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What Just Happened: A Chronicle from the Information Frontier Hardcover – May 7, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

This book of previously published essays by the author of Chaos and Faster is an eclectic chronicle of the information revolution's first 10 years. "The last decade of the twentieth century came as a surprise," writes James Gleick. What Just Happened shows how surprising it was: in the book's first piece, from 1992, Gleick notes that "a relatively small number of personal computer users use Windows." (He's a good sport about it, too, poking fun at himself in an introduction for making such an obsolete observation.) A longish piece on Microsoft from 1995 seems to correct the problem when Gleick comments on "the ever-advancing boundary of Microsoft's Windows package." Then it goes on to get something really right: "Microsoft's own power poses a threat, too--the threat that comes with the self-fulfilling destiny of any monopolist." That's a prescient observation, considering the antitrust actions taken against the company since those words were written. The closing chapter of the book is fascinating and forward-looking; it's not about what just happened but what may happen. Gleick anticipates the appearance of wristwatches containing "biometric information about your loved ones, so you can see how your parents are doing." If that doesn't sound exciting enough, consider this prediction: "One can even imagine properly functional motor-vehicle offices." Now that's something to look forward to. --John Miller

From Library Journal

The expert science writer who explained Chaos to us now explains what technology has done to our lives.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (May 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421777
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421778
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,747,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Gleick was born in New York and began his career in journalism, working as an editor and reporter for the New York Times. He covered science and technology there, chronicling the rise of the Internet as the Fast Forward columnist, and in 1993 founded an Internet startup company called The Pipeline. His books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

His home page is at, and on Twitter he is @JamesGleick.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mary Ellen Gordon on July 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book wasn't what I expected. As [the] editorial review explains, but the book description only hints at, this is a collection of previously published work. Since I read the latter, but not the former, I was expecting a retrospective analysis of the .com bubble. Because of the rapid rate of obsolescence of most things written about the Internet, I don't think I would have bought the book had I known that parts of it were written as long as a decade ago, but I'm glad I did anyway.
Looking back with the benefit of hindsight at things written about the Internet over the course of the last decade proves to be an illuminating exercise. It definitely seems to be a case of the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Some of the things that have changed a lot since the time the original articles were published are:
* Everyone knows what the Internet is (in his introduction, Gleick explains that in the early `90s, editors made him explain this when he used the term in articles). One of the really interesting things I learned reading the book is that the original development of the Web only dates back to 1989.
* In a 1993 article, he describes people being annoyed by mobile phones ringing in airports. Given the far less appropriate places they ring today, that seems positively quaint.
* In 1993, some people remembered who Dan Quayle was and cared enough to create a newsgroup devoted to making fun of him.
Some current issues that the book demonstrates have a much longer history are:
* Concerns about bandwidth and information privacy (or more accurately, lack thereof).
* Password overload (described in amusing detail in a 1995 column).
* The incomprehensibility of software and Web site user agreements - even to those who bother to read them.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It's usually a good sign when picking up a collection of essays to find that they have been previously published in some noted periodical such as The New Yorker or Harper's or in this case (with one exception) from The New York Times Magazine. Gleick's focus in these thirty highly polished essays is information and especially the Internet and how the Internet and related technology are changing our lives. There is a personal, and an "I lived it" quality to the writing that I found engaging.
Author of the challenging Chaos and the very long and adoring Genius about physicist Richard Feynman and the more recent Faster, here Gleick gives us short and easy to appreciate recollections of the communications revolution. His observations are trenchant, mildly apocalyptic and/or gee-whizzed, amusing and very well expressed. Having good editors is something Gleick says he has been blessed with, and in these pieces it shows. This attractive book is simply a pleasure to read.
The first piece is from 1992 about the bugs in software, in particular those in Microsoft's Word for Windows; and I want to tell you even though (or especially because) I use WordPerfect, I identified. I felt the aggravation. Gleick notes that software is unlike any other product in its complexity, an observation that no doubt pleases Microsoft's software engineers. However, he reports that Microsoft, unable to cope with the bugs munching on their code and unable or unwilling to excise them, came to an accommodation with the world by declaring that "It's not a bug--it's a feature," while compiling an in-company list of known bugs dubbed, "Won't Fix."
And then, I guess, had lunch.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By mhauden on June 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I've read Gleick's Faster, and when I saw What Just Happened in the bookstore, I picked it up immediately. Gleick's candid analyses of technological triumphs is an enjoyable walk through the computer and Internet revolution of the 1990s; however, the book was lacking some of the critical interprative edge that one finds in Faster, and for that reason it fell a little short of my expectations. Although What Just Happened does offer an opportunity to step back and think about the implications of the IT revolution, I found myself reading it more for entertainment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. head on November 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
A book about the Information Age that is of course becoming dated every day, but still a rewarding book to read. A book that forces a reader often in the midst of a daily struggles with technology to take a step back and review the progress that has been made when one is often so close too the action to appreciate it. The author gives a little overview to show the overall plan of the technology and where it is headed, and discusses some very interesting ideas, such a cyber-dollars. Money that would be good only for internet purchases, only if people will have enough faith in an internet monetary system. The book is a collection of previously published articles by the author. The book is easy to read, thought provoking when discussing the future, and his summaries of the recent past remind the reader of the progress being made in just a years of the information age. Well worth reading.
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