Ada Lovelace & Charles Babbage graphic novel

reviewed by Ralph Dumain

Padua, Sydney. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: with Interesting & Curious Anecdotes of Celebrated and Distinguished Characters Fully Illustrating a Variety of Instructive and Amusing Scenes; as Performed within and without the Remarkable Difference Engine. New York: Pantheon Books, 2015. Graphic novel. 315 pp.


Ada Lovelace: The Secret Origin! 11
The Pocket Universe 40
The Person from Prolock 45
Lovelace & Babbage vs. the Client! 50
Primary Sources 91
Lovelace and Babbage vs. the Economic Model! 95
Luddites! 140
User Experience! 147
Mr. Boole Comes to Tea 208
Imaginary Quantities 215
Appendix I: Some Amusing Primary Documents 259
Charles Babbage in Punch, 1851
Crack of the Calculi: Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, October 1862.
"I Am Working on It" (John Fletcher, Lord Moulton, 1814)
Augustus de Morgan on Lady Lovelace's Mathematics
"A Peculiar Capability" (Henry Hope Reed, 1867)
Memoirs of Lord Playfair
Recollections of Mrs. Crosse
A Pair of Letters from September 9, 1843 (Babbage to Faraday, Babbage to Lovelace)
Sunny Memories (Mary Lloyd)
A Miscellany of Trivial Yet Amusing Snippets
("Countess of Lovelace" calling card in Babbage's possession)
Appendix II: The Analytical Engine 285
Epilogue 311

Web site:

Sydney Padua

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage


121: Marx
158-9: Dickens, Carlyle, automated editing
178-9: Babbage's universal language *
206-7: novel-writing machine
254-5: Hamilton invents 4-D geometry, 4th D as time. Boole combines logic & political argument.

Finished reading 30 April 2021.

This is a remarkable book in graphic novel format. The author creates a "pocket universe" to dramatize and partially fictionalize the saga of Ada (Lord Byron's daughter, Countess of Lovelace) and Charles Babbage, adding the juicy factual details and references in footnotes and endnotes.

The difference engine, then the analytical engine, was the prototype of the first machine computer ("computers" were once human beings). Ada was warned away from poetry by her mother, who was afraid of her manifesting Byronic qualities, but her 'wild' temperament managed to exert itself. So she became a fanatical―and poetic―mathematician, and essentially the inventor of computer programming. Babbage, for his part, was incapable of tact and used every opportunity to complain to everyone regardless of rank at the British government's failure to fund his projects to the extent that he demanded, also refusing to accept the limited knighthood in the Guelphic Order that he was offered.

The pocket universe is an alternate timeline, what Babbage's project for the analytical engine would have been like had it not failed. Babbage himself speculated that the laws of physics might have been different and would have created a different universe. Padua, taking off from the notion of the multiverse, coupled with information theory and Gödel's idea of time-loops, uses this device to concoct imagined scenarios for her graphic tales, always supplemented by fascinating factual information.

Along the way, Ada and Babbage encounter the Duke of Wellington and Queen Victoria, where we see some crazy conversation in addition to a demonstration of the difference engine, which stops when there is an error and even has a printer of sorts.

Ada also gets involved in betting on horse-racing. We learn about the British economic crisis induced by the 1837 collapse of the American banking system. Babbage was an expert on political economy and its relationship to the organization of industrial production. Padua footnotes the influence of Babbage on Karl Marx (p. 121). I will add that it is unfortunate that Marx did not comment on the difference/analytical engine, as his treatment of machinery in his then unpublished Grundrisse extrapolates the ultimate consequences of automation.

We also learn about Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a friend of Babbage and an engineer with great ambitions for railroads, tunnels, and bridges.

The chapter on Luddites reveals that Lord Byron was an advocate of the Luddites, while Babbage argued they were self-defeating. The endnotes provide more detail on the Luddites and on Babbage's relentless analysis of the efficient division of labor under capitalist industrial production.

The chapter "User Experience!" comprises 60 pages with a sizable cast of characters, beginning with Marian Evans (a.k.a. George Eliot) and the massive restructuring of the built environment of London. Dickens comments on this as well. We learn about the mutual animosity of Babbage and Carlyle, also noted by Dickens, who knew both Babbage and Ada.

Ada as a mathematical visionary, sees the analytical engine's potential for universal symbolic manipulation, beyond mere numerical calculation and the algebraic patterns she programs. Ada speculates on infinite-dimensional geometry (p. 60), while William Hamilton invents four-dimensional geometry with his quaternions (treated in a later chapter). Her observation of the Jacquard loom inspires the notion of punch-card programming.

21 October 2021
(Review unfinished)

* [Notes on p. 178:]

      Babbage declared the existence of different languages a “great evil” in the minutes to the International Statistical Congress, 1860. He proposed a committee to prevent any Future divergences.

      Babbage describes his attempts at a universal language in his autobiography.

Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864) [also at]

Ada Lovelace, electricity, ideology & Victorian science
reviewed by R. Dumain

The Ascent of GIM, the Global Intelligent Machine:
A History of Production and Information Machines

by Teun Koetsier

Karl Marx on automatons, machinery, capital & labor

Cybernetics & Artificial Intelligence: Ideology Critique

Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes:
Selected Bibliography

Mathematical Fiction & Related Works: A Guide

Martin Gardner, Mathematical Games, & the Fourth Dimension
(web guide & bibliography)

Ars Combinatoria Study Guide

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded 15 November 2023

Site ©1999-2023 Ralph Dumain