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Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,845 ratings  ·  142 reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
March 1999

While Gates, Jobs, and the other big boys of Silicon Valley are basking in the glory of the information age, renowned Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Hiltzik reveals how, back in the early '70s, a group of inventors at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) blazed the trail for all of today's indispensable technology — from the PC
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Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 5th 2000 by Harper Business (first published March 1st 1999)
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 ·  1,845 ratings  ·  142 reviews


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Nathan Davis
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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Keri Solaris
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-for-uni
Actual Rating: 2.5 Stars

"This did not mean that great discoveries, even surprising ones, will not be made here and there by researchers working for corporations. It simply means that a certain quality once possessed by PARC in its extraordinary early years seems to have departed from the world of science and technology, perhaps forever. Call it magic."


Not my favorite book; read for class. It wasn't that it was bad, it just wasn't for me and didn't really capture my interest. However, it gives
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Josh Friedlander
I'm sceptical of the genius narrative. In my mind, there are always a few people with irrational self-confidence - and of course a couple happen to succeed. Cue mythmaking, fawning biographies and countless would-be clones...

Relatedly, I can feel some sympathy for the executives at Xerox. The standard narrative is that their Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) developed all of the big ideas of modern desktop computing (mouse, ethernet connection, desktop GUI, laser printing) under their noses, but
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Douglas Sellers
Apr 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Really the Grand Canyon of books. Everyone knows that the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground but when you go see it your like "DAMN that's a big hole in the ground. Same thing with this book. The myth is that xerox parc invented most modern software but when you read this book your like "DAMN they really did invent everything." Overall though, a few stories aside, it just adds depth to the myth rather than providing any real new insights.
Elen
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Raghu
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
The first ever time I developed software using the Smalltalk programming language and development environment, it was a sublime experience. There was no other way to describe it. I had written computer programs in C, Cobol, Fortran etc prior to that for many years, but Smalltalk was qualitatively in a much higher plane in terms of the joy it brought to the programming experience. The object-oriented approach and the Integrated Development Environment of Smalltalk brought a totally intuitive feel ...more
Goku
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Tim Black
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A perfect companion to the book "Where Wizards Stay Up Late", this book provides a more nuanced explanation for why so many of the technologies pioneered at PARC ended up being exploited by other, more nimble, technology companies. I am coming away with a greater appreciation for the difficulty of turning truly groundbreaking research into marketable consumer products. Highly recommend.
Simon Eskildsen
Aug 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Entertaining account of the heyday of Xerox PARC in the 1970s when Alan Kay, Bob Taylor, and Thacker were all there spewing out inventions such as the ALTO; arguably the most complete, first personal computer. Although it was never successfully brought to market, it heavily influenced personal computing. Xerox is where the foundation of human-computer interaction was developed: mouse, GUI, WYSIWYG, and so on. Ethernet was built at XEROX too, where the appeal of an "ARPANET for Everyone" (ARPAnet ...more
Joe
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Peter
Jan 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 bumped
...more
Liam
Jan 25, 2011 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 rated it really liked it
Wow I had no idea how much stuff originated from PARC.
-laser printers
-ethernet
-desktop computing w/ GUI - mouse, windowing, all that
-adobe
-3com
-SGI
-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
...more
Mikael Falkvidd
Apr 14, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Nelson
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Paul
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Fascinating story but told in a superficial manner. Mentions hundreds of names you will not remember a minute later and ignores all but simplest technical issues. I'm just not that interested in people's personal stories. Came here for the technology and was bored by all the social aspects.
Doug
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent - Xerox really dropped the ball on this one.
Mauro
Mar 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Alan Kay

I knew that the Xerox PARC had been important (I saw Pirates of Silicon Valley), but before reading this book I had no idea how much. The did invent the future, all right: personal computing, graphical user interfaces, object-oriented programming, WYSIWYG editors, Ethernet, laser printing, VLSI chip design - the list goes on and on. There's even the suggestion that a protocol developed at PARC influenced TCP/IP. I was particularly i
...more
Sandy Maguire
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read "Where Wizards Stay Up Late", and "Steve Jobs" --- this book is a nice piece of history linking the events of those two things. It's a fun read about a bunch of visionaries and their cool engineering. Though the book hit a little too close to home; the toxic politics inside PARC reminded me of a lot of the otherwise-great jobs I've had! Xerox's bureaucracy's complete incapacity to do anything with their amazing research is a great warning against growing too big.

The PARC guys are inspi
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Richard Rossi
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is not for everyone because it contains a lot of office politics. But it does document the role PARC played in the 1970's in laying the foundation for much of what we now take for granted in computer technology. I worked at Xerox during the 70's, spent many hours at PARC on business and was personally involved in some of the products that used PARC inventions. I also witnessed the corporate level office politics that caused PARC so much trouble. I knew many of the corporate players and ...more
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An ok and readable history of the research and pioneering work at PARC. That work was important and groundbreaking in some ways, but I think the book overplays some developments by giving the illusion that similar or related work was not being done by other people and institutions. For example, it spends a lot of time talking about the singular importance of their work on the laser printer, only to mention offhand, much later in the book, that IBM released a similar product to market before they ...more
Brendan Ryan
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Artem
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Benjamin Torres
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When you hear how Xerox developed almost all the components that are now so integrated and ubiquitous in computing, like the mouse, GUI, WYSIWYG, Ethernet, OO programming, etc, it is hard to comprehend how the company couldn't capitalize on those technologies.

This book gives all the context and details that are missing in that premise, and its is not as simple as the old known story that it was the lack of vision at the top management that blew Xerox's chance to become the biggest company in th
...more
Brian Olinger
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Laura T
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Themistocles
Mar 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: computers, history
I started reading this with very high expectations. Unfortunately the result didn't satisfy me completely.

Yes, the story is very interesting, yes the era is exciting and all that, but after a while I realised that insisting on describing person after person and all the power struggles and corporate politics becomes tiresome after a while.

In contrast to that, Hiltzik offers little info on the products themselves and, as a result, I didn't come out any wiser about them than I was when I started r
...more
Kaspars Laizans
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Author is not the most tech-savvy one abd definitely not the best to cover such an epic topic as PARC. Respect for the amount of work invested in book though.

Generally a neat story glorifying CS research geniuses significance of whose work was lost to the management of Xerox for their own loss. Stories playing up the mythos of brilliance of PARCers while entertaining, are not too technically nor socially revealing.

Sadly, the topic is of interest mostly to CS/IT people, for whom book is technical
...more
Tushant Mittal
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I rarely were review but this book blew my mind. Brilliantly written, it was the perfect book for me to read right before starting my PhD in computer science. Beautifully explains the passion with which researchers invent, the challenges of a corporate setting and how shortsightedness causes regrettable decisions. The skill of the writer shows as this is not just an information dump of the events in a chronological order but is rather a history furnished with clearly thought out opinions thereby ...more
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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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