Behind every great revolution is a vision, and behind one of the greatest revolutions of our time—personal computing—is the vision of J. C. R. Licklider. He wasn’t an engineer and he didn’t start a company or write code; instead, he was a relentless visionary who saw great potential in the way individuals could interact with computers and software. At a time when computers were a short step removed from mechanical data processors, Licklider was an enthusiastic catalyst for the seminal research that ultimately led to the internet. In a simultaneously compelling personal narrative and comprehensive historical exposition, The Dream Machine by M. Mitchell Waldrop tells the story of the birth of the computing revolution through the life of a man who shifted our understanding of what computers were and could be. Originally published in 2001, the book now appears in a new edition, which includes the original texts of Licklider’s three most influential writings.
M. Mitchell Waldrop earned a PhD in elementary particle physics and a master’s in journalism at the University of Wisconsin. He has been a writer and editor at Science and Nature. He is the author of Man-Made Minds (1987), a book about artificial intelligence, and Complexity (1992), about the new sciences of complexity.
When people ask me about Xerox PARC, I always tell them about J. C. R. Licklider—‘Lick’—and how he started the great research funding for interactive computing and pervasive worldwide networks, which have resulted in most of the technology we use today. The top book I recommend to read about this large process, which stretched over 20 years, is The Dream Machine by Mitchell Waldrop.
A masterpiece! A mesmerizing but balanced and comprehensive look at the making of the information revolution—the people, the ideas, the tensions, and the hurdles.
John Seely Brown
former director of Xerox PARC
A sprawling history of the ideas, individuals, and groups of people that got us from punch cards to personal computers . . . impressive . . . compelling.
The Dream Machine works admirably as an exploration of the intellectual and political roots of the rise of modern computing. It’s an ambitious and worthwhile addition to the history of science.
San Francisco Chronicle