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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Peter J. Bentley

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To purchase Digitized

Title: Digitized
Author: Peter J. Bentley
Genre: Novel
Written: 2012
Length: 240 pages
Availability: Digitized - US
Digitized - UK
Digitized - Canada
Digitized - India
  • The Science of Computers and How It Shapes Our World

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Our Assessment:

B : decent overview and introduction, but moves frustratingly in and out of focus

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 16/3/2012 Steven Poole
New Scientist . 24/3/2012 Niall Firth

  From the Reviews:
  • "With cheerful geekiness and biographical vim, Bentley sketches the history of computing" - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "Digitized is as much about the people behind the breakthroughs -- the bright, inquisitive minds who saw something that their peers did not and used the tools of their era to push forward human understanding" - Niall Firth, New Scientist

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The subtitle of Digitized promises it is a look at The Science of Computers and How It Shapes Our World; as it turns out, it tries to be a bit more -- in presenting computer science and software engineering Peter Bentley also devotes considerable space to the men (it's pretty much all men) and minds behind all this, unevenly and distractingly. Inventors and innovators may seem to be tied inextricably to the subject-matter (though really: they're not, and leaving biography out of it entirely is just fine), but mixing biography and science is generally only effective -- if at all -- if done on a much more expansive scale: Claude Shannon was certainly a fascinating guy, but if you want to convey that you probably need to do so on the scale that, say, James Gleick did in The Information. On the other hand, if you only have 240 pages to explain The Science of Computers and How It Shapes Our World then there is no excuse for sentences such as:

Kirstein didn't really know Shannon, but found the thirty-nine-year-old scientist to be an impressive person, very thin, with piercing eyes.
       (Yes, ours is an age of journalistic popular science writing, with an emphasis on (personal) profile rather than (science) substance, and maybe it's inspiring to the kids, to see where these people came from and how they managed to get where they got (and to ... learn about their physiques ?), but there's a lot to be said for just focusing on the wonder that is the science itself (and there are certainly too few books that do so).)
       Typical of this book is that the chapter-numbers are given in binary code ('000' (the Introduction) through chapter seven -- '111') -- a wonderful, book-appropriate idea -- but the page numbers are not. A binary-code numbering approach is perfect given the subject matter, but Bentley (and his publisher) -- can't fully commit to it. (Admittedly binary page numbering would probably be very difficult for most readers to handle -- especially in using the index -- but on the other hand, this is a book that (admirably) has both endnotes (with alphabetical character superscripts (e.g. ª) for these) and bibliographic notes (with numerical character superscripts (e.g ¹) for these) but doesn't offer the convenient page-range listing on each page of these so that readers can easily find specific notes -- so making it easy for the reader obviously wasn't the top priority elsewhere ..... (Text page-range headers on each page of endnotes are a much-appreciated convenience; here they are all the more missed because there are two sets of notes -- so simply keeping track while one reads with a separate bookmark (my default approach when such numbering isn't provided) doesn't work quite as well, since two bookmarks are required, one for each set of notes .....))
       Bentley does offer a decent tour through the evolution of the computer -- both hardware and software -- and he covers the important innovations and gives a good sense of the transformation over time of how computing has been approached (and the consequences of this). It's helpful to be reminded that much of how computing now works in the real world isn't the way it has to be: the Internet has grown and developed in a specific but not inevitable way, for example, and radical transformations and entirely new approaches are still possible. He's also quite good in conveying, for example, the layers of code that make up contemporary software and what it means to rely on these specific approaches. His explanations of various aspects of code and, for example, Internet protocols are generally clear and well-presented.
       Bentley does offer some interesting examples of the use and potential of computing -- but it feels odd that there is, for example, no real mention of the smartphone/iPhone 'app' and its many applications, a real-life example surely currently of interest to many readers. Disappointingly, too, Bentley doesn't speculate about quantum computing and the possible implications and consequences of that technology (compare, for example, Vlatko Vedral's Decoding Reality), a subject surely worth at least some ... speculation.
       Digitized does provide a good deal of information and is a fine popular survey-book, but it feels like Bentley -- who knows his stuff, and who can present it quite well -- could have done a lot more, especially if he had avoided such a journalistic approach. Too much of the book is magazine-article-type writing -- padded with 'color' (such as biographical details and anecdotal asides) -- rather than focused on the science. It's too bad, because for the most part the science is presented quite well (though Bentley is selective in what he focuses on, and some gaps remain). Still, it does say something about his abilities that he is able to convey and present as much as he does, despite the distracting padding.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 June 2012

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Digitized: Reviews: Peter J. Bentley: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Peter J. Bentley teaches at University College London.

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