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The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality

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The dramatic, larger-than-life true story behind the founding of Oculus and its quest for virtual reality, by the bestselling author of Console Wars.

In The History of the Future, Harris once again deep-dives into a tech drama for the ages to expertly tell the larger-than-life true story of Oculus, the virtual reality company founded in 2012 that—less than two years later—would catch the attention of Mark Zuckerberg and wind up being bought by Facebook for over $2 billion dollars.

This incredible underdog story begins with inventor Palmer Luckey, then just a nineteen-year-old dreamer, living alone in a camper trailer in Long Beach, California. At the time, virtual reality—long-hailed as the ultimate technology—was so costly and experimental that it was unattainable outside of a few research labs and military training facilities. But with the founding of Oculus, and the belief that his tantalizing vision of the future could one day be more than science fiction, Luckey put everything he had into creating a device that would allow gamers like him to step into virtual worlds and, in doing so, hopefully kickstart a VR revolution.

With the help of an industry legend, a serial entrepreneur, and a slew of colorful characters—including those behind gaming sensations like Doom, Words with Friends, and Guitar Hero—Luckey’s scrappy startup would finally deliver the dream of immersive and affordable virtual reality to consumers, leading geeks and gamers to be excited in a way that they hadn’t been in years, and tech firms and investors scrambling to get in on the action before it was too late.

Over the course of three years (and with unprecedented access from Oculus and Facebook), Harris conducted hundreds of interviews with key players in the VR revolution—including Luckey, his partners, and their cult of dreamers—to weave together a rich, cinematic narrative that captures the breakthroughs, breakdowns, and human drama of trying to change the world. The result is a supremely accessible, entertaining look at the birth of a new multi-billion-dollar industry; one full of heroes, villains, and twists at every corner. Take, for instance, Harris’ own discovery while writing this story. When he started this endeavor, he had no idea that this tale would somehow involve Donald Trump, billion-dollar lawsuits, illegal practices, and end with Luckey—eventually ousted from Facebook—as one of the most polarizing figures in Silicon Valley.

528 pages, ebook

Published February 19, 2019

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Blake J. Harris

6 books191 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 135 reviews
Profile Image for Rupert Rawnsley.
20 reviews
December 7, 2019
I am reluctant to pass negative comments about peoples work, but I'm upset about it's naive portrayal of Palmer Luckey and I feel somebody has to at least question it. As far as I know the facts are correct and I think Blake is a good writer, however I have several problems with this book:

Problem 1: Blake gives Luckey a complete pass on Trump and Nimble America because the "other allegations" are not proved. He doesn't address those allegations: what about the picture of Luckey with Bannon and the Holocaust denier? Even if all Luckey did was support Trump, that needs examination. Why do 99% of his peers in Silicon Valley think it's so wrong? How does somebody hear the Pussygate tape and still support Trump, especially given the atmosphere of toxic masculinity in tech? Does Luckey not know that Trump didn't even write "The Art of the Deal", the book he cites as an inspiration?

Problem 2: Luckey is a self confessed Internet troll that pays for Internet trolling of Clinton and then is upset when people on the Internet troll him. The book spends most of the last third trying to make us feel sorry for him. I just kept thinking "Great - this is a fate I would wish on all Trump supporters and Internet trolls"

Problem 3: Many people at Facebook are shocked at the Trump election and blame themselves. Blake dismisses this scathingly: "the conceit of this group was that Trump’s victory was some sort of proof that Facebook needed to change its ways". Even if you don't think Facebook is a threat to democracy, you surely have to accept that many people do. History will not be kind to Facebook during this period and any book with "History" in the title should at least consider it: it's arguably the biggest issue in tech today.

Problem 4: The Facebook acquisition causes anger outside of Oculus, which I can understand. The fact that option-holding employees are upset sticks in my craw and the author doesn't challenge this. Millionaires don't get to cry about creative freedom.

Problem 5: The relentless narrative that they are doing something courageous and important. They make video games, they don't cure cancer.

For me it's a book of two halves. The first half is a journalistic account of the early days of a startup, the second half is a public relations exercise to rehabilitate Luckey and get back at Facebook for pulling the author's all-access-pass. The "feel-good" ending that Luckey gets to build drones for the military tells you everything you need to know.
Profile Image for Hari B.
41 reviews
March 10, 2019
It is easy to say that one should never be penalized professionally for their personal views. But what if they were the face of a company and had a view that was unpopular with the MSM resulting in their perhaps unfair vilification of the founder and by association the company?

Blake Harris does a commendable job taking us through the story of Oculus founder Palmer Luckey's journey right from his days of dreaming up Oculus right behind his childhood home to his Jobs-esque ouster following its Facebook acquisition. While Harris risks, at times, being an apologist for Luckey through this book he does manage to do this without alienating his audience. Worthy read for anyone who has been interested in VR.
Profile Image for C.
212 reviews1 follower
February 21, 2019
I was eagerly anticipating this one because I recently listened to Console Wars and enjoyed that immensely. VR is my passion and I was looking forward to a similar treatment of its history. This didn't disappoint, as it went into the inspirational history of Oculus and how it's been changing gaming. These events are a lot fresher in my memory and I already knew quite a bit of the history of the principal figures, but I still learned enough for this book to be an enjoyable read/listen.
Profile Image for Anna.
12 reviews
April 30, 2019
This is one of the hardest books I've read to rate. I would put it closer to 2.5 stars, but not close enough to other books I rated 3 stars to use 3 instead of 2.

I picked up this book because of both an interest in VR and its history. It wasn't anything I really knew a lot about beyond the names of the big companies, so I knew little about key players. I found the first three parts interesting, but like most of the other mixed or negative reviews I've read, my main issue was with Part IV. It feels too close to propaganda for Luckey to my taste. My main issue as I was listening to the first three parts was that there seemed to be a too-good-to-be-true narrative with Luckey. Harris really seemed to be trying a little to hard to be hammering home the "he's such a nice guy!" narrative, particularly with bits like the he-literally-gave-someone-the-shirt-of-his-back story. It seems a bit disingenuous, especially with Luckey situated firmly as the protagonist and a lot of perspectives from those who didn't directly agree throughout his time at Oculus with him not presented. You don't have to be nice to be treated unfairly, but making someone look a little too nice can cast doubt on whether they really are innocent; it makes it seem like something is missing. This makes me a little dubious that this story is the full truth, or if things were strategically left out to create a clear hero and villains. Definitely an interesting book and I'd be interested in reading more from different sources to help contextualize this one, but I just can't shake that some behavior, opposing viewpoints, or valid concerns are fully overlooked and omitted to cast Luckey as an unquestionable martyr.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,138 reviews151 followers
January 2, 2021
I came here primarily for the political story and to support an author being shadow-banned. The story of the Oculus VR headset (massive advertisements this Christmas season by Facebook) was somewhat interesting--certainly any gamer would enjoy the back story. Bottom-line when inventing something in Silicon Valley--don't trust anyone. Also interesting to see how China can steal the hell out of our technology without lifting a hand--we take our leading edge crap there to build in their factories. In the end, a 24-year-old visionary geek gets kicked out of the company founded on his invention for expressing a political opinion at odds with the "collective". 3 Stars
Profile Image for Shiri.
100 reviews45 followers
June 28, 2020
Interesting exploration/story of the founding of Oculus. Unfortunately like most Silicon Valley stories, there is a wide-eyed star-struck tone throughout the book with little or no criticism to be found anywhere (other than of the criticism of the evil empire of Facebook). I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but about 200 pages in, I finally saw mention of the first female engineer(s). There were about a grand total of 2 of them mentioned in the entire book. Palmer's girlfriend got way more airtime than both of them put together. No mention of #gamergate of course (despite the passing mention of Nicole being doxxed, not using that term). Nor of any of the negative impacts of gaming culture whatsoever or the possible abuses of VR. Sigh. I wanted to like this book. That proved difficult.
March 17, 2019
Couldnt put it down!

I was an original backer of the Oculus Kickstarter. I remember many of the moments in this book. It's incredible getting to go back and get so much more detail and context from these moments in history. Blake does an absolutely amazing job of presenting an objective and honest recounting of everything that happened.

Thank you for making this amazing piece of work!

Palmer Lucky, I am sorry you were so wrongfully pushed out of your dream. I still use my Rift every week and I can never thank you enough for making something that inspired so many talented people to come together and make something truly amazing!
Profile Image for Kai Detmers.
13 reviews
May 13, 2019
Best book this year ! Alot of insider information. Would have hoped for a look into the future.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Nolan.
2,458 reviews23 followers
August 8, 2019
Blake J. Harris is a magnificent writer. How do I know that? Because his book immersed me into a world I would never have voluntarily gone without him. I'm no gamer. I have the unfortunate personality of a fizzled firework when it comes to computer gaming. I just don't do it, and I don't understand the attraction to it at all. So why would I ever read a book about a gamer? Yeah, the guy is an inventor extraordinair, he's impressive by any measure, but no way am I spending more than five minutes on the subject unless Harris is there to draw me in and keep me reading. He did those things.

I heard Harris interviewed on a radio program; he was on the same program twice as I recall. The account of his book he provided fascinated me, and I was in no way disappointed.

Palmer Luckey lived in a trailer on his parents' property as a young man. He saw no need to keep the bathroom in it, since he could walk to the house and use Mom and Dad's bathroom. So he took it out and used the space for other things. But he wasn't the unambitious leach living off the folks kind of person by any means.

Palmer believed that virtual reality, primarily well inside the realm of science fiction and big-budget military labs, could become an integral part of individual gamers' lives. He was sure he could produce headsets and other VR accessories more cheaply and reliably than had heretofore been done. This is his story--the story of a young man who saw opportunity where others saw problems and set about solving the problems and turning them into opportunities.

My only brush with Virtual Reality can be found in the Ernest Cline book. I don't understand its language or the intricacies of how it works. But this book kept me interested to the final page.

This is the sad story of a man who ultimately was muzzled by his employer. I understand why he sold his company to Facebook. Wave two billion greenbacks in my face, and I'll sell whatever they want for that. But I wondered as I read this how different things might have been had he found some other generous purchaser of his products and ideas.

I don't have a problem with Facebook firing whomever it hires. But I was unsettled and a bit creeped out by the fact that Zuckerberg apparently wrote Palmer Luckey's official denial for supporting President Trump. Just wow!

I've not done the book any favors. You'd have to read it. There's much here of high drama and a kind of exhilarating pace as Palmer takes his fledgling company from one success to another, learning all the while from his mistakes. Palmer Luckey is portrayed here in a sympathetic light, and I was more than comfortable with that.

Harris's writing was impressive. He carefully explains the methods he used to create dialogue, and those explanations went a long way to enhance his credibility with me as a reader. The book left me disturbed and unsettled and with much to think about. I'd like to hope Palmer presses forward and finds new success. He comes across in the book as someone who would be resilient and who would find new ways to succeed. I wish Palmer Luckey could apply his ability and talent to the concept of developing way-finding software for blind and visually impaired travelers. Concepts used to create such software aren't all that far from the VR stuff he already understands. But I grossly digress.
Profile Image for Doc Norton.
Author 1 book22 followers
December 1, 2019
What a crazy ride! Interesting story, well told. I was captivated early on and stayed through to the end.
Profile Image for Otto Lehto.
440 reviews171 followers
October 9, 2019
VR is no joke. In fact, it is a cause of many tears.

And it may be the future of entertainment. It is too early to tell, but something momentous is taking place. Blake Harris has a very entertaining way of approaching this contemporary subject of tremendous importance. Like his previous book, Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation, the present volume manages to capture the passion and drama of nerds, techies, and business people in a way that few books can. Although it suffers from the myopic perspective of a contemporary onlooker, it gives insightful glimpses into Oculus.

By rightly focusing on a handful of people - like Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, and John Carmack -the book offers a snapshot history of the origins of consumer VR that is narrated in luxurious, mouthwatering detail. This is a nerdy book written by nerds for nerds. But it is also a business book written for a business savvy audience. As a result, the central players of the book are business people who act as the facilitators of the nerd culture as they seek to benefit and gain from it. This emphasis on the business side of things is pretty similar to Console Wars, with the difference that this time most of those business people are nerds themselves. (Oh, how times have changed!)

Blake Harris is not in the business of objective historiography or hard hitting social analysis. The objective angle flies out the window as soon as he decides to focus on getting the inside story. And any detached social analysis gets diluted or forgotten in the process. In particular, his treatment of the Trump scandal, while acceptable enough and balanced in its treatment of the issue, is rather matter-of-fact in a way that precludes any clever insights. Likewise, his scanty attempts to sparse the difficult politics of Facebook or the legal battles of Oculus fall flat as investigative journalism since they excessively rely on the "he said, she said" dynamics of the insider perspective.

There is room for a row of books to come later, with the benefit of hindsight, that delve deeper into the underlying dynamics of the rise of Oculus, the sociology of Facebook, or the paradoxical politics of Silicon Valley in the era of Trump. But Harris dominates a different niche, that of a business savvy tech junkie who sneaks his way into the belly of the beast while competently and assiduously reporting on the volcanic eruptions within one of the key industries of tomorrow. He has hurried to the scene where a thousand journalists should be (but are not). He has exclusive access to the goings on of Oculus that feels exciting. This early bird advantage is testament to the journalistic instincts of the author and the social relevance of the book as a first generation historical document that, while valuable, will have to be checked for errors and added on factually by latecomers.

In comparison to Console Wars, The History of the Future reads equally engagingly. But it also feels somewhat less substantial, since it feels like "Volume 1" to the inevitable "Complete History of VR and Oculus." But since tomorrow lies in the tomorrow, its early history must inevitably be a sort of prologue, or Act 1. But a prologue this fascinating deserved to be written and should be turned into a movie. Or perhaps its best realization is a virtual reality app that lets us relive its drama?
Profile Image for Jason Braatz.
Author 1 book14 followers
January 4, 2021
As someone who was part of this particular Silicon Valley story, I've been hesitant to read this book when it first came out. There are so intangibly great things about that environment, and it's led to some really great progress for the consumer on a number of different technologies. But this book reminded me that it's also easy to drink the Kool-aid though and bypass thinking about the ugliness that also is part of the business, and author Blake J. Harris does a wonderful job of letting the story tell itself which resulted in - I believe - one of the most honest books out there about the real life of tech entrepreneurship and how deeply that intertwines with a social and political agenda.

I can assert that - from being there myself - the author recounts everything perfectly. This book documents the train wreck of the Oculus purchase by Facebook, and he lets every detail unfold in slow motion, both as a learning mechanism for those who are about to enter the field of VR as well as generally those who are starting technology companies. If you really want to make an argument for breaking up the Big Tech companies, there's enough material in this story alone to at least side with the notion that the leadership (at least at Facebook) has absolutely no idea what it's doing and is largely culpable for creating a secrets in an environment where they preach transparency. Unlike the anti-trust problems with the railroads un Vanderbilt's time, the monopolization which is happening is all behind the scenes while publicly these same companies exude the idea that they are about humanity and transparency.

I do believe that even non-technical readers already know that Zuck is definitely not a reliable technologist nor someone who tells the whole truth (contrary to Satya Nadella at Microsoft, who at least owns his own problems - see Satya Nadella : Business, Investing and Corporate Lessons from the CEO of Microsoft ). The reader can easily connect The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal to this wonderfully written book and see how really toxic the culture is at Facebook.

This book documents specifically Luckey Palmer: arguably the inventor of the modern day VR headset and is a version of Dr. Edwin Land. For anyone who has read A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War, you can instantly see the similarity. He's not the only one who has this whiplash of a one-sided press pool versus larger-than-life egos, but his story is representative of many who have been laundered through the system.

Interestingly specific to Facebook, more and more stories are coming out which really paint the picture that the company is in no way the close utopia that is described in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Expect this body of knowledge to grow and the stories to keep emerging. As more Silicon Valley vets leave California (myself included) for Austin, Texas or elsewhere, this book will bring about those paradoxical sweet and hard memories of how occasionally capitalism unchecked can initially deter innovation. The free press has been abysmal in the last decade working for sensationalism over journalism (and well documented in this book), though eventually enough information will come out to tipping point that will likely cause historians to bundle Big Tech companies with the 1960s-1980s cigarette companies at some point in the future. They are producing a product which is intentionally addictive to enhance shareholder value.

This is a must read for any Silicon Valley bound entrepreneur or employee. Politics aside, we're in the midst of trying to decide what to do with Big Tech: is it better to have these large companies steamroll their idea of what the planet should be like or should this be really up to the consumer - the people - to decide?

After the Internet documents unequivocally that a bigger internet isn't a better one. Internet.org and other efforts by the dominant players in this market aim to build gateways for those in poorer countries to get broadband access and - eventually - become new customers for the Silicon Valley elite. While it's only touched on briefly in this book, it doesn't take the intelligentsia to connect the dots that this is a very dangerous industry.

I'm not in belief that America's system of free enterprise is in jeopardy. I don't think the baby needs to be thrown out with the bathwater. But at the same time, this is just a crystal clear example on how innovation was stifled - yet again - simply because dev's and technologists (who generally try to figure out problems) are being told to shut up when their bosses are orchestrating a war against privacy, well documented in Permanent Record and are diving into the deep end of what is turning out to be the 2020's version of Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco.
Profile Image for Ming-Li.
1 review
October 1, 2021
This is my first ever glimpse into Silicon Valley and the tech world. By this I mean it is the first story that I have read based on a tech start-up in the US. For someone living in the 21st century, it’s a strange first to have when you’re about to turn 23. Nevertheless it’s a rather enjoyable first for me. The first and last 100 pages seem to have pushed this book to a 4, yet the writing in the middle section was diluted with technical jargons, unfamiliar expos and trade shows, and unrecognizable names of the gaming industry that it made the chapters come crashing down to a 3 (exhibit A of me being a non-gamer). I’ve needed the help of Google (not just Google translate) for this book more than I have ever for any other non-fiction I have read. All the descriptions of gadgets and gizmos needed to be verified with some imagery (I’m surprised that there were actually that many consoles and companies that I have never heard of, exhibit B of me being a non-gamer). Perhaps that was meant to be, a very tech-filled way to digest the pages of a very tech-filled story about how to follow your passion.
Profile Image for Casper Paaske.
113 reviews
January 16, 2023
This is also just part of my interest in gaming making its way into my reading, so it was just one of many.
And while I remember really liking much of this novel in broad terms, I can’t actually remember all that much meaningful about it. Most of what I remember was how things outside of gaming influenced the people who made the virtual glasses of Oculus.
There is this one scene I remember very clearly, about how politics and Twitter affects one of the guys in a major way (being vague to avoid spoilers). It just surprised my how something so far away from gaming and what gaming should be (innocent fun) can be influenced by something so opposite.

So yeah, if you’re interested in learning more about how the Oculus came to be, go ahead, it’s a fine read. If not, read Blood, Sweat and Pixels instead.
Profile Image for Garret Macko.
202 reviews42 followers
Want to read
November 18, 2020
Reshelved about 2.5 hours into the audiobook. It’s fascinating and I can only imagine proves increasingly so as it unfolds, but I’m not willing to invest another 16 hours into this one—after all, it’s been years since I’ve gamed and I’ve never owned or even used a hmd/vr headset—if this is your jam, I think this book is surely worth the audible credit/the paper it’s printed on; it’s just not for me at this moment in time.
May 31, 2022
A solid follow-up to Console Wars, in a similar style and scope.

It did what I figured was unthinkable and convinced me that Luckey didn't deserve to be fired. He would have been a better steward for VR going forward than Mark Zuckerburg.

That said, even this favorable portrayal of Luckey has irredeemable qualities. For instance, Luckey recounts stories of racism and ableism that would be at home in a 4chan greentext, and that's on top of his unrepentant support of Trump.

The author did the world a service by portraying him, flaws and all.
1 review
April 18, 2019
Insightful book about the origins of Oculus and the revitalization and realization of commercially available VR! It’s written in a way that makes the technology understandable and the people relatable! It truly is the story of the American dream and entrepreneurship at its finest and at its cruelest. It also shines a big spotlight on the idealogical divide that is playing out especially in Silicon Valley and the Tech industry. It shows the treatment of one individual and the consequences of a single politically motivated decision that changed his life forever. It truly is an easy and fun read that I would recommend to anyone interested in cutting edge tech and an inside look at the tech industry and tech startup companies!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
December 18, 2019
I loved this book. I have never really been interested in virtual reality and I just had heard the vaguest references to Palmer Luckey. I read this more like a fictional story and the twists and turns throughout were gripping. It is a fascinating book and really goes into the miraculously political and brilliant story behind Luckey. Highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Myles.
399 reviews
May 5, 2019
“The History of the Future” is either the worst name for this book, or perhaps a tongue-in-cheek reference to one character’s reference to the impact virtual reality is expected to have on the gaming industry over the next few decades.

This book is not a history of the future.

For a few bright, shining years a very young man, Palmer Lucky, headed his own tech start-up in the promising field of virtual reality gaming. Virtual reality is really a synthetic, immersive gaming environment in 3D. Lucky and his colleagues sold the company, Oculus, for billions to facebook.

On the advice trusted venture capitalists, Mark Zuckerberg made one of his big bets in buying Oculus believing that it was the best of several attempts to bring virtual reality mainstream.

Given Zuckerberg’s resources, it was not a bad bet in my estimation.

Virtual reality has phenomenal upside, even for non-gamers like me. Humans use unconscionable amounts of resources to motor themselves around the planet to do things that could fairly be done in a virtual environment. Go to and from work. Visit the doctor. Go to school. Visit aged relatives. Attend a business meeting. Attend a concert. And the list goes on.

On one hand, this book is a story of a start-up. It is also the story of the rise and fall of a naïf and a sidebar to the story of Donald Trump...I kid you not! Lucky made the mistake of contributing to a non-profit supporting the election of Donald Trump that was labelled racist, white supremacist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic. When news of his involvement leaked, his future with the company and facebook was doomed.

More interesting to me, however, were the arguments Mark Zuckerberg made to Oculus. The biggest, of course, was the price Zuck was willing to pay. But Zuck also wooed them with the exclusivity of building the only interface with a facebook “experience,” and thus an attraction to developers and an automatic lock on potentially one billion users.

Zuckerberg seemed to be pitching some kind of a VR facebook experience, but the developers at Oculus were thinking of hitting a home run with a gamer experience. It seems that that buyer and seller were in different ball parks.

And this in a multi-billion dollar deal.

At face value it looks like the sellers really didn’t look closely enough at their suitor because immediately after the acquisition the principals were scratching their heads over attempts by facebook to integrate them physically in their workspace and culture.

For example, everybody at facebook used Apple computers, whereas the hardcore Oculus gamers were mostly PC users.

Also, the Oculus guys saw the advantages of leaving their games open to be used on other platforms. Zuck nixed that.

Oculus’ early fans were horrified that the platform was being developed by the evil facebook. The culture of facebook was and is so foreign to gamers. And we’re not just talking semantics.

Gamers really are different. And the games market is so huge that it’s really difficult to reorient them from the consoles and open source culture they come from. As big as facebook is, Zuck really bumped up into an immovable force.

In the couple of years since the facebook acquisition, Oculus devices have sold moderately well behind market leader SONY, and ahead of HTC. They are selling in the millions, good but not the killer app they expected.

This story is far from over.
Profile Image for Skip.
211 reviews1 follower
March 22, 2019
The History of the Future tells the story behind the virtual reality (VR) company Oculus. The first three quarters of the book is largely about the people behind the building of the company, and the often harrowing process of getting it off the ground. The last part is much the opposite, about dissolution rather than building - specifically the exit of co-founder Palmer Luckey.

Starting up any company is a challenge, and focusing on virtual reality had extra hurdles since it had been tried before...and failed. From a present-day perspective, it's easy to forget that less than a decade ago, VR was considered to be either impossible or so expensive as to be useless to consumers. There is a ton of detail in this book about the difficulty that the Oculus founders faced in convincing anyone that they could actually make VR work, as well as some of the technical aspects that had caused that skepticism in the first place. In almost every case, the disbelief was overcome by getting someone to actually try their prototype, which from all accounts was good enough to make a believer of practically anyone who tried it.

Of course, simply having a good prototype isn't enough, so The History of the Future dedicates plenty of pages to the process of figuring out the logistics behind production of a product. Both in terms of the actual physical production process, and building a company that can make it happen. As with many start-ups, the question of how to pay for the whole process was a major struggle. Until Facebook came into the picture and bought Oculus, which more or less solved the money issues but brought along a whole different set of problems.

The last 25% or so of the book feels quite a bit different than what comes before, largely because it's about things coming apart. Luckey gets into trouble when he supports a pro-Trump political organization and it goes public in the media. Oculus and its founders are sued for infringement of intellectual property. Eventually, Luckey is let go from Oculus. This section is presented as Luckey being railroaded for his political beliefs, the company losing big money in court to a baseless lawsuit (though much of that was overturned on appeal), and Facebook using the situation as an excuse to get rid of Luckey and avoid paying him a large chunk of money due to him as an Oculus founder. It's hard to tell how accurate this depiction is, since it's basically just one side of the story. Whether it's the absolute truth or not, I have to say I wasn't particularly surprised. It's a cutthroat business world out there, and it doesn't take much of a misstep...real or overblown...to lead to a fall from grace.

Harris has gathered a ton of information from the individuals involved in this whole process. Not only about the facts of what happened and when, but the way those people were feeling at the time. I found the whole thing fascinating, because I'm interested in pretty much every aspect of the story: VR itself, the tech start-up culture, dealing with corporate acquisition, and the various interpersonal dynamics along the way. But it does make for a very long and detailed account that may be difficult to get through for someone who doesn't share all those interests. If you do, it's worth taking the time it takes to read through The History of the Future.
Profile Image for Daniel Olshansky.
86 reviews8 followers
January 3, 2020
An easy listening fun book that provides a lot of context into how the Virtual Reality revolution was re-triggered in the early 2010s with the founding of Oculus. As someone who works in the industry, I still learnt a whole lot and was surprised by how many different key players were involved in its founding. The first half of the book is an exciting and motivating startup story that I couldn’t stop listening to, while the second half was ridden with large company politics and bureaucracy which, unfortunately, cannot be avoided when an organization exceeds a certain size.

Palmer Lucky - Prior to reading the book, I thought of Palmer Lucky as the mastermind behind Oculus and all of its operations. I had seen him in some keynotes, but did not extensively listen to his interviews. After reading the book, my respect for him has ten folded! He is a very sterotipycal “kid genius”, with a low ego, who is simply interested in doing fun, interesting work and does not care for reputation, politics, beurocarcy, money, etc… Living in a trailer, he never cared for fine things before he was rich, and that didn’t seem to change even after Oculus’ acquisition. He was part of a bunch of online communicates, and is a hacker at heart. This really helped me resonate with his character. He was home-schooled, never went to college, but doesn’t make a big deal out of it. Being a self-learner is a lot more admirable and difficult that going down the “traditional” path. It goes along with Paul Grahama’s “Bus Ticket Theory”, where Palmer was motivated and driven by an intrinsic interest to make VR happen moreso than becoming successful.

John Carmack - Alongside Palmer Lucky and the other founders, John Carmack is in the limelight of the book. As an amazing programmer, known for Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein and now Oculus, he is a legend in the gaming Community. He is blunt, proactive, curious, and is someone I very much look up to. Even as the CTO of Oculus, he still spent a good portion of his time writing code, which is extremely uncommon for people with that level of seniority. In between his blockbuster successes, he does investigative projects (i.e. space travel) which often fail, but it is admirable that he is willing to put the time and money into it. Interestingly, he was a core inspiration for both the author of Ready Player One and Palmer (the creator of the Oculus DK1 prototype), which were being developed around the exact same time. He is the epidimy of someone who says things like they are, does not let success go to his head, and truly follows his passion.

John + Palmer - Though John Carmack was already a prominent figure prior to the story of Oculus, Palmer was not. However, their initial online encounter and collaboration feels very fun and innocent. Palmer simply shipped the first Oculus prototype to John, John ported Doom 3 BFG to work on it, added a couple sensors and demoed it an CES. The low price and great field of view was so good that Sony had immediately offered a job for $70K. When Palmer rejected, they upped the compensation to $140K. As we know now, even the counteroffer was a ridiculously large lowball. There were many legal implications between Zenimax and Facebook after the fact, but it’s inspiring to see things got started.

VR history - The book does a good job and setting some context into the history of VR, but I would not have been opposed to more :). VR headsets have been around since the 1950s, when they were so heavy they had to be hung from the ceiling. Shortly before Oculus, the military was paying 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars for VR headsets for training. People like Mark Bolas (who helped Palmer get started) have been researching and pushing for this field for many decades, so it’s exciting to live during a time when this technology is on the precipice of becoming mainstream.

Brendan Iribe and Michael Antonov - I didn’t know much about Brenda and Michael prior to the book, but am impressed by their background. Though the didn’t ignite the sparks to bring up Oculus, they were the very first twigs necessary for something to catch on fire. Later on, Facebook provided the logs to keep the fire burning. Scaleform was a hugely successful company, supporting iconic games like Civilization, Crysis, Fable, so they had obviously played (no pun intended) a larger role in my childhood without me even knowing. After being acquired by Autodesk and having financial freedom, they were key in convincing lucky to go down the startup route. If it weren’t for them, Oculus may have stalled at the “hardware prototype” phase.

Ooya - I was following the Ooya console very closely in its early kickstarter days and as the company died out. It’s unfortunate how things turned out, but I believe it goes to show how important the resources, support and longevity huge corporations (i.e. Facebook) can provide for innovative products. Even though Oculus hasn’t penetrated the mainstream yet, I believe it would be doing much more poorly if it hadn’t been for Facebook’s acquisition. I honestly believe it’s the right move if you have the industry’s interest at heart.

Nimble America Debacle - Everything surrounding Lucky’s donation to Nimble America really frustrated me… It shows how the Bay Area has come to push forward for diversity of backgrounds and opinions, but ONLY if it is the right one. Lucky stood up and supported for what he believed in, did so in a very respectful way, tried to be honest, frank and transparent with everyone he spoke to, but it still all backfired. This part of the book was longer than I had hoped, and it seems like there were some behind the scene politics not covered, but I can’t say I enjoyed it very much… Ultimately, I’m really upset and how Facebook’s management chain chose to handle and attempt to “fix” the situation.

Valve - Prior to reading the book, I knew that Valve had a flat company structure, but did not know much more. It’s fascinating how a company with no plans or management manages to get things done. It seems like there always needs to be some individual who can “romance” others into helping/supporting them into whatever project they’re working on, so it makes sense why things worked out the way they did. However, who’s passionate about fixing bugs? The book mentions how Michael Abrash had originally rejected Lucky for a job, prior to John Carmack’s introduction, since he didn’t have a proven track record.

Mark Zuckerberg - Congress and many “privacy advocates” see Mark Zuckerberg as a bad actor, and even the book sometimes portrays him as someone who is unwilling to compromise. However, it’s very important to remember what a difficult position he is in every day. Given the number of people his decisions and statements affect, and the amount of wealth he has accumulated, every action he takes will both hurt/benefit anger/excite many. Moments such as ordering pizza during the M&A talks in his backyard, or bringing Macdonalds takeout when he visited the Oculus office make him seem like just another guy. With that said, forcing others to publicly post opinions that differ from their own crosses the line. It is very difficult to be in his position, and he will never be able to please everyone…

Random facts
- Facebook considered buying Unity early on!
- In order to bypass Facebook’s store policy, Palmer came up with the idea of side loading apps by allowing installations from untrusted developers. So simple, yet also so effective!
- To date, HTC’s Gear VR is still Oculus’ biggest competitor. It is interesting how the CEO of HTC specifically went on an around-the-world trip to determine what technology to invest in next.
- 5ms latency is what you need to avoid motion sickness
- Paul Bettner, the founder of Words with Friends, supposedly managed to raise the acquisition of his company from $20MM to $180MM while negotiating with Zynga. Crazy!
- Masahiro Sakurai, a prolific game designer at Nintendo, is supposedly very interested in VR, but does not take on a project unless he knows that the potential audience is large enough.
Profile Image for Rick Wilson.
701 reviews260 followers
August 15, 2021
But conflicted about this one. On one hand, it’s a compelling and entertaining narrative about the rise of Palmer Luckey and Oculus. VR is an interesting industry and I’m glad to have learned a bit more about the sweep of history over the last decade. The book chronicles the rise and fall of Palmer in a compelling and dramatic way.

I thought the first third of the book was amazing, the middle third relating to the buyout by Facebook was ok, and the last third was thinly veiled reputation management.

The author describes the tech well and the initial days of Oculus make for a compelling “us against the world” story. It was well done and there was an impressive level of access.

But that level of access leads me to my concerns. This reads like a very flattering depiction of a series of events that may not warrant it. My impression is that the author had very close access to the main characters of this book, and did what any normal person would do, he liked and accepted their worldview. However, taking a slight step back from this book, I think that the result is a book that needs to be read critically. For example, The book closes by describing the lawsuit between ZeniMax and Oculus. ZeniMax claims damages, breaking an NDA, and theft of IP. The portrayal of this is as if Oculus were victims in the whole affair, and “look how ridiculous the trial and result were.” Now if the only source of truth is this book, it does seem absurd to award hundreds of millions of dollars to ZeniMax. Then why did they do it? For all the flaws in our court system, it seems to me that the most likely answer is that Oculus and co broke their NDA and infringed on copyright laws.

And so. How do you trust a book that seems to be focused on portraying the main subject sympathetically rather then accurately? Another example, no doubt the PR fiasco due to Luckey’s involvement in a right wing PAC was unfortunate, but I felt like I was reading a multi chapter justification of what happened. Where was this author when I was explaining to my parents in high school why I had a bong in my backpack?
Profile Image for Ahn Mur.
156 reviews
August 23, 2019
The History of the Future tells the story of the founding of the VR company, Oculus, and the eventual exit of its first founder, Palmer Luckey. Before I read this book, I was an unsuspecting fan of Oculus as a company. I was aware that facebook had purchased Oculus, but it hadn't necessarily tainted my view of it. I own a rift, so I had some context for the technology and enthusiasm for VR. But now I almost regret reading this because I can't wholeheartedly support Oculus as a company. It's all a bit mucky. I am curious to know how things look internally now, since the publication of the book and since even more members of the original team have left the company. It was certainly an interesting story, both for a) the journey of an early tech start up and b) the political drama of Palmer Luckey's exit. I found both these angles fascinating and mostly enjoyed this.
Overall, the story was compelling but the writing didn't always do it justice. Harris does an okay job. I am impressed at how well he remains objective on many contentious points, but somehow his writing also (/consequently?) fell flat. I spent a good third of the book feeling somewhat bored by details that didn't seem very important. Given the real-life drama described in the final section, I can see now that many of those seemingly dull details actually WERE important, but I suspect this could have been written in a way that felt a little less... forced?
Not sure if I can recommend this book. VR enthusiasts who would be interested may just come out of it feeling dejected. But, for the sake of knowing the truth and seeing behind many of the allegations, this is a worthwhile read.
23 reviews
May 3, 2019
I really enjoy Blake Harris's writing style as it is extremely engaging, and the same is true for his second work, The History of the Future. However, I struggle with this story as everything is presented as direct quote throughout much of the story, yet I know that most of this is paraphrasing or retelling of a story and not verbatim. In Console Wars, I do not remember feeling while I am reading that information is being presented as verbatim quote, yet knowing it is not verbatim and instead is narrative (and mostly one-sided narrative). Also, the story came off as a bit fan-boyish of Palmer Luckey and a little one-sided in that regard. Mr. Luckey is obviously a gifted inventor, but I do believe the importance of the rest of the team was a bit undersold. Also, I would have enjoyed a more definitive wrap-up that explored the cultural changes as well. The story is written as if VR would be THE technology of the computing world if only Palmer Luckey was allowed to continue with Oculus. However, VR has again become very niche with AR seemingly becoming more of the ultimate goal for most large computing companies. I believe this trend has nothing to do with Oculus and instead is driven more by the overall culture and usability of the technologies. In the wrap-up it would have been interesting to know how successful VR has been to a certain point in time. Overall, it was still a very engaging read and I can't wait to read Mr. Harris's next book.
Profile Image for Prasanna.
224 reviews9 followers
March 23, 2019
This book was a little more relatable than "Console Wars" since I lived through this era. The core content is great, and the dialogues still feel a bit stilted (albeit less racist sounding than Console Wars), but the book suffers from trying to paint from Palmer Luckey's perspective a little too much, the last chapter on politics seemed a little bit apologist on his behalf. I agree that Zuckerberg's handling of the firing was heavy handed and borderline unethical, but giving Nimble America/Rich man a pseudo-free-pass on the actions.
That said, I'd have liked to see more detail on Iribe, Antinov, Abrash and Carmack's perspectives too. I'd still say this is essential reading for understanding the VR industry and how we got here.
Profile Image for Vlad.
814 reviews33 followers
November 13, 2019
Can't beat this book for a well-researched account of Oculus' founding moments, up to and including the departure of Palmer Lucky. The author had clear insider access, and was able to reproduce emails, chat transcripts, etc. I greatly enjoyed the book, but my interest was motivated by personal interest in this story. I can't recommend it as general business read because it doesn't include enough information about the other players who helped bring about "the revolution that swept virtual reality." It's ultimately a bit one-sided in its sweep.

Profile Image for Manas Saloi.
275 reviews735 followers
March 6, 2019
I felt bad about Palmer luckey after reading this. Also relearned how big of a c*nt Zuckerberg really is. Probably one of the worst guys Palmer could have gone to work for after spending years building his version of the future
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