I long while ago, I did a short post on the book Edison's Eve by Gaby wood. I didn't say much about it, other than it was a good book. Having reread it recently, I wanted to a say a bit more. You can expect a full review in the coming months.
The book is framed around a central question: what is it that makes us human and how do representations of humans in some animated form challenge us to return to that question again and again. Against the backdrop of this framework, Wood examines five historical subjects. Some of these deal quite specifically with automata. The chapters cover the following subjects:
1 - The Frenchman Jacques de Vaucanson and the several famous automata he created in the the 18th-century
2 - Wolfgang von Kempelen's chess-playing machine, the Turk, who beat fine chess players on several continents for decades. There is plenty of interesting stuff on Johann Nepomuk Maelzel in this chapter too.
3 - Thomas Edison's attempt to enter the toy market by incorporating his newly-developed phonograph into the body of a doll.
4 - The ground-breaking early special-effects films of Georges Méliès.
5 - The Doll family who toured with Ringling Brothers and appeared in The Wizard of Oz.
The book is very well written and the product of extensive research. I tended to prefer the chapters that dealt specifically with automata, but they are all connected in some way -- sometimes loosely and sometimes tightly. Overall, it's an educational and enjoyable read.
Here is where you can order Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life in paperback. The hardcover version is out-of-print, but easily obtained used for a similar price.