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Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet
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Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,913 Ratings  ·  150 Reviews
Twenty five years ago, it didn't exist. Today, twenty million people worldwide are surfing the Net. Where Wizards Stay Up Late is the exciting story of the pioneers responsible for creating the most talked about, most influential, and most far-reaching communications breakthrough since the invention of the telephone.

In the 1960's, when computers where regarded as mere gia
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 21st 1998 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1996)
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Brad Wheeler
Apr 14, 2015 Brad Wheeler rated it liked it
This book had one major problem to overcome going in: the story of the internet's origins just isn't all that interesting. It was kind of cool to see the origins of some of the networking protocols that I deal with on a day-to-day basis, and it filled in some gaps in my knowledge of computer history, but that was kind of it. There weren't many interesting personalities like in Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell, and the chronology got weird at p ...more
Aug 29, 2010 Dale rated it did not like it
If you dislike publications such as People Magazine, you will not like this book.

If you believe that a history book should be well organized along either thematic or chronological lines, you will not like this book.

If you think that a book about the history of technology should include details about the evolution of that technology, you will not like this book.

If you believe that every non-fiction book deserves a good copy editor who will eliminate pointless discursions, you will not like this b
Tommy /|\
Jul 30, 2011 Tommy /|\ rated it really liked it
The story of the various interlocking aspects of the internet isn't readily understood by the average user of its technologies. In fact, it would probably be safe to assume that most users believe that the origins of the internet came about in the late 1990s. Even with the often misrepresented quote from then-Presidential candidate Al Gore, the underlying technologies that comprise the internet remain a solid mystery to the typical internet denizen. "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" provides a wide-a ...more
Jan 31, 2016 Vladyslav rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: it
This book is Holly Grail for any computer history archaeologist. Katie Hafner provides extensive overview of the birth of the Internet: from the research chronology of the ARPA group, development journal of the government contractor -- BBN -- who basically build the ARPANET, maintenance and further usage, national and international expansion, E-mail, Request For Comments, DNS, TCP/IP vs OSI, to the sunset of ARPANET and the dawn of the NSFNET, and this is not nearly all what is covered in this b ...more
Nick Black
Read first in 2003, as supplementary material to CS3251 (Networking I). Three stars worth of harmless, chipper history, and an extra star for a great title. Much better than Hafner's other well-known book, "Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier," which is to be avoided. Really good material about BBN, the IMP's (I remember quoting this book in 2008 regarding the original 56kbps AT&T leased lines between the Honeywell DDP-316s, and impressing the hell out of an older coworke ...more
Dec 27, 2015 Adam rated it really liked it
More like 3.5 stars, but I rounded generously. I found the beginning chapters quite exciting, but I eventually experienced information overload. There were so many people and places involved in the story, that I found it difficult to recall the importance of certain individuals and organizations. Some people, such as Paul Baran and Donald Davies (who independently discovered packet-switching), were fleshed out in sufficient detail for them and their accomplishments to be more memorable. But many ...more
Aug 17, 2014 Kyryl rated it really liked it
Shelves: cs, history
Nice book describing the origins of the Internet in the true sense - what initially started as a scientific experiment, turned into the wave that changed all the modern society. For such a small book it covers many points in that story (and provides a lot of references for further reading). My favorite snippet was about the first RFC document.
Sara Watson
Jan 12, 2015 Sara Watson rated it liked it
The book does a great job of detailing the impetus for connecting up the country’s major university computing centers together at a time when computing resources were scarce and machines were enormous. It also follows an interesting narrative thread as different stages of connectivity were reached, as hardware configuration problems continued, and as the need for standards emerged. I especially liked the discussion about the moment when TCP/IP split to cover the packets and the routing informati ...more
Mar 31, 2014 Willis rated it liked it
This is an older book published back in 1996 that explains how the internet came to be. The authors were able to interview all the principal characters in that process and no, Al Gore is not mentioned in this book. I found it to be fascinating on how these individuals worked together to make it happen. It was not a be grand Eureka moment, but rather it was a series of small steps, overcoming one technical challenge at a time that ultimately resulted in the technology behind the internet. You can ...more
Aug 01, 2014 Matt rated it really liked it
An interesting book that carried my curiosity throughout and taught me a great deal about the early history of the Internet. Of the host of characters illuminated, some came alive and were inspired by real-life drama and intrigue. Most details, though, felt rather routine and lacked the sort of inspired energy imparted in other biographical works. The parts driven by character were a lot of fun; the rest (driven by historical comprehensiveness) was often dry - though never tedious or unfaithful ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Marko rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Where Wizards Stay Up Late covers an important part of history and does it very well. Internet has already had a huge impact on our lives, much bigger than most people realise. Along with the computer itself it has caused an explosion on technological and scientific advance. Computers allow researchers to do things that are impossible by hand and the Internet has allowed the same researchers to share knowledge and resources. Both of them are catalysts and by having these two together has had an ...more
Adam Wiggins
Jun 09, 2015 Adam Wiggins rated it it was ok
Shelves: computing
History of computer networks and the internet, including:

- The founding of ARPA, spurred partially by the USSR's launch of Sputnik

- The shift from batch-processing machines (punchcards, multi-day delay on getting the output of your program) to time-sharing (multiple users logged into a system via interactive terminal)

- The invention of packet-switching networks (vs circuit switching, the standard at the time)

- The creation of the IMP network interface (a refrigerator-sized computer) and first fo
Feb 16, 2015 Erhardt rated it liked it
This was a fun and detailed look through the early history of the Internet. I revisited key figures like JCR Licklider, Vint Cerf, and Jon Postel, who I first learned about during my freshman year of information technology education at RIT. And I learned the inane origins of the inane debate between TCP/IP and OSI that added mind-numbing tedium to my computer networking courses in high school.

The majority of the book though focuses on the relationship between the Pentagon's Advanced Research Pro
I got turned onto this book because I read an article rebutting the central premise of a Wall Street Journal article about how private enterprise rather than government investment in basic research brought around the Internet. This book was cited as a definitive book about the beginnings of the Internet, so I gave it a spin.

The first thing to understand is that this book is about the very basics of the creation of the Internet, the connections across networks. It only describes the initial conne
Feb 25, 2016 Chris rated it liked it
I enjoy a good history of technology/history of technical communication narrative, and this is one. The authors' work in the early chapters is especially good--the narrative and conflict and central figures are well-established and the 'story of the Internet' is very engaging. The last chapter tries to tie up a lot of loose ends as the ARPAnet shifts to the assorted networks that would lead to the Internet, and shows the wear of trying to do so much in so little time, and that's a limitation of ...more
The Joy of Booking
Aug 23, 2011 The Joy of Booking rated it liked it
I picked this book up because I love reading about how things I take for granted come to be. Books like Tears of Mermaids or The Facebook Effect, or anything that tells the story behind the story. Where Wizards Stay Up Late did not disappoint. The book follows the lives and discoveries of the small group of men (sadly, no women were involved!) who created what we know now as the internet.

Of course, they didn’t realize that’s exactly what they were doing. In the 50s and 60s, government-funded com
David Rush
Aug 11, 2012 David Rush rated it it was ok
Books like this and others such as The Soul of A New Machine, Accidental Empires and even Hackers are all all fine books. They show the excitement that comes from joining pure science with engineering at a time when knowledge and technical advances allow production of cool new products.

But the downside of these books for me is that they show that the thrill of discovery is real, but it is the nature of technological advances that they never end, so the story can rarely finish with a dynamic cre
Feb 28, 2016 Byron rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computing, history, ict400
Its amazing how much the "Great man theory" of history still persists when it comes to the history of computing. The public library system in my city has 11 copies of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs but to get hold of this book I needed to visit the local university library (its not in the Polytechnic library either).

Part of the reason for this is that the Isaacson book is more recent, but it would appear we are more interested in computing history when we can credit (even if incorrect
Doran Barton
Jun 23, 2013 Doran Barton rated it really liked it
I actually read Where Wizards Stay Up Late several years ago, shortly after it was published, but decided to re-read it as I remembered it being very good but had forgotten many details.

For the time it was published (1996), Hafner and Lyon did a remarkable job of including great swaths of computing and networking history into a readable and manageable volume that chronicles an era from the 1960s until the mid-1990s during which time the ARPANET was created and later spawned other networks which
Feb 11, 2013 Chad rated it it was ok
This was a good book but, it was kind of a mess. Sometimes things were happening chronologically other times autobiographically. During the autobiographical portions they tend to throw a lot of names around as though you would already know who they were. A good example is when Douglas Engelbart is mentioned for the first time they reference him only casually as attending a meeting with some of the engineers and taking a one line quote from him. Considering all the important work he was doing at ...more
May 20, 2010 Xing rated it really liked it
About the origins and development of the internet (or rather, its predecessors), the technology involved, and the people and personalities whose brilliance and inspiration drove the movement. Very exciting for a lay reader- I've always taken the net for granted, expecting it to perform without a hitch and deliver instantaneously.

This book has helped me appreciate the mechanisms and technology behind this massive organism better. A very light read, focused a lot on the individuals and their quir
Feb 04, 2012 Peter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating history of ARPANET, and, by extension, the origins of the internet. Also contains good biographical sketches of key players, including Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, Bob Metcalfe, etc. Begins with an overview of the packet switching approach that would come to define modern networking, covering the work done by Paul Baran at RAND and Donald Davies at Britain's National Physics Laboratory.

Explains how BBN (a company in Cambridge, MA) won the ARPA contract to set up connections between computer
Aug 04, 2015 Pete rated it liked it
Where Wizards Stay Up Late : The Origins of the Internet (1998) by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon is a book that describes how the ARPANET was built and the people that built it.
It's interesting to read about how ARPA decided that connecting computers was worth doing and they went out and got BBN to build a packet switched network that was then enhanced by adding more nodes and improving the protocols handling the network. Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn created TCP/IP together which really allowed the n
Feb 10, 2013 Christian rated it really liked it
This well-told narrative is really a piece of long-form journalism, about the various nerds in the U.S. and U.K. who created the technology behind what we now call the internet. It's full of surprising anecdotes and likeable, interesting characters .. which as I've said before makes it harder to rate these kinds of books, writers who use real people as characters have a leg up. They also have a responsibility, and in this case we get a nicely balanced group of portraits, not without some warts, ...more
Cathy Doser
Oct 17, 2015 Cathy Doser rated it liked it
There was certainly a lot of detail in the book, I'm sure to back up the claims made, but it didn't make for good reading. The real human story of the Internet's beginning did not really come out in this book. There was much more that needed to be told that didn't make it into the book.

I was around the beginning of the Internet a lot, and I did not see a lot of the detail that I knew that happened really drawn out in the book. It would've been nice if they would've continued the story up to and
Deane Barker
May 31, 2014 Deane Barker rated it really liked it
This book is good if you want a long, detailed history of the ARPANET, the direct predecessor to the Internet. For that, it's fascinating.

That said, it's not a casual reader. I'm neck-deep in the Internet every day and am a fan of Internet history, and even I got bored in places.

Still, if you ever wondered just where the Internet came from, this book will answer that question definitively.
Ed Terrell
Jul 19, 2014 Ed Terrell rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, computers
I enjoyed the journey back in time to the world of bootstrap loaders and paper tape readers. In the mid seventies, I worked in a TIMS lab with a PDP-8 then eventually an -11. It was a land of stainless steel toggle switches, and brushed aluminum face plates, flashing low intensity red LEDs, all mounted in 19" racks. We didn't have to worry about mainframe time and paper cards (although, I did still sneak in a round or two of lunar lander on a hacked account). The start of the Internet is entwine ...more
Jan 19, 2015 Mark rated it really liked it
This book is a bit of a hard read and slightly boring at times, as the authors delve deep into tangentially related anecdotes concerning people whose role in the overarching story you may have a tough time following. Nevertheless, the content provided here is pure gold, with precious information about the birth of the internet, without shying away from the technical aspects but still remaining readable. The book also picks up more steam from the midpoint onwards, leaving personal profiles mostly ...more
Aug 25, 2011 Mike rated it liked it
A nice (if sometimes a little boring) run-through of the history and personalities that brought packet-switching and the Internet into being. So many inventions are created when people ignored those who said something couldn't be done and just decided to try it out. Perhaps that explains why so many graduate students (who have not yet grown a protective layer of cynicism) are able to create new things (and they certainly created them during this period!). Make no mistake, this is NOT "Hackers" o ...more
Feb 26, 2014 E marked it as didn-t-finish
we discussed this book in class tonight, and are moving on to other topics. I I think I'm going to need to come back to this book when I have a slower time to read it... I had to skim for the main points and didn't really get to dig in the way I might have wanted to. I do like that this was a character-driven portrayal of the start of the Internet. Which is easy to take for granted.
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Katie Hafner was on staff at The New York Times for ten years, where she remains a frequent contributor, writing on healthcare and technology. She has also worked at Newsweek and BusinessWeek, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire,Wired, The New Republic, The Huffington Post, and O The Oprah Magazine. She is the author of five previous works of nonfiction covering a diverse rang ...more
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“The process of technological development is like building a cathedral,” remarked Baran years later. “Over the course of several hundred years new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying, ‘I built a cathedral.’Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then comes along an historian who asks, ‘Well, who built the cathedral?’ Peter added some stones here, and Paul added a few more. If you are not careful, you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the reality is that each contribution has to follow onto previous work. Everything is tied to everything else.” 1 likes
“It’s one thing when you plug into a socket in the wall and electrons flow,” said Bob Kahn. “It’s another thing when you have to figure out, for every electron, which direction it takes.” 1 likes
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