Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book

Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  David Alan Grier  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Non-Fiction

Born: 1955 in Chicago, Illinois

-- David Alan Grier on WorldCat --

Illinois Connection

He was born in Chicago, Illinois.

Biographical and Professional Information

Grier is an associate dean at the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University and an associate professor of science and technology policy.

Published Works Expand for more information

Titles At Your Library

When Computers Were Human
ISBN: 0691133824

Princeton University Press. 2007

Before Palm Pilots and iPods, PCs and laptops, the term "computer" referred to the people who did scientific calculations by hand. These workers were neither calculating geniuses nor idiot savants but knowledgeable people who, in other circumstances, might have become scientists in their own right. When Computers Were Human represents the first in-depth account of this little-known, 200-year epoch in the history of science and technology.

Beginning with the story of his own grandmother, who was trained as a human computer, David Alan Grier provides a poignant introduction to the wider world of women and men who did the hard computational labor of science. His grandmother's casual remark, "I wish I'd used my calculus," hinted at a career deferred and an education forgotten, a secret life unappreciated like many highly educated women of her generation, she studied to become a human computer because nothing else would offer her a place in the scientific world.

The book begins with the return of Halley's comet in 1758 and the effort of three French astronomers to compute its orbit. It ends four cycles later, with a UNIVAC electronic computer projecting the 1986 orbit. In between, Grier tells us about the surveyors of the French Revolution, describes the calculating machines of Charles Babbage, and guides the reader through the Great Depression to marvel at the giant computing room of the Works Progress Administration.

When Computers Were Human is the sad but lyrical story of workers who gladly did the hard labor of research calculation in the hope that they might be part of the scientific community. In the end, they were rewarded by a new electronic machine that took the place and the name of those who were, once, the computers.


''When Computers Were Human'' - Award for the best computer book of the year from the Independent Book Publishers in 2006.

Speaking Engagements

Speaking Engagement Availability (Yes)