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What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industryby John Markoff
Synopses & Reviews
While there have been several histories of the personal computer, well-known technology writer John Markoff has created the first ever to spotlight the unique political and cultural forces that gave rise to this revolutionary technology. Focusing on the period of 1962 through 1975 in the San Francisco Bay Area, where a heady mix of tech industries, radicalism, and readily available drugs flourished, What the Dormouse Said tells the story of the birth of the personal computer through the people, politics, and protest that defined its unique era.
Based on interviews with all the major surviving players, Markoff vividly captures the lives and times of those who laid the groundwork for the PC revolution, introducing the reader to such colorful characters as Fred Moore, a teenage antiwar protester who went on to ignite the computer industry, and Cap'n Crunch, who wrote the first word processing software for the IBM PC (EZ Writer) in prison, became a millionaire, and ended up homeless. Both immensely informative and entertaining, What the Dormouse Said promises to appeal to all readers of technology, especially the bestselling The Soul of a New Machine.
"Since much of the research behind the development of the personal computer was conducted in 1960s California, it might seem obvious that the scientists were influenced by the cultural upheavals going on outside the lab. Very few people outside the computing scene, however, have connected the dots before Markoff's lively account. He shows how almost every feature of today's home computers, from the graphical interface to the mouse control, can be traced to two Stanford research facilities that were completely immersed in the counterculture. Crackling profiles of figures like Fred Moore (a pioneering pacifist and antiwar activist who tried to build political bridges through his work in digital connectivity) and Doug Engelbart (a research director who was driven by the drug-fueled vision that digital computers could augment human memory and performance) telescope the era and the ways its earnest idealism fueled a passion for a computing society. The combustive combination of radical politics and technological ambition is laid out so convincingly, in fact, that it's mildly disappointing when, in the closing pages, Markoff attaches momentous significance to a confrontation between the freewheeling Californian computer culture and a young Bill Gates only to bring the story to an abrupt halt. Hopefully, he's already started work on the sequel. Agent, John Brockman." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Technogeeks will know much of this history already, but Markoff does a fine job of distilling it here while pointing out how much bleaker the world might be if the pioneers had just said no." Kirkus Reviews
"Markoff's book...reminds the reader that many of the ideas and convictions that Americans now take for granted in our culture were developed and nurtured during [a] tumultuous decade." Christian Science Monitor
"Markoff emphasizes the lives of the researchers themselves, their personal relationships, the sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll they enjoyed, and the political activism in which they participated." Library Journal
"For anyone who thinks they know anything, or wants to know anything, about the real roots of the PC revolution and the pioneers who never got famous, this book is required reading." Slashdot.org
While there have been several written histories of the personal computer, a well-known technology writer has created the first ever to spotlight the unique political and cultural forces of the 1960s that gave rise to this revolutionary technology.
Most histories of the personal computer industry focus on technology or business. John Markoff’s landmark book is about the culture and consciousness behind the first PCs—the culture being counter– and the consciousness expanded, sometimes chemically. It’s a brilliant evocation of Stanford, California, in the 1960s and ’70s, where a group of visionaries set out to turn computers into a means for freeing minds and information. In these pages one encounters Ken Kesey and the phone hacker Cap’n Crunch, est and LSD, The Whole Earth Catalog and the Homebrew Computer Lab. What the Dormouse Said is a poignant, funny, and inspiring book by one of the smartest technology writers around.
About the Author
John Markoff is Professor of Sociology and History at the University of Pittsburgh.
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