If you were like me, you grew up in a very wonderful and exciting world of computers and innovation. It was the golden age when people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were building computers in their garages before Apple became a trillion-dollar brand. Even before this, we had computers that filled entire rooms, used vacuum tubes and punch cards for programming and they often broke down after only a few minutes of operation. These early computers were used by the government mostly to compute weapons trajectories during the war. Often, we remember or have read in history books of the men who were paramount in making computers what they are today. But, have ever wondered what role, if any, women played in this information revolution? If so, “Broad Band” which is subtitled “The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet” may be just the book you are looking for. The book covers a swath of computing history from the time of Babbage to the mid-90s when the Internet really began to take off. The book is both written and narrated by Claire L. Evans and she packs a bunch of information into just over nine hours of audio. Although it is not a deep historic dive, the book does a good job of giving the listener a primer where they can do additional research if they desire.
Many of the people the author covers in this book may sound like familiar names to those growing up during this period, but we often cannot connect their roles or efforts to a given technology or innovation. These spots of prominence were often reserved in historic records for their male counterparts. In this book, the author does a good job of showing the many women who impacted the industry. People like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hooper, Elizabeth Feinler and Stacy Horn to name a few. The author does a fine job of showing how the efforts of these women changed history and made the Internet what it is today. What would I have liked to see included in this book? First off, I would have like to have had a deeper dive into the efforts of the female staff working on the bombe computer system used to crack the German Enigma cypher. The author did a better job covering the Manhattan project and the role of women, but I would have enjoyed more depth and detail as this was a very pivotal time in history. A little less on the female specific chat groups and forms, yet I did like her focus on the role of early day BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) which were pre-Internet communication systems. I liked the detailed section around networking standards (RFCs) and the role women had in creating and maintaining WHOIS, Hypertext, and the ability to link to other files or locations; which we all take for granted today. Each of these were revolutionary and innovative and women had a key role in their development.
I will say that at times, the book’s underlying agenda is pealed back and revealed. It is not always in your face, but this is very clearly seen in the last chapter where the author speaks of cyber feminist. I know the book is about the role of women in the industry, but at times I felt that the author had to dig deep to find a gem she could use in this book. I grew up during this golden age and I can admit that men were the ones we often read about in books and magazines when females often had a superior role in some way. I was looking for something that would educate me without feeling that I needed to be converted to a given worldview. Teach and educate me but let the facts of history speck for themselves. In full disclosure, I may see things quite differently if I were a female writing this review.
The book’s narration was performed by the author herself. In most cases, I do not think an author is a good fit to read their own work; and I can say this is the case with this book as well. I would have liked to have had a more experienced author narrate the book. At times I felt emphasis was placed at points it was not necessary or clearly pressed the author’s agenda where she felt a point needed to be made. This is not to say that the book’s narration was bad; it was not. Overall it was professionally produced, and the audio quality was good. It was more that the author seemed too close to her material to read it in a way that felt natural.
For parents and younger readers, note that the book does contain some subject matter that may not be appropriate for younger readers. There are places where vulgar language is used; mostly when quoting others. There are also a few topics which discuss or are associated with sex or sexuality. If any of this is offensive to you, I would recommend you skip this one.
In summary, the audiobook did a decent job of showing where, how, and why women were instrumental to building and maintaining computers and the Internet. I would have liked to have had more history and even how many of these females functioned alongside their male counterparts to achieve success. It is a good primer and for someone who wants to study the subject in more depth, the author provides some good steeping stones to start form. To me, it did not feel it was as much a historic piece, but a work that was written towards a specific agenda. Would I read it again? Was it worth my time? Yes, and yes. It was a well thought out work and apart for a few areas covered, I enjoyed it very much.