Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Kate Hafner and Matthew Lyon

September 8, 2005

It's hard to believe that a history of the early days of computing and (pre-Internet) networks could be exciting. You'd think a book about engineers would be about as thrilling as reading a calculus text. Yet in Where Wizards Stay Up Late, Hafner and Lyon have breathed life into a story about early computer geeks and their vision of a nationwide network. At times the book reads almost like a novel. Hafner is particularly good at characterization, and by the end you feel you almost know the major players, such as Paul Baran, Larry Roberts (the director and midwife of ARPANET), and the BBN engineers who created the first network. Not only do you know them, you care about them and their struggles. These are brilliant, sometimes quirky men who care passionately about their ideas, particularly the idea that computers could somehow be made to contribute to science and the greater good of humanity. The odds these pioneers faced often seem insurmountable, which is one reason their story is so compelling. This book was written for the layperson and is nontechnical and very readable. However, non-techies will discover an added bonus--you'll probably learn quite a bit about computers, networks and the Internet. You can't help it. As you witness the gradual, sometimes accidental invention of modern computers and networks, you'll find you've painlessly digested an awful lot of technical concepts. Where Wizards Stay Up Late was published in 1997, but as a history of the origins of the Internet, it is still relevant, as well as unsurpassed. If you need a break from software manuals and javascript guides, pick up a copy of Where Wizards Stay Up Late. You won't be sorry.