Learning Who Really Invented the Computer?

Last month's Wired magazine contained a story and interview with novelist Jane Smiley, whose recent book, The Man Who Invented the Computer, purports to finally reveal the true author of that device. Hint: The answer rhymes with Batanasoff. I have not had a chance to read the book, but based on the interview Smiley, an alumna of and former professor at John Atansoff's own Iowa State, appears to portray him as a wronged genius, exploited by a devious John Mauchly. Our own Evan Koblentz has posted a sharp critique of the book on Amazon, as has, evidently, Mauchly's own son, if Amazon's Real Name service is to be believed. Does anyone else who has read it have more positive views? Granted that based on her bibliography and notes (available on the Amazon preview) she seems to have done limited research, and not to have delved into the Atansoff papers. Granted that we already have a book called Atansoff: Forgotten Father of the Computer. Can we perhaps still draw something useful from this book at the meta-level? Although the question of who invented the computer (and similar priority disputes) is not a particular pressing one among historians of computing these days, it seems to continue to have currency in the wider world - indeed, one of the reviews of the book on Amazon (besides Mauchly's) is aimed primarily at defending the ENIAC's priority claim. How do people with no direct stake (in terms of money, prestige, etc) in the outcome become invested in these questions?