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Passages from the Life of a Philosopher

Charles Babbage

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Charles Babbage was a Victorian polymath, and someone with a seemingly never-ending intellectual curiosity about the world around him. A mathematician by training, he also wrote copiously on subjects such as economics, physics, engineering, computation, cryptography, religion and education, along with conducting practical experiments with pretty much anything that had grabbed his interest at the time. Today, he’s widely viewed to be the father of the computer with his Difference and Analytical Engines. Although neither were fully completed during his lifetime, a working replica of the Difference Engine was built in the 1990s, and an Analytical Engine is currently in the planning stages.

This autobiography (first published near the end of his life in 1864) veers from topic to topic and rarely settles on any subject for more than a chapter. Apart from his early life and an explanation of the thinking behind his computing Engines, Babbage also transcribes his memories of climbing into an active volcano, arguing with street musicians, picking locks, standing in elections, and imagining life as a cheese mite, among other diverse subjects. The original meaning of the titular word “Philosopher” is “lover of wisdom,” and this book shows Babbage to be just that.

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