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A People's History of Computing in the United States

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  95 ratings  ·  20 reviews
Silicon Valley gets all the credit for digital creativity, but this account of the pre-PC world, when computing meant more than using mature consumer technology, challenges that triumphalism.

The invention of the personal computer liberated users from corporate mainframes and brought computing into homes. But throughout the 1960s and 1970s a diverse group of teachers and st
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 8th 2018 by Harvard University Press
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Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed-by-me
This is an important book that explodes the standard history of the emergence of wide-spread personal computing in the United States. The common narrative talks about the beginning of personal computing via personal computers (e.g., the Alto and then the Apple II), followed by networked social computing (BBS systems, but then Unix-based network news, Internet email, AOL chat groups, etc.). This book shows definitively that between the early 1960s and the mid-1970s, personal computing was alive a ...more
Andrew Louis
The introduction tells us:
This is not a history of great white men, or even a history of small teams of innovators

The author tells us that this will be the story of ordinary computer citizens and how they built a culture but I don't feel I actually got to read what the title and introduction promised I'd get. The bulk of the book turned out to be detailed descriptions of a few white men and their projects like the BASIC language and the PLATO network.
Michael Scott
In the epilogue, Joy Lisi Rankin states about A People’s History of Computing in the United States that 'this is emphatically "a" history, one possible out of many.' Instead of this book, which I did not like much, I recommend Brian Dear The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, which I did.

Unfortunately for this reviewer, the content of this history seems to include many statements that tread the line of sexism and racism. So, much as I wanted
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Great overview of the early days of computers and how the first computers were also the first internet. Sadly the book has this weird focus on gender. To the point of focusing on individual words people used to describe how they see the future. Someone praising his daughter and rewarding her with computer time is somehow enforcing female gender roles, or just the cultural norms at the time. The author paints it as though these things were done deliberately by the creators to maintain a masculine ...more
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Summary: Incomplete and unfocused, a bait-and-switch.

I was excited to read this book, having grown up in the 80's and very much being deep into computers from 1983 on. Unfortunately, Rankin doesn't get much past the 80's in this "history" of computing. We briefly get a glimpse of Jobs and Gates and the ubiquitous "public" internet we all know today, but this book fumbles to a stop just after the development of the game "The Oregon Trail." That would be okay if this book was published in 1990, b
Warren Mcpherson
Time-sharing educational computers in the '60s and '70s were very important in shaping the computer industry but are not well known. This book explores a very interesting chapter in the history of computer technology and explains relationships I had not appreciated previously.
It explores the networks developed at Dartmouth College and the University of Illinois. The development of the Basic programming language as an educational tool was astutely followed highlighting important philosophical ins
Deane Barker
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I didn't finish this book. I got through 3-4 chapters, then skimmed the rest.

I couldn't figure out what it wanted to be. The author compared to to Howard Zinn's book of similar name, but I couldn't see it. The book seemed to be very specific vignettes about the early age of computing in the 60s. The chapters I read were centered around the environment at Dartmouth.

What was problematic was that the author kept pushing the subject into areas of social justice, especially feminism. I'm absolutely a
Lara Freidenfelds
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Should I post a tough parenting question on Twitter, ask my Facebook community, or email a few friends who are most likely to have useful suggestions? What would be the best place to reach people to share an intriguing job announcement? These days, we have a multitude of network options, and we assume that computers will facilitate our networked communities. Until I read Joy Lisi Rankin’s new book, A People’s History of Computing in the United States (Harvard University Press, 2018), I assumed I ...more
Dec 06, 2020 added it
Shelves: dnf

I didn’t read enough to fairly rate. The scope of the book is far, far smaller than the title sadly. The author draws a distinction between the history of “computing” and “computers”—which is reasonable—but then only starts the story with the 1960s and the early Dartmouth messaging network.

The thesis of the book is “stories of the triumph of the PC overlook how much personal computing was actually ready happening on distributed networks across the country from 1960-1980.” Interesting but, as
May 01, 2019 rated it liked it
An interesting look into the development of computing and "computing communities" in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. This book counters the common mythos of a few great white men building the global computing architecture that we have today, in a straight line from ARPAnet to Facebook. Particular importance is placed on the development and popularization of BASIC throughout the 1960s and 1970s; the significant investment by high schools and universities in developing the original c ...more
Ari Odinson
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Joy Lisi Rankin wrote this book with the purpose of inspiring historians to start overwriting the mythology that surrounds Silicon Valley and bring the narrative back to classrooms with ideas started. One chapter even focuses on the development of The Oregon Trail and beyond. While this is written for an academic audience with the idea of inspiring someone to continue research in this area, I think it translates the story well enough for anybody interested in learning more.

Anyhow, I really enjo
Angel Lemke
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A really fascinating account of an alternate path that computing took and might have continued to take in its earliest days. If you don't already hate Gates, Jobs & the rest of the Silicon Valley bros for their framing of computing as a consumer choice rather than a citizen's need, this will seal the deal, though they are really only footnotes to the real story. Hopefully knowing what might have been will help move folks to imagine what still could be. ...more
Joshua Horvath
Jul 16, 2019 rated it liked it
While the book is definitely worth reading, with it's exploration of topics that aren't generally covered in many mainstream books on computing history, the book is rather pretentious and heavy handed at times. The author's attacks on Walter Isaacson seem very odd for example. A better book, though it only focuses on the PLATO system, is The Friendly Warm Glow. ...more
Ed Fonseca
Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it
This book presents an interesting side of computing history that is not talked about much in favor of the Silicon Valley myth of the lone genius inventor. I wanted to love this book, but as other reviewers mention; it only covers computing history up til the 80s. Also, the social commentary felt at times right on the money and at other times tacked on for the sake of adding a few extra pages.
Jimmy Cerone
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An alternate history to the Silicon Valley Mythology. A very interesting “what if” that details the history of time sharing, where people were users of computers instead of consumers.
Nate Gay
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Title is misleading. Book is very focused on 60s-70s and does a good job of expanding on those years.
Carey Platt
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology, technology
A look at the early computer networks. Interpreting them as communities of users (as opposed to client server model).
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A bit on the dry side but very informative & interesting.
May 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
A social perspective on computing. Neat to hear about the communities that grew around computing.
Paul moved to LibraryThing
Apr 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
Nothing to do with computing. It's all about heteronormativity, white maleness, gender norms, racism, sexism and worst of all praising BASIC. This is what Dijikstra has to say about basic 'It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration.' ...more
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