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Dealers of Lightning

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  1,086 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews
Dealers of Lightning is the riveting story of the legendary Xerox PARC'a collection of eccentric young inventors brought together by Xerox Corporation at a facility in Palo Alto, California, during the mind-blowing intellectual ferment of the seventies and eighties. Here for the first time is revealed in piercing detail the true story of the extraordinary group that aimed ...more
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Published December 13th 2005 by HarperAudio (first published March 1st 1999)
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Sep 04, 2012 Goku rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Xerox PARC is legendary as the home of some of the most brilliant minds in the history of computing. It played a pivotal role in the creation of (among other things) personal computers, GUIs, and the internet. It's also emblematic of the inability of large corporations to recognise and foster innovation. This book brilliantly captures the personalities of PARC, their triumphs, frustrations and clashes, with each other and with the Xerox suits. There's a good balance here in terms of attention to ...more
Jun 24, 2011 Nate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Riveting read. Not as technical as I'd like - though I have yet to read any computer book that is. Mostly it's straight up porn for anyone who loves working with computers. PARC was one hell of a lab back in the day.
The most interesting part about this is seeing what really happened with Xerox and the first GUI PCs. It's not that they let the opportunity slip through their fingers, they were never the right company to produce an OS in the first place.
Still, it worked out well for virtually all
Jul 17, 2015 Elen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
rating for entertainment alone -- i don't rly agree with a lot of the overarching points made here but god i love reading about old computers.
Scott Holstad
Feb 12, 2015 Scott Holstad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve heard of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) for years now and of its importance, but this book really drove home just what a critical place PARC was for the development of the personal computer. It was an excellent, excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Back in the mid-60s, Xerox decided they wanted to compete with IBM and AT&T by developing their own research labs in the hopes of winning prestige and a possible Nobel or two, just like Bell Labs did. They set PARC up with a virtua
Mar 03, 2014 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating account of the invention of the personal computer at a Xerox research facility in the 1970s. Hiltzik's book explains how over the course of ten years some of the world's foremost computer scientists invented almost every feature that we have come to associate with personal computing--overlapping windows, "what you see is what you get" word processing, the desktop, high speed printing, connection to an Ethernet, point and click technology, the ubiquity of the mouse, and the use of i ...more
Jan 22, 2012 Peter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating history of PARC and the people who made it the world's leading computer science research center in the 1970s. Does not specifically unpack the factors that made PARC excel, but contains enough information about its successes to draw broader lessons about creating conditions conducive to breakthrough R&D.

- Hire the best people
- Give them a long leash
- Force them to interact

Ethernet is a good example -- Bob Metcalfe was stringing coaxial cable through the PARC basement when he bu
Jan 25, 2011 Liam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The theory of second systems was formulated by an IBM executive named Frederick Brooks, whose career supervising large-scale software teams taught him that designers of computer systems tend to build into their second projects all the pet features that tight finances or short deadlines forced them to leave out of their first. The result is an overgrown, inefficient monstrosity that rarely works as expected. As he put it in his pithy masterpiece, The Mythical Man-Month: 'The second system is the ...more
Amar Pai
Dec 08, 2010 Amar Pai rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow I had no idea how much stuff originated from PARC.
-laser printers
-desktop computing w/ GUI - mouse, windowing, all that
-object oriented programming (smalltalk)
-probably more stuff I'm forgetting

Truly a remarkable place, and a tragic story for Xerox. Their clueless corporate management and stultifying resistance to change kept them from truly realizing the commercial potential for most of these things. They could have OWNED computing in the 90's and beyond. Instead th
Oct 02, 2014 Nelson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book and you will discover that many of the things that Steve Jobs used the MAC (mouse and distribute applications across several windows) were originally conceived at PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) Xerox.
Mikael Falkvidd
I love the stories from this era. It created the industry I love and work in. The book feels very accurate and tells a detailed story. I found it a bit heavy sometimes though.

If you liked this book you should definitely read iWoz.
Brian Olinger
Jan 15, 2017 Brian Olinger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read on a very interesting period of the innovation and change in the field of research and computing. I do not have a technical or academic research background and found the technical very accessible. The book is also a well-paced narrative with strong character development.

Unlike most books that take the lazy narrative of the hero researcher and the villainous corporate monolith, this book offers a much more nuanced view of the challenges of identifying and harnessing radically new
Laura T
Mar 03, 2017 Laura T rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazingly well written book about a complex situation. For anyone interested in the dawn of computing and the players that are huge name in computer science this is a must read. In fact, I'd go as far as say this should be mandatory reading for and computer science 101 student (and beyond). It also gives an interesting perspective on research in industrial settings and how products come to market.
Hiltzik writes with a decisive and confident voice so, as a small nitpick, I wonder a bit h
Feb 20, 2017 Alberto rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm an IT aficionado and I had great expectations for this book about the origins of modern computers, however the style of the author was very boring to me: I had to struggle to rein my mind into the narrative. Could not finish, read about 25% only.
Mitchell Wakefield
Gripping read for anyone interesting in computing history and business strategy within the tech landscape.
Glenn Robinson
Oct 13, 2016 Glenn Robinson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If ever a book was written that shows the destruction of corporate yes men can be to the welfare of a corporation, it is this one. Xerox ruled the roost for a few decades. Xerox could have ruled the roost for decades. It the corporate HQ got out of the way, it just might have, but the yes-men and brown nosers and paranoid execs led Xerox down a path of dismal returns.

In the 60's, Xerox set up a research center that created so much of what we know today-from the mouse to many aspects of programmi
Matt Decuir
Jan 08, 2017 Matt Decuir rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really great insights into the history of personal computing/ethernet and how it was affected by Xerox's PARC facility and everyone who worked there.
Mar 13, 2013 Pete rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tech, nonfiction
Dealers of Lightning (2000) by Michael Hiltzik is an outstanding look at Xerox PARC. In terms of books on the history of technology it is up there with the excellent Triumph of the Nerds by Robert X Cringely about the history of the early PC industry.
PARC the Palo Alto Research Laboratory was started by Xerox in the early 1970s. The best known PARC development, the Alto was the first machine produced in numbers that featured a GUI. It took the research of Douglas Englebart who developed the mou
Jonas Andersson
Jan 27, 2011 Jonas Andersson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Half business history, half computer history: It reduces to a story of a company that lost out on owning most of the "parts" that come in todays standard computer. Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) was the place to be if you wanted to make something cool in the 1970's. It seems bizarre, the idea of letting researchers invent whatever they wanted with a virtually unlimited budget. But their inventions were almost never patented or incorporated into Xerox products; because Xerox sold copiers ...more
Andrej Karpathy
This book details the history of Xerox PARC, which set up a research lab that invented many aspects of modern computing and then failed to capitalize on it (at least to the extent that many people thought they should have). I was happy to see the author resist the obvious and often-retold narrative of a corporation that was simply too dumb to realize what their visionary research division had. The book instead paints a more realistic picture, mentions some of the tensions present between a corpo ...more
I am constantly amazed at how well authors can reconstruct an event like this, making the book read as if they had tape recorders going through the entire time. The amount of work it must take through interviews is staggering.

This book is well researched and written, and made me feel like I was there as it all transpired. But I mainly came to it because I wanted to know more about the famous Apple demo, and that was relegated to one small chapter, where it felt like the author said, "Everyone kn
Mike Peleah
Oct 02, 2016 Mike Peleah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio
A fascinating book telling the story of Xerox PARC, the place where modern personal computing was born. Hiltzik painstakingly documented major twist and turns in life of that unique lab. There are at least three layers in this book. First, this is simply great story, full of real characters, ups and downs, unexpected turns. Second, is uneasy path from great ideas to their practical implementation. PARC researchers imagined back in early 1970s things, which completely changed our life. However, t ...more
Jul 25, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: goodreads
Shelves: grbpp
(4.0) Great subject, stayed focused on the engineering, the projects (mostly)

I appreciate that Hiltzik stayed focused (more or less) on the actual engineering and creative projects, (vs What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, in which I think more time was spent on the (counter-)culture, the hippiness, everything going on around PARC at the time). We get threads of history, usually told through the projects (the Alto, the laser printer, super
Tom Schulte
It was helpful to read this relatively shortly after Steve Jobs. That biography rather confirmed the supposition (urban legend?) in my mind that Apple UI was stolen nonchalantly by Jobs and was confirmation of ineptly managed PARC. This book goes far to remind me that for the laser printer along Xerox has effected world-changing innovation and that the unpredictability of the PC market at the time meant few really knew what was going to work and why. Rather similar to this, this 1999 work puts f ...more
Dan Cohen
Apr 01, 2013 Dan Cohen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book that covers the technical, people, management and cultural sides of the Xerox PARC Alto / Star story in balance. I preferred the book to the much older "Fumbling the Future" because the latter focussed too much on the management side of things. In fact, I'm on the lookout now for an account that goes further towards the technical side, because "Dealers of Lightning", while better than "Fumbling the Future" in this regard, still comes up way short of what I'd have liked to see.

The boo
Feb 12, 2008 Jon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While I am only 3/4 the way through, this is a fascinating book on PARC -- Palo Alto Research Center. PARC is the research lab for Xerox, which you may know was the dominant player in photocopier business back in the 60s and 70s.

Dealers of Lightning provides a fascinating history of the development of many everyday, common products -- the computer mouse, the personal computer, the word processor, windows GUI, and much more, which were all originally developed at PARC!

This books provides a rich
Dec 29, 2014 Diogo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book was great as far as the sheer amount of information provided, however, sometimes the information was out of context and the people introduced didn't have enough background to be able to form a story line and follow through the events.

Leaving a side the minor issues with the editing process this book shed some light on the events leading the creation of the personal computer and some myths regarding PARC and how Apple and Microsoft might have stolen some its technology.

Also the author br
Jan 06, 2014 Jared rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engaging read, filled with a colorful cast of characters and straight-forward descriptions of technical concepts (and corporate politicking). If you want to learn more about the genesis of computer desktops full of icons, overlapping application windows, and various input devices (especially the mouse), this book is a must read, along with the earlier (chronologically) and more MIT-centric book Hackers. My only complaint is that I frequently got distracted by having to look up some word, term ...more
Eric Andresen
Apr 17, 2013 Eric Andresen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent historical review of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Lots of people don't know that this is the birthplace of the Modern computer with the mouse, laser printers, windows icons and menus and Ethernet Networking.

Basically everything about the modern computer experience was invented by Xerox and sad as it may be they had no idea how to bring most of it to Market. It took Apple computers to later realize the Laser Printer and the Mac before most people could see this wonderful techno
Oct 01, 2011 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Epilogue opens with "Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry today." They had the technology because they brought the best technological minds together and built the computer of the future. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to lead organizations. Xerox had access to capital, a market base, and manufacturing capacity but their failure to execute was a colossal missed opportunity. It also shows how short sighted the executives of our era can be. Instead of l ...more
Brian O'Callaghan
What an amazing tour through one of my favorite subjects.

Although some of the figures and history were known to me prior to reading the book, the tight, compelling narrative and medium-good technical depth made this book a true pleasure to read.

The author seemed forthcoming about the fact that his sources were biased and sometimes contradictory; I was left with the impression that he had done a good job sifting through the material and presenting it with an even hand. Of course, without having r
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As a columnist and reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Michael A. Hiltzik won the 1999 beat reporting Pulitzer Prize for co-writing an article about corruption in the music industry, and the 2004 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. He earned his Masters degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1974.
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“The rules were explicit: No employee, from the chief executive down to the lowliest mailroom clerk, could talk to the press without a PR minder in tow. The communications department ruthlessly monitored all press coverage, issuing stern correctives to newspapers or magazines that erred on so much as an executive title.” 0 likes
“At the first session the group piled on an unfortunate wild man from that backwater, the University of Utah, named Alan Kay. Kay had stepped forth in a public session to pitch his vision of a computer you could hold in your hand. He had already coined a name for it: “Dynabook,” a notebook-shaped machine with a display screen and a keyboard you could use to create, edit, and store a very personal sort of literature, music, and art. “He was crazy,” Wessler recalled. “People greeted the whole idea with disbelief and gave him a very tough time. He painted this picture of walking around with a computer under your arm, which we all thought was completely ridiculous.” 0 likes
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