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What the Dormouse Said


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About the Author

John Markoff is a senior writer for The New York Times who has coauthored Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier and the bestselling Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw.


A senior technology writer for the New York Times, Markoff (Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick) offers a striking account of how the 1960s counterculture, coupled with rapidly advancing technology, influenced the development of Silicon Valley and the creation of the personal computer industry. This is not a rehash of the success stories of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Markoff instead focuses on some lesser-known computer scientists in the San Francisco Bay area whose immersion in the counterculture fueled creative thinking that led to a vision of personal computing as an augmentation of human memory and performance. The computer technologies of today, he argues, owe their character to this period of unrest, which was defined by protest, drug experimentation, communal utopias, and anarchistic idealism. 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. The author has done a fine job of recording the history of that exceptional time. Both informative and entertaining, this book should appeal to a broad audience of technology readers.-Joe Accardi, Harper Coll. Lib., Palatine, IL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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