showed Ada his Difference Machine, a revolutionary mechanical calculator. He recognised in her huge mathematical potential and genius and called her the “Enchantress of Numbers” because of her incredible mathematical abilities.

It was Ada who went on to create an algorithm for Babbage’s other machine, the Analytical Engine, a machine that could follow instructions (Ada’s instructions) and solve complex maths problems.

Babbage never got to complete the Analytical Engine and Ada never got a chance to see her program run but she was the first computer programmer.

In Lucy Lethbridge’s book, Ada Lovelace: Computer Wizard of Victorian England, she goes into more detail about Ada’s life and details her working partnership with Charles Babbage which led to the most important invention of the modern world – the computer.

This book details the publication of Menabrea: Sketch of the Analytical Engine. Ada wrote,

“The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

The book was a sensation and she became almost as famous as her father but for very different reasons.

Another of Ada’s nicknames was “The Bride of Science” and this is the third book I’d recommend although this is less for children but more for adults. It is written by Benjamin Woolley, a real page-turner and a fabulous in-depth biography of Ada Lovelace.

Let us remember that Ada Lovelace was a force of nature, a mathematical marvel who changed the world. It was in honour of her achievements that the US Department of Defense decided in 1980 to name the standard programming language it had adopted for its military systems ‘Ada’.

I’ll be dipping into all three books today and reminding myself that as a mathematician I know very little compared to the incredible talent of a Victorian wizard.


Ada Lovelace Day is held on the second Tuesday of October every year. Find out more here.

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