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Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  4,129 ratings  ·  252 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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Jonathan Harston
November 1969.

Hold on a mo.... rummage rummage...

29 October 1969, first packet:

21 November 1969, first permana…more

November 1969.

Hold on a mo.... rummage rummage...

29 October 1969, first packet:

21 November 1969, first permanant link:

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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  4,129 ratings  ·  252 reviews

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Aug 11, 2010 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
Brad Wheeler
Aug 27, 2012 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
Mar 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is about the creation of the Internet, or better yet the ARPAnet (1969 - 1990) that spawned it.

Everything is here: the people and reasons for its creation, beginnings of underlying technologies like packet switching, distributed networks an so on, early fights over standards and finally its proliferation and metamorphosis from ARPAnet to the Internet. Of course there were little detours into the culture of openness and early flame wars as well. It is both reassuring and disturbing tha
Tommy /|\
Jul 30, 2011 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
Igor Gentil
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is to technologists what “On the Origin of Species” is to biology! Absolutely loved it!
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Until now I only have picked up some bits and pieces of information about the beginnings of the 'net. Where Wizards Stay Up Late not only describes the entire genesis of the technology, and the people behind it, but also provides the political context and the general moods in society that gave it the initial spark. In other words, I knew there was an ARPA that did the ARPANET thing, but I never knew _why_ there was an ARPA or how it operated.

Update: as a side note, there wasn't a whole bunch of
Sara Watson
Dec 09, 2014 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
May 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
A blurb on the back cover of this book taken from The Texas Observer reads as follows: "In all the dreck and dross of Internet books, here is a brilliant gem...remarkably well written." I happen to agree more with the blurb that comes before it, taken from The Los Angeles Times: "Important...meticulous...admirably straightforward." This book was certainly straightforward, in that it was competently written. The problem is that the story that it sets out to tell is dry as hell.

Where Wizards Stay
Josh Friedlander
The first half is focused and exciting, full of delightful anecdotes. The second half slowly becomes weighed down under a welter of names and facts, perhaps reflecting the growing complexity of the Internet. Still, this is a worthwhile book for anyone interested wanting to understand the www, and surely nowadays that is everyone? Hafner/Lyon cover the origins of the idea of computer networks, timesharing, the development of ARPA and its funding of the ARPANET, the growth of a community, and prot ...more
Christopher Wilson
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: computer
This book was written from the perspective of the late (early?) 90s. It culminates with a party held by BBN to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first ARPA net node being switched on. Even then, there was a lot of disagreement about how and when things happened. There was jockeying for who got what credit. And particularly relevant today, to what extent was the internet a government project?

As with most things, the actual history is more complex and nuanced than any soundbite can capture. Wh
Dec 25, 2015 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
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: conviction

“As computer communication systems become more powerful, more humane, more forgiving and above all, cheaper, they will become ubiquitous.”—Paul Baran and Dave Farber

This is an interesting book that doesn’t live up to its title. This may not, of course, be the fault of the authors. Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet is really more about just ARPANET. While ARPANET was the first of the small-i internets, it was not the largest, nor was it where most of the wizards stayed up l
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Mark Odayan
Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I cannot recommend this book enough to people who want to understand how the Internet came into being and the technology that enables it. It’s an incredibly fascinating history and there is so much to learn from this book if you are interested in gaining a concrete understanding of the backbone of Internet technology. Some key parts that are really well explained include the invention of packet-switching and the evolution of network protocols to adapt to the growing nature of both ARPANET and ev ...more
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book detailing the beginning of computer networking to people who don't understand computer networking, like me. It also shows how they moved from that to using Email but not anything really, on how the internet came to be what it is today. Maybe there will be a part two that comes out on this.... Either way, great book and I recommend to everyone. ...more
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you're a techie, actually even if you're not a techie, read this book. ...more
Michael Pryor
Feb 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Thorough, comprehensive, important
Doran Barton
Jun 23, 2013 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
Erhardt Graeff
Dec 09, 2014 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
Adam Wiggins
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
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 coworker), ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-paper-copy, 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
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you’ve ever wanted to learn about the origins of the internet, Where Wizards Stay Up Late is a great book to read to find out. It’s packed with anecdotes and funny tidbits from the minds of the men who developed the ARPANET. It was published in 90s so when it talks about the internet of “today” it’s the internet of a couple decades ago, but the historical information is quite an education. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in how the internet came to be.
Jul 21, 2014 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.
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very good history of how the Internet (with a capital 'i') came to be.

While some of the terminology may go over some heads, this book is written in a way that gives non-technical readers a great story and history.

Definitely pick this book up if you were ever curious as to how you're able to read this review on your computer or phone!
Adam DeConinck
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Really excellent, readable history of the development of ARPANET and its evolution into (part of) the Internet. Highly recommended if you’re in the computing field and interested in its history, or if you enjoy science/engineering histories.
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Entrepreneurs, Technologists
Shelves: favorites
The breadth and depth of research by the authors Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, have helped create a very accessible and a very definitive chronicle of one of the most important era in the field of computer science - the birth of the Internet. In a very interesting style, the authors have written micro-biographies of inventors and innovators of technologies that led up to and constituted the Internet - JRC Licklider, Bob Taylor, Paul Baran, Donald Davies, Larry Roberts, Frank Heart, Steve Crocke ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tech, history
AMC’s computer tech/hot people drama “Halt and Catch Fire” is set in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a great drama, and also set in the fascinating and generally not seen subgenre of period-piece computer tech. The soundtracks alone make the show worth watching. I love that show, and its iconic line: “Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets you to the thing.” I’ve been online for about 25 years, and the gutsin that quote resonated deeply with me. As an artsy, quiet kid, what I loved th ...more
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've wanted to read this book for about 20 years and am happy I finally got around to doing so.

In this non-fiction text, the authors track down the origins of the modern Internet by interviewing (and reviewing documents written by) the people involved in constructing the early ARPAnet. As all "true" nerds know, the ARPAnet was a research network constructed in the late 60s and early 70s. Funded by the US Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), it linked mainframes, term
Ondrej Urban
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I like books on computer history for their enthusiasm and coolness (I suspect most of their authors try to channel William Gibson in their writing, which is what more people should aspire to.) I also hold a special affinity for such books written a long time ago - especially in the pre-Google era - and thus contain preserved points of view and predictions that could have gone very good or very bad, which is very entertaining to think about.

Where Wizards Stay Up Late is both. Starting in the opti
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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 is the author of six works of nonfiction covering a diverse range of topics, including the origins of the Internet, computer hackers, German reunification, and the pianist Glenn Gould.

O Magazine named her memoir - Mother Daughter Me – one of "Ten Title

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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.” 3 likes
“At its core, all engineering comes down to making tradeoffs between the perfect and the workable.” 3 likes
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