For weeks I’ve been earnestly waiting for the release of Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Machines Like Me. McEwan is one of my favourite authors, he has an uncanny ability to be able to build a series of apparently independent scenes which, only when reviewed in the full context of the story, mesh beautifully with the theme of the novel. So when it was announced that he was to release a science-fiction novel I was ecstatic, especially one dealing with artificial intelligence. So, when it arrived I jumped straight in.
I’ve already dived through the first hundred pages of Machines Like Me, but despite how great the book is, something else keeps pulling me away. And that something appeared out of nowhere last week.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot of European history, more specifically on the subject work World War Two and the Holocaust. So, when a work colleague mentioned that there was an entire seam of sordid details of how US company IBM was involved with the Nazi’s it fell neatly between two on my biggest passions: the history of World War 2 and technology.
IBM’s involvement in the Holocaust is something that has managed to completely bypass me, despite reading on the topic for years. Attempting to hide my excitement at this revelation, I turned to my computer — an IBM compatible — and ordered IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black.
This chunky slab of a book should be as dry as a bag of flour, but it’s truly fascinating, if terrifying, read. IBM and the Holocaust gives an entirely new perspective the industry of death that the Nazi’s created in the early 20th century.
Descriptions of death and violence at the hands of the Nazi’s in books such as Schindler’s Ark and The Pianist are horrifying in their own right, but there’s something truly chilling about warehouses of German women methodically transferring census data onto IBM punchcards to be later sorted by clunking great machines into Jewish and non-Jewish stacks.
Anyway, this isn’t a review of the book (I’m still working my way through it) but I do intend to write more on the subject when I’ve finished it. And at some point, I’ll also get through Machines Like Me.