While most people may not be familiar with the name J. C. R. Licklider, he was the guiding spirit behind the greatest revolution of the modern era. At a time when most computers were big, ponderous mainframes, he envisioned them as desktop tools that could empower individuals, foster creativity, and allow the sharing of information all over the world. Working from an obscure office in the depths of the Pentagon, he set in motion the forces that could make his vision real. Writing with the same novelistic flair that made his Complexity "the most exciting intellectual adventure story of the year" (The Washington Post), Waldrop presents the history of this great enterprise and the first full-scale portrait of the man whose dream of a "human-computer symbiosis" changed the course of science and culture, gave us the modern world of computing, and laid the foundation for the Internet age.
"Waldrop's account of [Licklider's] and many others' world-transforming contributions is compelling." (John Allen Paulos, The New York Times Book Review)
"A masterpiece! A mesmerizing but balanced and comprehensive look at the making of the information revolution." (John Seely Brown, former director of Xerox PARC, and coauthor of The Social Life of Information)
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While it's true that no one person's vision encompassed all of what we now consider personal computing, we can't help but focus on individual effort as we try to understand how we got here. Science writer M. Mitchell Waldrop carefully balances this hero culture with a historian's mania for completeness in The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal.
"Lick," as his students and colleagues called him, was deeply involved in guiding the evolution of personal and networked computing from the 1950s through the 1980s, after leaving a career in cognitive psychology. Waldrop captures his spirit vividly--contrary to our stereotypical view of computer scientists, Licklider was profoundly interested in his fellow humans, and this interest helped him lead the design of technology adapted to human needs.
Waldrop interviewed dozens of contemporaries and examined reams of notes and primary sources to compose this massive biography of influence that stretches from MIT to the Pentagon to Xerox PARC and far beyond. If it sometimes seems that Licklider was a little too well beloved, especially in comparison to some of the more colorful figures in computing's recent history, it is worth remembering that his patience and humility were the very qualities that helped deliver the home-computing revolution we take for granted today. If we had to choose just one 20th-century computer pioneer that we couldn't do without, it would have to be the man behind the Dream Machine. --Rob LightnerAbout the Author:
M. Mitchell Waldrop, formerly a science writer at Science magazine, is the author of Complexity and Man-Made Minds.
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