Fathers be good to your daughters and read Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators

FULL_SIZEI received a reminder from the Toronto Public Library that my copy of Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators was due on Thursday December 4th. I started reading it a week ago and was only about halfway through, so I knew I had to pick up the pace. It’s a big book so I haven’t been bringing it to read on my commute (part of the reason it’s taking me so long to get through) but today I relented and dragged the book along. Standing at the corner of Bloor and Ossington, waiting for a streetcar at 7:45 this morning, I pulled the book out of my bag. It’s a cold day, but I was wearing gloves and a toque so I stood outside instead of in the crowded bus shelter.

A minute later – “plop.”

I looked around, confused at first about where the sound had come from, but then I looked down. Pages 245 and 246 were covered in green and white pigeon shit.

I wrapped the book in loose paper I found in by bag, threw my gloves in the garbage and seriously contemplated turning around and going home.

What I’m saying, Red Brick Readers, is that I will not be reviewing The Innovators. The copy that I wrapped in a plastic bag and apologetically returned to the library on my lunch break for them to destroy was full of stickies containing my notes on the the text. There was some good stuff in there but I just don’t have it in me to start again from page 1.

I wrote the title and chose the cover image for this post when I first started reading, so let me give you some highlights that I hope will encourage you to go out and read the book. For those who don’t know, The Innovators is Isaacson’s account of the individuals and teams behind the digital revolution. The book covers about 150 years of history and I was going to discuss Isaacson’s treatment of women in the text.

At least in the first half of the book, Isaacson makes an effort to highlight the female brains behind advances in computing. He’s received a lot of praise for his inclusion of female characters including Ada Lovelace and some female programmers (the names of whom I cannot tell you because my notes were lost to pigeon poop). My argument was going to be that it’s all well and good that Isaacson is giving us female characters but I wish there were less emphasis on the fact that they were female and more emphasis on the fact that their contributions were important.

Remember when Winona Ryder (as Jo March in Little Women) says,

“Men do not vote because they are good, they vote because they are men.”

I was going to throw that in there.

I would have opened with an anecdote about learning about Marie Curie during my childhood. My parents were so excited to tell me she was Polish (as they are), they forgot to emphasize the fact that she was a woman so I’ve gone through life with the notion that women have the same ability as men to be scientists.

Anyway. None of that will happen now. I was reading the chapter about the development of video games. Isaacson was talking about Pong and it was so fascinating I didn’t notice the fucking pigeon who had eaten a burrito for dinner last night hovering over my head.


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