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The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the…

The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing… (2000)

by M. Mitchell Waldrop

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The Dream Machine, which is nominally a biography of J.C.R. Licklider, is actually an overview of the history of computing from M.I.T.'s Whirlwind effort through the beginnings of true personal computing in Silicon Valley; much of the book concerns ARPA and ARPAnet. Lick's biography is embedded in the story, but its purpose is to center the discussion. The predominant focus of the book is on the efforts of Licklider's colleagues, and it often strays far from his life story.

This is a terrific book. The writing is lucid, the research--though predominantly from secondary sources--is excellent. If you plan to read one book about the ARPA computing effort, this should be that book.

This short review has also been published on a dabbler's journal. ( )
  joeldinda | Mar 30, 2012 |
This book painted a really inspirational picture for me of the pioneering days of computing. There is a lot of extremely well researched history here that I really had no clue about beyond high level details about ARPA and ARPANET.

The book is about JCR Licklider , a truly fascinating and compelling guy who somehow managed to be a driving force behind a wide range of movements that drove computing off of the big iron/batch style status quo of IBM and to the interactive time sharing and eventually the stand alone graphical terminals of PARC. Completely fascinating read, but a bit slow in the first 50 pages or so.

I had to wonder if Lick's role wasn't being overstated by the author, but at the same time the portrait of the man felt honest and included warts that balanced the narrative and avoided making him too big of a hero. I only wish that the man was still alive so we could see more of him and so that he could see more of what he helped create. ( )
  chriswhitmore | May 6, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 014200135X, Paperback)

While it's true that no one person's vision encompassed all of what we now consider personal computing, we can't help but focus on individual effort as we try to understand how we got here. Science writer M. Mitchell Waldrop carefully balances this hero culture with a historian's mania for completeness in The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal.

"Lick," as his students and colleagues called him, was deeply involved in guiding the evolution of personal and networked computing from the 1950s through the 1980s, after leaving a career in cognitive psychology. Waldrop captures his spirit vividly--contrary to our stereotypical view of computer scientists, Licklider was profoundly interested in his fellow humans, and this interest helped him lead the design of technology adapted to human needs.

Waldrop interviewed dozens of contemporaries and examined reams of notes and primary sources to compose this massive biography of influence that stretches from MIT to the Pentagon to Xerox PARC and far beyond. If it sometimes seems that Licklider was a little too well beloved, especially in comparison to some of the more colorful figures in computing's recent history, it is worth remembering that his patience and humility were the very qualities that helped deliver the home-computing revolution we take for granted today. If we had to choose just one 20th-century computer pioneer that we couldn't do without, it would have to be the man behind the Dream Machine. --Rob Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:49 -0400)

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A study of the evolution of the modern computer profiles the work of MIT psychologist J.C.R. Licklider, whose visionary dream of a "human-computer symbiosis" led to the development of the personal computer.

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