Thursday, 21 August 2008

Review: "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon

On a recent trip, I finally finished "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet". Most times, I'll wade through historical nonfiction, and it seems unfamiliar, difficult to engage with. I've abandoned even well written books like "The Power Broker" and "Team of Rivals" because it just wasn't enjoyable to keep on reading. I may finally have discovered what I've been doing wrong. In short, read what you know. Although broadening your interests is a worthy goal, you have to build on your current knowledge and understanding and branch out from there. Case in point: This book deals with the history of the internet, email, telnet, FTP, chat, all topics near to my heart, and that made this book a great departure point for me.

Most of the technologies discussed in this book are so well established that their RFC (requests for coment) are commandments, well understood and inviolable. In this book, these RFCs are brought to life as the product of careful thought, ongoing and fierce debate, and even trial and error. In short, the technology we take for granted was crafted by sharp minds and strong personalities working through their differences and the inevitable technical hurdles. Most of us don't get to make this big a difference (connecting billions of people with each other), but their success should inspire us to try anyway.

Given how much I enjoyed this, I think it may finally be time to read up on the history of Computer Science a bit more, perhaps with a biography of Turing...

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