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The Dream Machine

4.51  ·  Rating details ·  594 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Behind every great revolution is a vision and behind perhaps the greatest revolution of our time, personal computing, is the vision of J.C.R. Licklider. He did not design the first personal computers or write the software that ran on them, nor was he involved in the legendary early companies that brought them to the forefront of our everyday experience. He was instead a ...more
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published September 25th 2018 by Stripe Press (first published 2001)
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Kevin O'Brien
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having just read Katie Hafner's Where Wizard's Stay Up Late I was ready to tackle this book, which is both deeper and more ambitious. Where Hafner's book was purely about the origin of the Internet, Waldrop is taking on the whole idea of personal computing. Licklider thus provides the focus for this book, for while he played a crucial role in promoting networking, his true aim was always what he termed a symbiotic partnership between humans and computers, and for him networking was just a ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most deeply insightful book I've read on the history & vision of computing.

It's special since it covers an amazingly broad scope – all the way from the mechanical machines employed in WW2 (cybernetics) to modern-day personal computing & the internet. It's even more special since it also covers the people & the culture that made all this happen.

It ties *so* many threads together:
– The origins of Claude Shannon's information theory & Von Neumann's architecture that
May 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jayesh by: Alan Kay
Shelves: non-fiction
I have read quite a few books covering different parts of the history of computing but none of them were as expansive as this one. Not sure if keeping Licklider's name in the title was necessary since the book covers so many people important to the "revolution" that he mostly ends up being a framing device for an expansive tale.
Thomas Dietert
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read. Sure, I'm probably biased because my life revolves around computer programming, but nonetheless I'd avidly assert that anyone who takes pleasure in using a personal computer or the internet in any way would greatly enjoy this story about the inception, story, and humans behind the ideas at their foundation.
Brian Cloutier
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Inspirational. It was a pleasure to follow Lick's life as computers went from nonextant to bicycles for the mind. I think that I believe in more determinism than the author does, personal computers likely would have happened even without ARPA's valiant efforts. It was still a pleasure to read about this man who had A Vision For the Future and did his best to make it happen, inspiring generations of computer scientists along the way. I have too many thoughts about this book right now to write a ...more
Ye Lin Aung
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, read-2018
This is an incredible journey of computing of from WW2 towards the invention of WWW/The Internet. There are a lot of lessons along the way, the names we might have heard of and their relationships with the computers. This quote sticks with me most

hire the most brilliant experimenters in the country, give them the best equipment money could buy, inspire them to the highest possible standards of intellectual clarity and experimental precision—and work them fourteen hours per day.

And I guess this
Andrew Louis
Less a biography of a single person and more the story of an idealistic thread in computing history.
Palash Karia
A very well-written, surprisingly comprehensive, & exciting to read history of 'personal' computing & the internet, this book is a fitting tribute to JCR Licklider, 'the father of it all'. It's a must read if you learn about computing history.
Michal Takáč
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Incredible book! I'm so glad that it found the way to me somehow (don't remember how it happened, maybe from some tweet from Bret Victor?). It goes through the history of computing, from when the Information theory was invented, ARPA, IPTO, Xerox PARC, invention of object-oriented programming, Smalltalk, multitasking, graphical interface, until current notion of personal computer.

I HIGHLY encourage everybody who loves computers to read this book cover to cover. I'll definitely re-read it in
Shuo Yang
Mar 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably the best book about early days of computer and internet. Learned a lot and got a lot of inspirations. I was so amazed that find myself end up underlining the whole page.
Ron Mitchell
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just brilliant

Best history of the computer revolution I've ever seen. Seems to be only available on Kindle. Why isn't this masterpiece back in print?
Hariharan Gopalakrishnan
Review on re-read:
At once dense and lucid, this is a spectacular story of how computers got to where they are today. This is an expansive book, and it touches upon more than a dozen researchers and engineers (spending considerable amount of time with each) whose work has brought us the modern computer system and internet.
It starts from the 1930s (Norbert Weiner, Von Neumann, Turing, Shannon , UNIVAC, ENIAC, the people at the MIT Rad Lab etc.) and goes up to the early 1990s (Tim Bernes Lee,
Michael Siliski
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A vivid retelling of the birth of modern computing

The Dream Machine traces the birth of modern computing, primarily focusing on the 1940s through the 1970s, but reaching back all the way to the 1920s and looking forward into the 1990s. (It was written in the late 90s.) It’s central scaffolding is the story of J. C. R. Licklider, a visionary psychologist and computer scientist who played a key role in evangelizing, funding, and realizing interactive computing. In particular, through his work at
Michael Dubakov
Aug 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Dream Machine by M. Mitchell Waldrop #book
J.C.R. Licklider is quite unknown outside US. It's a pity, since he influenced computers evolution enormously. As a head of ARPA he put money into many obscure research groups, thus literarily emulating VC in 60s!

He did not like to write papers and books, but loved to invent things, talk to people and share ideas. And he had many.

This is an overview of the whole computer industry from 50s to 90s. And this is good and bad at the same time.

Josh Lee
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“It seems to have hit him with the force of a religious epiphany: our minds were slaves to mundane detail, and computers would be our salvation. We and they were destined to unite in an almost mystical partnership: thinking together, sharing, dividing the load. Each half would be preeminent in its own sphere—rote algorithms for computers, creative heuristics for humans. But together we would become a greater whole, a symbiosis, a man-machine partnership unique in the history of the world:
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rachel by: Patrick Collison podcast, I think?
I've read some about the inception of computing (Turing, von Neumann, etc), and there exists in the pop cultural ether loads about Jobs and Gates and personal computing, but this is all I've read of the intervening time, when the ideas that constitute computing as we know it today first emerged and were made manifest. I found this vital both as a story of a somewhat neglected part of computing history --nuanced and lively depictions of various key people; the usual historical questions of ...more
This is the story of the Computer Revolution, starting in the late 30s-40s and reaching the early 90s. The author uses the figure of J. C. R. Licklider, one of the central figures in unlocking the potential of the personal computer, as the main thread and dives into the characters that brought the vision of a dream machine into reality.
This book does an amazing job at bringing life to these famous characters in the history of Computing, people like Von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, McCulloch and
Michiel Appelman
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, technology
As a long time enthusiast and professional in the computer/networking world, it is a shame that I have only read this extensive account now. I did know about Doug Engelbart's demo in 1968 and how it already included most of the concepts we currently take for granted in using computers, but reading about Lick and his vision, and how it developed was truly exciting. His insights and apparent dedication in fulfilling this dream are admirable.

Because the story features so many people and names,
Elijah Oyekunle
The computing revolution, as we know it, usually dates from Paul Allen (RIP, Paul) seeing the Altair in a magazine, and Boom! PC Dead! Mainframes.
However, this book tells the story of the idea itself, that is computing. Interactivity was the spirit of the PC revolution and a few people were the enablers of an environment where creativity could foster, and one of them was J.C.R. Licklider.
Reading about the Internet, one always just heard that first there was something called Arpanet and then Tim
Quinton Weenink
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A truly fascinating description of the creation of Computer Science and the Personal Computer.

While the book's objective is to describe J. C. R. Licklider's contributions to Computer Science it contributes so much more. Not only does it include the huge contributions of all the people who worked under Lick but other huge Computer Science rockstars of the time: John von Neumann, Douglas Engelbart, Robert E. Kahn, John McCarthy, etc.

While M. Mitchell Waldrop describes in detail the individual
May 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this at a very slow drip, over the course of almost 6 months! That's not knock on the book though, which is great -- that's on me. As much as The Dream Machine is directly about J.C.R. Licklider, it's even more about computing over the last 70 or so ears, the context of Licklider's personal vision (Cybernetics, Vannevar Bush's Memex), and how computing grew out of that vision. It's generally a great overview of computing history, up through the 70's -- it quickly touches on the 80's and ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is by no means a fast read, but I have a feeling it will be the best book I read this year. The edition I have is from Stripe Press.

An incredibly in-depth telling of the history of what became modern computing, post-WWII, leading to and through the Pentagon, Menlo Park, Cambridge, Xerox PARC, and the philosophic (and sometimes business and technical) considerations of "the phenomena surrounding computers."

I've been into these stories since childhood, I even currently live in what is
James Voorhees
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
M. Mitchell Waldrop has written a history of the idea of personal computing from the ideas developed by Vannevar Bush. Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, and Alan Turing in the 1930s and 1940s through to Jobs, Gates, and Berners-Lee in the 1990s. He uses the career of J.C.R. Licklider--remarkable in his own right--to hold the story together.

It is a remarkable tale, and those of us who think seriously about computers would do well to learn it. many of the concepts and approaches that have made
Larry Gundy
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! What a great book. Looking back, I experienced punch cards in 1972 on IBM 360. Then programmed in assembler language on a Honeywell 120 in 1975. 40 boot, 40 boot, run, run, run, initiated the card reader. A fellow teacher brought in his Altair in the late 70’s. I bought a Radio Shack color computer in 1980. It required a specific RS cassette tape recorder for storing and loading Basic programs. The Honeywell was replaced by a DEC 11/34 and then a DEC 11/70, then a DEC VAX 780. Our first PC ...more
Xavier Shay
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating history of ... well everything computer+internet related, really. Uses biography of Licklider to string it all together. Feels like watching an ensemble superhero film - all your favourites keep showing up. Turing, McCarthy, Englebart, Cerf, etc etc etc. Well written. Only criticism is that it was a bit of a slog length wise - not sure I'd cut any part though.

I liked the coverage of PARC, concluding: And that was the essential tragedy, he says: whereas headquarters understood
Ding Ong
Sep 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
History of the modern computer centering around a man who dedicated himself to a role that enables the engineering marvels we see today.

The trade-off between academic research and business value was a recurring theme in this book, a very good reminder that while the business world is focused on getting small wins, it is the big discoveries which truly changes the world. Still, if nobody translates these discoveries into business cases, these discoveries will be deemed irrelevant and forgotten
Bill Leach
While a biography of J. C. R. Licklider, the book is more generally a history of computing from the first electronic computers through the development of time-sharing and the internet. Licklider is recognized as a visionary computer scientist who directed research that led to the development of personal computers and ARPANET, the predecessor of the internet.

Heavy on biographical detail, including probably every incident in Lick's life and those even remotely associated with him, the technical
Daniel Frank
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book after seeing Patrick Collison's (one of the people I admire most) glowing review.

This book details the sensational history of the personal computer from the beginning of the information age to the dawn of the world wide web. The excitement from reading about Von Neumann, ARPA, PARC, etc. is palpable. I have no background in computer science so much of this book went over my head, but the story is still gripping.

The development of the computing industry, as told in The Dream
Leo Fischer
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a pretty long, content-heavy book so it isn't the best for a night stand, but it is a good fit if you have a few days of heavy reading. The book was super informative and extremely comprehensive, covering everything from the early research papers in computing and the gradual emergence of an personal computing and the internet. My personal favorite parts of the book was reading about the emergence of computers starting from mathematics and the story of PARC. We mostly hear about the ...more
Recommended by patrick collision. A long, detailed history of the rise of computing and the internet. I enjoyed reading about technologies and people that I knew a bit about, getting the backstory and understanding the connections.

I’m also fascinated by groups like Bell Labs, Lincoln Labs, Xerox PARC, and other ultra-high-performing teams. This book reinforced some of my theories on how to find or create such teams, and gave me a few new ideas.

That said, I stopped reading right around the part
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“Nonetheless, his vision of high technology’s enhancing and empowering the individual, as opposed to serving some large institution, was quite radical for 1939—so radical, in fact, that it wouldn’t really take hold of the public’s imagination for another forty years, at which point it would reemerge as the central message of the personal-computer revolution.” 0 likes
“the code had to be written in a “hexadecimal” notation, in which the numbers 10 through 15 were abbreviated by the letters F, G, J, K, Q,” 0 likes
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