Book Report: What the Dormouse Said


What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer by John Markoff

I was going to wait for softcover on this one, but when I saw it used on Amazon for $5, I went for it.
I’ve actually thought the world was long overdue for a book devoted to this topic. Any history of Silicon Valley or Xerox PARC ends up touching on it. But I think there’s something worth exploring about how the culture of the Bay Area in the 60′s and 70′s led to a lot of ideas in computing that totally changed the world in a way that East Coast computing, which had somewhat of a head start in the 40′s – 60′s, did not.

This book has lots of good anecdotes, and I learned a thing or two (did you know that Stewart Brand ran one of the video cameras at Douglas Englebart’s famous Demo?). But I still might be waiting for the definitive book on the topic. Despite the book’s ambitious subtitle, the introduction immediately sets expectations downwards by saying that it’s not actually going to actually try to explain exactly how the counterculture shaped the personal computer or offer a comprehensive history, but to merely relate some anecdotes.

Fair enough, but if it’s going to be anecdotal, it would have been much better organized as, say, anecdotes. Instead, its adherence to chronological order (with arbitrary chapter breaks) is so stringent that it’s extremely difficult to follow any individual story lines. New people will be introduced, who have no connection to the previous paragraphs, who have no connection to the following paragraphs, but they did something that happened at the same time, so they are just stuck in there.

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