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The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal Paperback – August 27, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Licklider was a brilliant scientist whose essential contributions to cognitive psychology and cybernetics included critical early developments in the field of man-machine interaction. However, his original work is often overshadowed by his accomplishments as a teacher, administrator and project leader and this ably written and well-researched biography isn't likely to propel him into the limelight. Waldrop (Man-Made Minds) devotes about 20% of the book to Licklider himself; the rest covers his teachers, colleagues and students at MIT and the Pentagon including computing pioneers Douglas Engelbart, Wes Clark and Larry Roberts and Licklider's indirect influence on the development of personal computers and the Internet (via "the world's first large-scale experiment in personal computing" at MIT). To his credit, Waldrop avoids common stereotypes of computer nerds or saints, delivering a vivid account of Licklider and his contemporaries. But he was not able to interview Licklider (who died in 1990), nor does he include material from personal papers or memoirs. Instead, Waldrop bases most of the book on secondary accounts, including biographies and histories of technology. The result is an informative and engaging history of computers from the 1930s to the 1970s, with an emphasis on Licklider and his period of greatest influence, 1957 to 1968. (Aug. 27)Forecast: A six-city author tour will raise some interest, but there isn't much demand for another history of computing and the Internet, especially when Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon's Where Wizards Stay Up Late and Martin Campbell-Kelly's Computer cover the same material.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1st edition (August 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014200135X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001356
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,064,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By cgb on November 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I was a ms reviewer of this complete, but very readable book based on JCR Licklider's vision of interactive and networked computing. It covers almost 50 years of computing.
Why most of us need a copy:
It presents an accurate and quite complete history of the research and ideas that include timesharing, personal computing, graphics, Internet, etc.
I use it to check my memory on various facts.
The book is well written = easy and pleasant reading.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Arbys on January 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Everyone has heard about the amazing ideas and systems from Xerox PARC, but few realize that this lab was was the culmination of JCR Licklider's vision of personal, interactive computing, not its birthplace. Licklider provided the vision and impetus to form the ARPA-funded core of computer science research, which lead to Douglas Englebart's windows and mice, Xerox PARC's innovations, and the Internet. The next time that you hear someone saying that government can't do anything well, give them a copy of this book.
This book is a fascinating, well-written exposition of Licklider's life and work, and even more interestingly, the birth of computer science in the United States. I've never before seen this story as a continuous whole, as opposed to a collection of independent breakthroughs. It is a fascinating narrative, and this is a great book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Rob Gurwitz on January 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For anyone interested in why computers and the net are the way they are today, this entertaining and well-written account is essential. Using Licklider as the fulcrum, it covers the origins of computer science, interactive computing, and the internetworked PC world we live with today in a very personal way. It provides an insight into how these ideas evolved and how the personalities behind them animated that evolution. It is admittedly a very MIT/ARPA centric history, but given that's where many of these ideas had their genesis, it does a good job of covering a large amount of the territory of modern computing history. The one question the book leaves unanswered is why the field has not evolved further in the last twenty years. After all, as Waldrop demonstrates, the seeds of what we take for granted today were demonstrably in place 20-25 years ago.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Severo M. Ornstein on November 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is the best history of computer science that I know. Unlike many "histories" that merely review the commercial exploitation of computers, this book focuses on the evolution of ideas and the innovators who carried the field forward. It spans my thirty years as a computer science researcher and agrees well with my experience and observations during that time. For anyone interested in obtaining a coherent picture of where the computer revolution came from, this book is a must.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Dream Machine deserves many more than five stars.
Mr. Waldrop provides a valuable synthesis of several important perspectives:
(1) The development of personal, interconnected computing from its fundamental roots in academic and corporate scientific thinking, conceptualization, and experimentation;
(2) How the vision of one man, Professor J. C. R. Licklider, played an important role in nurturing the development of this form of computing;
(3) How creating a computing community that frequently shared ideas in-person and on-line accelerated the development of the technology and the society it served; and
(4) How the contributions of the major and minors players fit together to bring us where we are today.
Whenever I read a book about the history or current state of computing in the future, The Dream Machine will be valuable for helping me put the observations into context. This is true despite the fact that I have been doing consulting in this industry for almost 30 years, and had early access to many of its important innovations.
In fact, if you only read one book about computers in the next two years, The Dream Machine should be that book.
As valuable as I found that framing of the development, I was even more impressed with seeing how to foster fundamental human development through this example. Professor Licklider was trained initially in psychology. From that unusual perspective on computers, he quickly perceived what humans can do better than computers (make judgments, fine distinctions, and decide what order to do things in) and what computers can do better than humans (make difficult calculations, remember lots of things at the same time, and rearrange mountains of information into new forms of order).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Leo Beranek on November 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I read every page as quickly as my reading time permitted. It is excellent and covers the history of the Internet and associated matters, written around Licklider's thoughts and philsophy from start to today. But it is far more than a story about Licklider. It covers sketchs of the contributions of John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, J. Presper Eckert, John Mauchly, Claude Shannon and a dozen others. Then it takes up Licklider's fruitful stay at Bolt Beranek & Newman, Inc., followed by his service for ARPA and how he spread time sharing across the country by government financing. His long story about Project MAC at MIT which grew from ARPA contracts is highly informative. ARPA's moneys helped bring to fame some of the best known names in computer technology today. An ARPA contract led to the building of the ARPANET by BBN (after Lick returned to MIT), which when the ARPANET adopted the TCP/IP protocol, signaled the birth of the Internet. I was intrigued by the history of computer developments at Xerox's PARC Laboratory and how a "blind" management can kill a group's great innovations. The book ends with Licklider becoming an elder brother to Lick's Kids at MIT, his 70th birthday party, and his last days. This book is a must if you are interested in the growth of networking and computer usage as told around the life of a great man.
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