A Brief History of the Future: From Radio Days to Internet Years in a Lifetime

Al Gore’s infamous claim that he invented the Internet is more widely known than the names of the scientists and engineers who really made it happen. Despite its profound impact on just about everything, the Internet’s origins simply aren’t common knowledge.

John Naughton sets out to remedy that by giving the largely anonymous “boys in the back room” credit for what they did. He chronicles the work of computer pioneers Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener and J.C.R. Licklider. He charts the work of Larry Roberts, Bob Taylor, Paul Baran, and others as they develop the government-sponsored ARPANET, the precursor to today’s Internet. He wraps things up with the emergence of the World Wide Web and the battle between Netscape and Microsoft.

Writing about the Internet creates some challenges, and Naughton never fully overcomes them. In the second chapter, he gives a simplistic introduction to computers and the Web. Later, Naughton changes course and wades into fairly complex descriptions of computer languages that could leave neophytes scratching their heads. A bigger flaw is his inability to capture the personalities of the computer pioneers he profiles. Despite the stated goal of bringing these creative thinkers to life, they come off as stiff as that most famous of high-tech “inventors,” Al Gore.
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