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Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet

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Twenty five years ago, it didn't exist. Today, twenty million people worldwide are surfing the Net. Where Wizards Stay Up Late is the exciting story of the pioneers responsible for creating the most talked about, most influential, and most far-reaching communications breakthrough since the invention of the telephone.

In the 1960's, when computers where regarded as mere giant calculators, J.C.R. Licklider at MIT saw them as the ultimate communications devices. With Defense Department funds, he and a band of visionary computer whizzes began work on a nationwide, interlocking network of computers. Taking readers behind the scenes, Where Wizards Stay Up Late captures the hard work, genius, and happy accidents of their daring, stunningly successful venture.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1996

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About the author

Katie Hafner

17 books186 followers
Katie Hafner was on staff at The New York Times for ten years, where she remains a frequent contributor, writing on healthcare and technology. She is the author of six works of nonfiction covering a diverse range of topics, including the origins of the Internet, computer hackers, German reunification, and the pianist Glenn Gould.

O Magazine named her memoir - Mother Daughter Me – one of "Ten Titles to Pick Up Now."

Her first novel, The Boys, will be published July 26, 2022 by Spiegel & Grau.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 307 reviews
Profile Image for Dale.
536 reviews60 followers
August 29, 2010
If you dislike publications such as People Magazine, you will not like this book.

If you believe that a history book should be well organized along either thematic or chronological lines, you will not like this book.

If you think that a book about the history of technology should include details about the evolution of that technology, you will not like this book.

If you believe that every non-fiction book deserves a good copy editor who will eliminate pointless discursions, you will not like this book.

Otherwise, there is an excellent chance that you will enjoy this book, as a nightly sedative, if nothing else.
Profile Image for Brad Wheeler.
174 reviews9 followers
April 14, 2015
This book had one major problem to overcome going in: the story of the internet's origins just isn't all that interesting. It was kind of cool to see the origins of some of the networking protocols that I deal with on a day-to-day basis, and it filled in some gaps in my knowledge of computer history, but that was kind of it. There weren't many interesting personalities like in Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell, and the chronology got weird at points. It was easy to forget who did what.

It wasn't horrible, for all that. It just wasn't particularly great either. My advice is, steer clear and buy a better book on the subject.

Another note: I don't think this book suffered much for being written in the early nineties. So, kudos to the authors for making it timeless.
Profile Image for George Kaslov.
100 reviews138 followers
March 25, 2021
This book is about the creation of the Internet, or better yet the ARPAnet (1969 - 1990) that spawned it.

Everything is here: the people and reasons for its creation, beginnings of underlying technologies like packet switching, distributed networks an so on, early fights over standards and finally its proliferation and metamorphosis from ARPAnet to the Internet. Of course there were little detours into the culture of openness and early flame wars as well. It is both reassuring and disturbing that flaming has been with us since the 70s.

When it came to explaining the technology and engineering I believe that the author managed to hit the right balance of writing it in general terms without watering it too much down. Now, I see many people struggling with keeping track of people. Sure, the book may seem like a never ending list of names, but ARPAnet was an endeavor that lasted for 21 years and had hundreds of contributors, so there is no other way. Luckily this book has an index and now we have the internet as well to help us out.

All that said, if you are interested in the history of the Internet this book is a great place to start.
Profile Image for Tommy /|\.
161 reviews5 followers
July 30, 2011
The story of the various interlocking aspects of the internet isn't readily understood by the average user of its technologies. In fact, it would probably be safe to assume that most users believe that the origins of the internet came about in the late 1990s. Even with the often misrepresented quote from then-Presidential candidate Al Gore, the underlying technologies that comprise the internet remain a solid mystery to the typical internet denizen. "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" provides a wide-arching overview of where the technologies of packet-switching and TCP/IP came from, as well as that of the collaborative mainstay of business today - Electronic Mail. Furthermore, the book chronicles how the Internet of today evolved from a collaborative research tool (ARPANET) under the control of a small office in the Pentagon (ARPA, and then DARPA) into the commercial entity it has become today. Stripped of a lot of the technical concepts, Hafner and Lyon bring the compelling story of the pioneers of this wonderful collaborative communications tool that has come to be so fully integrated into our daily lives today. The last two chapters -- "Email" and "A Rocket on Our Hands" -- as well as the final Epilogue make the effort of reading the entire storyline worthwhile. I gladly set this book next to "Fire in the Valley" and "What the Dormouse Said" as excellent historical treatises on the developments during the pioneering phases of today's technological revolution. Very well worth the read.
Profile Image for Igor Gentil.
12 reviews1 follower
December 6, 2020
This book is to technologists what “On the Origin of Species” is to biology! Absolutely loved it!
Profile Image for Laci.
349 reviews9 followers
January 9, 2019
Until now I only have picked up some bits and pieces of information about the beginnings of the 'net. Where Wizards Stay Up Late not only describes the entire genesis of the technology, and the people behind it, but also provides the political context and the general moods in society that gave it the initial spark. In other words, I knew there was an ARPA that did the ARPANET thing, but I never knew _why_ there was an ARPA or how it operated.

Update: as a side note, there wasn't a whole bunch of material on similar projects outside of the US; most of them were just cursory mentions. It seems the research in the US came first and gained the most traction though, and I understand it's kinda out of scope for this book, so I'm not complaining.
Profile Image for Ana.
22 reviews1 follower
May 3, 2019
A blurb on the back cover of this book taken from The Texas Observer reads as follows: "In all the dreck and dross of Internet books, here is a brilliant gem...remarkably well written." I happen to agree more with the blurb that comes before it, taken from The Los Angeles Times: "Important...meticulous...admirably straightforward." This book was certainly straightforward, in that it was competently written. The problem is that the story that it sets out to tell is dry as hell.

Where Wizards Stay Up Late starts out promisingly enough. The focus of the book is on the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) and what came to be known as the ARPANET. The authors do their subject justice in the first few chapters, which cover the evolution of network design as well as all of the obstacles that the ARPA[NET] researchers encountered - and their solutions, which we tend to take for granted today. Reading the first half of this book, I had a lot of "Well, duh, that was kind of obvious," moments in which I had to catch and remind myself that the solutions the ARPA researchers proposed in answer to the network conundrums they faced seem obvious today because they're now considered core principles of networking. Whereas back in the 60s and 70s, networking was a new and largely unproven frontier of computer science that was predominantly theoretical. Take, for example, the following passage:

[Paul] Baran's second big idea was still more revolutionary: Fracture the messages too. By dividing each message into parts, you could flood the network with what he called "message blocks," all racing over different paths to their destination. Upon their arrival, a receiving computer would reassemble the message bits into readable form. (pp. 59-60)

It was also fun to read about the origins of terminology we still use to this day: block, packet, header, link, routing table, etc. There's also mention of the then fledgling concept of network layers:

The job of the lower layer was simply to move generic unidentified bits, regardless of what the bits might define: a file, an interactive session between people at two terminals, a graphical image, or any other conceivable form of digital data. Analogously, some water out of the tap is used for making coffee, some for washing dishes, [...] but the pipe and the faucet don't care; they convey the water regardless. The host-to-host protocol was to perform essentially the same function in the infrastructure of the network. (pp. 147-148)

The above passage highlights another of the book's strengths: its analogies. As someone with a computer science background, I found that the authors did a great job of relating some of the more technical details to a general audience that wouldn't necessarily have a lot of conceptual knowledge about computer networks.

But all good things must come to an end. The book exhausts this material about half-way through, at which point it switches its focus to the unexciting and uninspiring discussion of the implementation of standards. This includes the origin story of E-mail, which is completely and totally uninteresting. At this point the narrative grinds to an absolute halt and becomes a chore to read.

Every once in a while you'll come across a charming tidbit, such as,

There was disagreement over what should go on the left hand side of the [@] symbol [in an E-mail address] and what should go on the right. But before that, there was the debate over whether it should even be used as a delimiter... (p. 199)

If, in reality, you didn't find that fact terribly exciting, then imagine the context in which it could possibly be that would make it stand out as "interesting". Hint: it's comprised of riveting anecdotes such as:

RFC 680, [Jon Postel] said, was as standard as mail ever got. "It is nice that many mail-reading programs will accept mail that does not conform to the standard," he said, "but that does not justify mail-sending programs' violation of the standard." If the standard is inadequate, he added, any proposals to change it are welcome. (p. 200)

Once the discourse moved on to standards for E-mail headers, I was done. I called it quits on this book exactly 2/3 of the way through. I'd recommend the first half for anyone interested in the history of network design; otherwise I would have to disagree with the aforementioned cover blurb - this one was dreck and dross.

(2 1/2 stars)
Profile Image for karoline steinfatt.
23 reviews6 followers
February 14, 2023
Man muss dem Buch zugute halten, dass es extrem detailliert recherchiert wurde. Und dass die Vorgänge nicht überdramatisiert dargestellt werden.
Ich hatte auf großartige Visionen und schrullig-exzentrische Anekdoten gehofft.

Leider besteht das Buch zum größten Teil aus detailgenauen Schilderungen von kleinschrittigen Verbesserungen, Budgetmeetings, Postenbesetzungen und den Hobbys und Charaktereigenschaften der Beteiligten aus dem mittleren Management.

Dramatische Höhepunkte (aus dem Gedächtnis):
1. Ein Vietnamkriegsgegner aus der Forschung beunruhigt seine Kollegen damit, dass er einem General heimlich einen " Ω-Widerstand"-Badge neben die Orden der Uniformjack heften will, entscheidet sich dann aber dagegen.
2. Der erste Prototyp eines Imp (eine Art Router) wird 2 Tage zu früh per ziviler Luftfracht geliefert. Die Kiste steht auf dem Kopf. Prototyp funktioniert aber trotzdem (Erleichterung!)
3. Ein Forscher nutzt nach einer Konferenz in England den Arpanet-Messenger-Dienst um einen vergessenen Rasierer von einem Kollegen mitbringen zu lassen. Hat aber ein schlechtes Gewissen, wegen der privaten Nutzung des Dienstes.
Profile Image for Sara Watson.
130 reviews114 followers
January 12, 2015
The book does a great job of detailing the impetus for connecting up the country’s major university computing centers together at a time when computing resources were scarce and machines were enormous. It also follows an interesting narrative thread as different stages of connectivity were reached, as hardware configuration problems continued, and as the need for standards emerged. I especially liked the discussion about the moment when TCP/IP split to cover the packets and the routing information separately to become the core protocol of the internet stack. I appreciated also details about just how much traffic was accounted for by email communication in the early days of the ARPANET for research communications. The book also does a good job of capturing the ideology and vision of “Lick’s priesthood,” exploring the frontier of human interaction with computers. And you get a good sense for the materiality of the early connections in sentences like this: “Armed with an oscilloscope, a wire-wrap gun, and an unwrap tool, Barker worked alone on the machine sixteen hours a day.”

Being at the Berkman Center, I’ve heard parts of this early internet history story recounted many times, in many different ways. This version gave me a better sense of the characters involved and the conditions for getting them together to work on solving this initial resource connection challenge. And yet, it was difficult to follow each of the characters through the chapters and steps the development.

I appreciated the description of the engineers’ approach to solving problems, but I was distracted by sentences like these: “Looking down into the bits, lesser engineers with larger egos might attempt to show off, to infuse the mechanism with art, to create some wonder of engineering, a gold inlaid, filigreed marvel of complexity. The inner strength of Heart’s team was its restraint, its maturity. This was no place for signature craftsmanship.”

The book still did not manage to disavow me of my sense of the importance of the early internet's defense ties, even as the authors sought to debunk the myth of ARPANET’s role in the face of nuclear attack. Though the authors are careful to describe the anti-war sensibilities of the researchers involved (and the geeky Ω resistance pins they wore), I still can't help but see the complicity in the military industrial complex, and I would have liked to see more on this fraught relationship between defense research budgets and scientific research broadly in the US.
Profile Image for Nick Black.
Author 1 book740 followers
December 2, 2010
Read first in 2003, as supplementary material to CS3251 (Networking I). Three stars worth of harmless, chipper history, and an extra star for a great title. Much better than Hafner's other well-known book, "Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier," which is to be avoided. Really good material about BBN, the IMP's (I remember quoting this book in 2008 regarding the original 56kbps AT&T leased lines between the Honeywell DDP-316s, and impressing the hell out of an older coworker), Baran's work on packet switching, and the emergence of the IETF.
Profile Image for Rob.
147 reviews
February 27, 2023
I feel kind of melancholy after finishing this book. It did such a fantastic job of bringing the story of the creation of the Internet to life, that I’m sad that most of the men (and it was only men at that time) who created the Internet are now gone. The book is bookended with the 1994 celebration of the 25th anniversary of ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet. And the book does such a great job of capturing the personalities of the men that I’m sad to say goodbye to them by finishing the book. Altogether, a superior work of the history of science.
Profile Image for Mark.
101 reviews8 followers
August 31, 2018
This book is a bit of a hard read and slightly boring at times, as the authors delve deep into tangentially related anecdotes concerning people whose role in the overarching story you may have a tough time following. Nevertheless, the content provided here is pure gold, with precious information about the birth of the internet, without shying away from the technical aspects but still remaining readable. The book also picks up more steam from the midpoint onwards, leaving personal profiles mostly behind and focusing more on internet politics and growth, which makes for some interesting reading. Also, this book is from 1996, so don't expect a whole lot of content about the Internet as we know it today.
Profile Image for Josh Friedlander.
731 reviews108 followers
February 2, 2019
The first half is focused and exciting, full of delightful anecdotes. The second half slowly becomes weighed down under a welter of names and facts, perhaps reflecting the growing complexity of the Internet. Still, this is a worthwhile book for anyone interested wanting to understand the www, and surely nowadays that is everyone? Hafner/Lyon cover the origins of the idea of computer networks, timesharing, the development of ARPA and its funding of the ARPANET, the growth of a community, and protocols such as FTP, TCP/IP, SMTP. I would have wanted to hear more about the World Wide Web which, only shows up in the epilogue. Oh, and what a dumb title.
Profile Image for Hưng Đặng.
111 reviews56 followers
April 19, 2019
3.5 sao

Cuốn sách này dễ đọc hơn giáo trình "Mạng máy tính và hệ thống thông tin" nhưng vẫn không phải là loại dễ đọc. Phong cách kể phần nào vẫn là những câu chuyện nên dễ vào lòng người chút xíu mặc dù đây đó có những từ như kiểu WIP, TIP, IMP, NSP, BBN hay TCP/IP...
Một điểm hay của cuốn này là tác giả dùng so sánh thông thường để mô tả khái niệm khoa học. Ví dụ như packet-switching được so sánh với vận chuyển nhà.
Cuốn này cũng đề cập tới cách để tạo ra tiêu chuẩn. Khi hầu hết mọi người sử dụng một công cụ thì công cụ đó trở thành chuẩn. Nỗ lực để ép người khác sử dụng một công cụ kém hơn từ chính quyền khả năng cao sẽ thất bại. Đó là câu chuyện giữa hai giao thức TCP/IP và OSI.
Lan man một chút về cái hay của nội dung, cá nhân lúc nhỏ nghĩ rằng Máy Tính và Mạng luôn tồn tại song song nhưng thực ra máy tính có trước. Ngày xưa nó rất to và nhiều người muốn dùng nên nó sinh ra cái máy time-sharing nghĩa là mỗi người dùng một lúc. Dần sau đó nó sinh ra nhiều màn hình kết nối tới cùng một máy và cuối cùng là các máy nối nhau thành một mạng.
Mạng máy tính đầu tiên ARPANET dùng phương thức packet-switching nôm na là tin tức bị bẻ nhỏ ra và đóng thành gói nhỏ, sau đó đi trên nhiều đường khác nhau để đến cùng một địa chỉ và lắp ráp lại tại đó. Khi một gói tin đi qua một đường thì đường đó chỉ giành cho gói đó, nên gói tin khác sẽ phải tìm đường khác hoặc đợi. Hình như đến giờ Internet vẫn dùng phương thức này.
Thú vị hơn, sau này Metcalfe cho ra đời Ethernet là mạng dây dùng phương thức truyền tin khác. Với packet-switching thì các gói tin gần như không va chạm nhưng Ethernet để kệ các gói tin va chạm. Sau khi va chạm nguồn sẽ phát ra các gói tin tương tự khác vào các thời điểm ngẫu nhiên khác nhau do đó tiết kiệm được thiêt bị. Mạng có giây cáp quang bây giờ hoặc mạng WIFI vẫn là Ethernet.
Ah còn một thứ khá thú vị khác là trí thông minh nhân tạo (AI) được nghiên cứu và tạo ra từ những năm 70 của thế kỷ 20 nhưng gần đây mới trở thành mốt trong ngành công nghệ. Cuộc nói chuyện giữa 2 AIs là the Doctor và PARRY mặc dù khá tối nghĩa nhưng cũng đã phần nào có dấu vết ứng biến tự nhiên như con người.
Điểm xấu của cuốn này là ngoài việc khá khô khan (sách sử về kỹ thuật) thì cấu trúc sách không theo thứ tự thời gian nên theo dõi hơi khó.
Profile Image for Jerry.
Author 10 books23 followers
June 1, 2019

“As computer communication systems become more powerful, more humane, more forgiving and above all, cheaper, they will become ubiquitous.”—Paul Baran and Dave Farber

This is an interesting book that doesn’t live up to its title. This may not, of course, be the fault of the authors. Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet is really more about just ARPANET. While ARPANET was the first of the small-i internets, it was not the largest, nor was it where most of the wizards stayed up late. TCP/IP was implemented outside of ARPANET; ARPANET switched to TCP/IP shortly before it was deactivated.

As a result, some of the most interesting wizardry gets mentioned in less than a sentence, without any stories. Everyone wants their computer to be named Frodo, and so the domain name system was created, but we don’t get anything about how, or what that meant (at the University of San Diego, it meant naming labs after popes, or presidents, with the result that I had a computer named Cerebus).

One of the most amazing results of late-night Wizardry were all the programs that were transferred across the early net, such as Will Crowther’s and Don Wood’s Adventure, and how D&D influenced such games. That’s mentioned, but not the significance of it, what it represented.

The Web is mentioned; HTML is not, in a short paragraph that, in a book filled with names, does not mention the name of the “researcher at the CERN physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland”, nor the “couple of computer science students at the University of Illinois” writing Mosaic. Tim Berners-Lee does get mentioned, as does Marc Andreessen, a few pages later, but for not being invited to the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first ARPANET node.“Andreessen wasn’t even born until 1972, after the first ARPANET nodes were installed”.

This is probably because the book started as a chronicle of Bolt Beranek and Newman/BBN’s role in ARPANET, not the origins of the Internet.

The casting of it as a history of the Internet is made even stranger by the emphasis in the prologue on Bob Taylor’s desire to correct an inaccuracy:

Rumors had persisted for years that the ARPANET had been built to protect national security in the face of a nuclear attack… Taylor knew the ARPANET and its progeny, the Internet, had nothing to do with supporting or surviving war—never did.

Taylor’s desire to set the record straight goes unmentioned for the rest of the book. Not only is there no vindication for Taylor, but the book itself sort of contradicts the prologue. Paul Baran at RAND designed packet-switching specifically with “survivability of communications systems under nuclear attack” in mind.

It might be possible to connect computers in a network redundantly, so that if one line went down, a message could take another path.

Baran shares credit with Donald Watts Davies for coming up with packet-switching; Davies was unconcerned with nuclear attacks, but Baran became an “informal consultant” and ARPANET was “a hybrid of the original ideas of Baran and Davies”.

Most of the people involved, such as Larry Roberts, “were opposed to a centralized approach”. Even on the scaled-down initial four-node startup, dynamic routing was a critical part of the design.

At best, it may simply be semantics, and at worst, a weird, pointless strawman. ARPANET wasn’t created the way it was in order to protect communications during a nuclear attack; but the design it used was created to allow communications during and following such an attack. We don’t build cars in order to crash them into other cars; but we do build them to withstand crashes—which is how I always heard the Internet/nuclear thesis put.

The authors do puncture another myth, which is that before 1994 the Internet was non-commercial. As early as 1973, Case Western Reserve was selling time on their computers, made possible by their connection to the Internet.

Part of the success of the early networks was that they were started up by academics and businessmen; this occasionally, if not often, conflicted with its ownership by the government. Email was nearly purely a grassroots phenomenon. John Vittal’s MSG conflicted with the official recommendations for email that included phrases such as “THIS IS NOT PERMITTED”; MSG won.

Proclamations of officialness didn’t further the Net nearly so much as throwing technology out onto the Net to see what worked. And when something worked, it was adopted.

Something I was unaware of is that President Carter, in 1979, supported a United States Post Office proposal to “offer a limited kind of electronic message service to the nation.” The authors are too kind in calling the proposal “cautious”. It was extraordinarily backwards and unwieldy even by the standards of the time, and was fortunately abandoned.

Sometimes, however, the government won. In the early to mid seventies an Internet “user’s group” called USING started up to recommend improvements to “the delivery of computer services over the ARPANET.” DARPA managed to shut it down, not wanting to deal with a “tiny self-appointed watchdog group”.

While I was disappointed that the book didn’t live up to its title, it is still a fascinating, if limited, book. It’s mostly about people rather than computers or networks, specifically, the kind of people who moved back and forth between government agencies and technology/consulting groups in the fifties and sixties.

It was published in 1996; they thought the Internet had exploded, and hadn’t seen anything yet.

“There was something amazingly enticing about programming,” he [Vint Cerf] said. “You created your own universe and you were the master of it. The computer would do anything you programmed it to do. It was this unbelievable sandbox in which every grain of sand was under your control.”
196 reviews7 followers
April 18, 2023
I was not one of the wizards, but I stayed up late during that period. I was merely a frosh pawn between the UCSB (host #3) Math and EE Depts. I know a fair number of the Wizards during that period. This experience is the reason for attending college. I like Katie Hafner's book (slight bias knowing her and having met Matthew Lyon before his untimely passing at their book signing. Their title gives some sense of what the feeling was like during that period. It's hard to capture with the Internet of today. Did we do all this at 56K baud?

I found 1 minor error. I should insert a photo of Bob and Vint at another recent net history event (on ALOHAnet).

Many other people unnamed in that period (men and women, not all white) are not able to be covered in this book. Their stories don't have room to be told.

Some of my friends of that period, like Severo, prefer Mitch Waldrop's book. But I like Katie's.

I also want to recommend all of Katie's other books.

Addendum: on YouTube, I found and an amused by Tim Traveler (that's Tim's handle) on the History of the Internet. Use his name and those key words to find it, for the photos of Jake Feinler, Taylor, Metcalfe, Boggs, and the others (I have to suggest Frank Kuo). Many of the ideas from this video are covered in the book Glut: Mastering Information through the Ages by Alex Wright (pre-Memex by Vandy Bush).

I have been asked by my climbing partner Gil (Kilnam Chon) to write up short papers on hosts #3 (UCSB and #4 (U. Utah) and their place in computing history (scientific computing and computer graphics) in his Asia Internet history project An Asia Internet History (maybe Vol. 5). I am far from the best person to do this as some of the principals have died.
Profile Image for Christopher Wilson.
Author 1 book2 followers
December 22, 2017
This book was written from the perspective of the late (early?) 90s. It culminates with a party held by BBN to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the first ARPA net node being switched on. Even then, there was a lot of disagreement about how and when things happened. There was jockeying for who got what credit. And particularly relevant today, to what extent was the internet a government project?

As with most things, the actual history is more complex and nuanced than any soundbite can capture. What I do think is clear though is the extent to which the internet was built on a culture of openness. The early process for establishing internet standards, RFCs (Request For Comments), speaks to the collaborative spirit of the people involved. Standards and technologies that had been tried on the actual internet often prevailed over more top-down, bureaucratic approaches; take TCP/IP vs. the OSI model as an example.

I'm colored by the time we're living in of course, but the rhetoric around net neutrality strikes me as somewhat ironic. Repealing net neutrality policies are being spun as "deregulation," and this is true in twisted way. It's like a scuba diver lobbying to be freed from the strictures of his shark cage so he can enjoy unobstructed views of the sharks.

The status quo of the internet, from its inception and on, has been "deregulated" in a deep technological sense; the sense that matters most online. The fact that we had to have legal restraint to permit that technological freedom to exist, is a good thing.
Profile Image for Adam.
63 reviews1 follower
December 28, 2015
More like 3.5 stars, but I rounded generously. I found the beginning chapters quite exciting, but I eventually experienced information overload. There were so many people and places involved in the story, that I found it difficult to recall the importance of certain individuals and organizations. Some people, such as Paul Baran and Donald Davies (who independently discovered packet-switching), were fleshed out in sufficient detail for them and their accomplishments to be more memorable. But many others simply seemed (at least to me) to be generic eccentric computer geniuses. Same goes for collectives, such as the IPTO and NWG.

I was generous with the rating because I think the book was very ambitious. It sought to give a history of not only the technical side of the Internet's development, but also the human side. For that, it has my respect.
Profile Image for Alan Gou.
82 reviews4 followers
May 7, 2021
It’s amazing to read history books like this. We humans are so good at taking the things around us for granted, and the Internet is no exception. It was, still is, and will continue to be a monumental achievement. In Bezos’s words, it’s still Day One.

This book itself is pretty well written, but I come from the perspective of having professional programming experience. Reading the debates and doubts afflicting the pioneers who invented the protocols on which the Internet rests is way more exciting a way to learn things than flipping pages of a networking textbook with all the eagerness of a sloth. I wish I had read this in college when I was first learning about computer science.

I also have a renewed appreciation for what’s possible with hands-off government research funding and good old American ingenuity and fearlessness.
Profile Image for Mark Odayan.
8 reviews
April 10, 2020
I cannot recommend this book enough to people who want to understand how the Internet came into being and the technology that enables it. It’s an incredibly fascinating history and there is so much to learn from this book if you are interested in gaining a concrete understanding of the backbone of Internet technology. Some key parts that are really well explained include the invention of packet-switching and the evolution of network protocols to adapt to the growing nature of both ARPANET and eventually the web of networks we now call of the Internet.

I firmly believe this is by far the best option you have outside of a traditional textbook or collection of academic journal to learn about the Internet before diving into more advanced material.
Profile Image for Benjamin.
49 reviews
July 30, 2020
Excellent book detailing the beginning of computer networking to people who don't understand computer networking, like me. It also shows how they moved from that to using Email but not anything really, on how the internet came to be what it is today. Maybe there will be a part two that comes out on this.... Either way, great book and I recommend to everyone.
9 reviews
April 13, 2019
If you're a techie, actually even if you're not a techie, read this book.
Profile Image for Doran Barton.
85 reviews4 followers
June 23, 2013
I actually read Where Wizards Stay Up Late several years ago, shortly after it was published, but decided to re-read it as I remembered it being very good but had forgotten many details.

For the time it was published (1996), Hafner and Lyon did a remarkable job of including great swaths of computing and networking history into a readable and manageable volume that chronicles an era from the 1960s until the mid-1990s during which time the ARPANET was created and later spawned other networks which would comprehensively become what we know today as the Internet.

For the less-technical reader, some more interesting points in the book include the history of e-mail, why the '@' symbol became a critical piece of e-mail addresses, and the history of free speech on the early ARPANET.

For more technical readers, understanding the hurdles the men involved with the ARPANET project (there were absolutely no women involved) had to overcome. Even the idea of connecting computers together for the purpose of communication and resource sharing was not contemplated in the early to mid-1960s, but men like J.C.R. Licklider could see a future where people using computers could benefit immensely by being able to access other computers through an electronic network.

Making the argument to funding bureaucrats wasn't that difficult either because if computer users could access and use another computer located at a remote site to do their work then money would not have to be spent purchasing an identical computer for them to use locally.

Bob Metcalfe, Vint Cerf, and Bob Kahn are three of the men involved in ARPANET's history that went on to positions of fame. Metcalfe worked at Xerox PARC where he created Ethernet networking and later founded the company 3Com which sold networking hardware. Vint Cerf was the face of Internet networking and did more than anyone else to publicize the merits of TCP/IP networking. Bob Kahn worked alongside Cerf in the early days of the propagation of the ARPANET and came up with foundational concepts for TCP. He has continued to be involved in computing research.

There were dozens of other individuals involved, of course, and this book doesn't leave them all out. Will Crowther, for example, worked on the early ARPANET software at BBN and later wrote a spelunking computer game called Adventure that gained cult-notoriety on the early Internet. Young Ben Barker was the hardware engineer employed by BBN to assemble the Internet Message Processors (IMPs) from Honeywell computers for ARPANET sites. Honeywell didn't deliver hardware to BBN's specifications for the first few sites and Barker had to personally fix everything, debugging and re-wire-wrapping things correctly.

I had my first exposure to Internet networking in 1990 when I was enrolled at a local university. There, I was able to make use of services on the NSFNET, WESTNET, BITNET, and DECNET, separate networks discussed in this book. Eventually, these all gave way to the Internet.
Profile Image for Harry Harman.
645 reviews14 followers
December 20, 2021
ARPANET had been built to protect national security in the face of a nuclear attack. It was a myth that had gone unchallenged long enough to become widely accepted as fact.

ARPA staffers recognized the agency’s biggest mistake yet: It had not been tapping the universities where much of the best scientific work was being done.

Time-sharing was, as the term suggests, a new method of giving many users interactive access to computers from individual terminals

If you close your eyes and ask someone to snap his fingers, your brain will tell you approximately where the snap is coming from and how far away it is. The puzzle of sound localization is also illustrated by the “cocktail party” phenomenon: In a crowded room where several conversations are taking place within one’s hearing range, it is possible to isolate whatever conversation one chooses by tuning in certain voices and tuning out the rest

Psychology at Harvard in those years was strongly influenced by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner and others who held that all behavior is learned, that animals are born as blank slates to be enscribed by chance, experience, and conditioning.

He often sat in meetings tossing ideas out for anyone to claim. “If someone stole an idea from him,” Louise recalled, “I’d pound the table and say it’s not fair, and he’d say, ‘It doesn’t matter who gets the credit; it matters that it gets done.’

SAGE was an early example of what Licklider would later call the “symbiosis” between humans and machines

“Anybody who could do 85 or better on the Miller Analogies Test, hire him, because he’s going to be very good at something.”

he had a self-professed short attention span

Clark made an indelible impression on Lick. He drifted further from psychology and toward computer science. As his interests changed, Lick’s belief in the potential for computers to transform society became something of an obsession.

The idea on which Lick’s worldview pivoted was that technological progress would save humanity

1960 with the publication of his seminal paper “Man-Computer Symbiosis.



hired a young hotshot named Bob Taylor


making the computer an amplifier of human potential

He was considered a farsighted program officer who had a knack for picking innovative winners—both projects and researchers.

Taylor had the money, and he had Herzfeld’s support, but needed a program manager who could oversee the design and construction of such a network, someone who not only knew Licklider’s ideas but believed in them. This person had to be a first-rate computer scientist, comfortable with a wide range of technical issues.

Roberts took a speed-reading course. He quickly doubled his already rapid reading rate, but he didn’t stop there. He delved into the professional literature of speed-reading and kept pushing himself until he was reading at the phenomenal rate of about thirty thousand words a minute with 10 percent “selective comprehension

The first relay system, where a message was passed from one guard station to the next, came about in 650B.C.For hundreds of years thereafter, invention was driven by the necessity for greater speed as the transmission of messages from one place to another progressed through pigeons, shouters, coded flags, mirrors, lanterns, torches, and beacons.

Bell lines was forbidden on the grounds that foreign devices could damage the entire telephone system.

Just as living creatures evolve through a process of mutation and natural selection, ideas in science and their applications in technology do the same. Evolution in science, as in nature—normally a gradual sequence of changes—occasionally makes a revolutionary leap breaking with the course of development.

emerging field of digital computer technology


merit of his ideas

a) centralized b) decentralized c) distributed networks

“Redundancy level” was Baran’s term for the degree of connectivity between nodes in the network. A distributed network with the absolute minimum number of links necessary to connect each node was said to have a redundancy level of 1, and was considered extremely vulnerable. Baran ran numerous simulations to determine the probability of distributed network survival under a variety of attack scenarios. He concluded that a redundancy level as low as 3 or 4— each node connecting to three or four other nodes—would provide an exceptionally high level of ruggedness and reliability. “Just a redundancy level of maybe three or four would permit almost as robust a network as the theoretical limit,”

Conceptually, this was an approach borrowed more from the world of freight movers than communications experts. Think of each message as if it were a large house and ask yourself how you would move that house across the country from, say, Boston to Los Angeles. Theoretically, you could move the whole structure in one piece. House movers do it over shorter distances all the time—slowly and carefully. However, it’s more efficient to disassemble the structure if you can, load the pieces onto trucks, and drive those trucks over the nation’s interstate highway system—another kind of distributed network. Not every truck will take the same route; some drivers might go through Chicago and some through Nashville. If a driver learns that the road is bad around Kansas City, for example, he may take an alternate route. As long as each driver has clear instructions telling him where to deliver his load and he is told to take the fastest way he can find, chances are that all the pieces will arrive at their destination in L.A. and the house can be reassembled on a new site. In some cases the last truck to leave Boston might be the first to arrive in L.A., but if each piece of the house carries a label indicating its place in the overall structure, the order of arrival doesn’t matter. The rebuilders can find the right parts and put them together in the right places. The advantage of the packet messaging technique was realized primarily in a distributed network that offered many different routes.

But a stream of data is different. It usually pours out in short bursts followed by empty pauses that leave the line idle much of the time, wasting its “bandwidth,” or capacity. One well-known computer scientist liked to use the example of a bakery with one counter clerk, where customers usually arrive in random bursts. The clerk has to stay at the counter throughout the day, sometimes busy, sometimes idle. In the context of data communications network, it’s a highly inefficient way to utilize a long-distance connection. It would be dramatically more cost-effective, then, to send data in “blocks” and allocate bandwidth in such a way that different messages could share the line. Each block would therefore need to contain information identifying the part of the message to which it belonged.

Baran, the inventor of the scheme, also became its chief lobbyist. He hoped to persuade AT&T of its advantages.

So here some idiot comes along and talks about something being very simple, who obviously does not understand how the system works.”


It was, in no small way, a visit back to the “Are we rich or are we poor?” question he had posed decades earlier to his parents, whose starkly contrasting answers helped him understand that most things in life are a matter of perspective.

the logic and design of telephone-switching systems and “made hours of fascinating reading


If no acknowledgment followed, the message was retransmitted. Marill referred to the set of procedures for sending information back and forth as a message “protocol,” prompting a colleague to inquire

barroom brawl

high tea
40 reviews
January 29, 2022
I'm a freak on technology development, so getting into this book was a no brainer. The fact that now you can get a router for USD 20 in your local supermarket, but around 1960 the internet was only a weird idea doesn't stop to amaze me.

I knew some loose facts from before. I studied computer science around 1990, so we had a link to one of the NSF sponsored networks. I knew about ARPA's early network drive. I had read The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution in which is a chapter devoted to the development of the internet. But there are tons of information I didn't know.

There's a couple of misguided editorial choices, though:
* Right in the middle of the book the details on the construction and deployment of the IMP were several pages too long, so it start to get a bit tedious. Sometimes the research for a book turns out so well that you got tons of material and it's hard to restrain from using it all.

*There's is an important amount of telling about the technological difficulties in network design, with a bit of theoretical background. But there are no charts, formulas or anything to really hook a reader with a real technical background. So I'm afrait the authors end up boring both the non technical and the technical readers.

Anyway, this is still a very interesting story. Even as a tale about technology development as a concept. What kind of people it takes to achieve a technology leap? What kind of management? Is there room for government involvement?

I picture telling this story to a digital native:

-There was a time when there was no thing like the internet.
-Really?... But sure the computer manufacturers naturally pushed for it?

-Nope... In fact, computer manufacturers of the day wanted nothing with it. For them it could mean lower computer sell figures.
-How on earth can internet meant less computers?... Anyway, but sure the telecom companies saw a great business niche?

-Nope... They were also against it. Even lobbied against it at backed off from the early interconnections.
-Wow! But I understant the universities were the internet pioneers...

-Nope. In fact, at the time the universities were only seeking for larger computers, the interconnecting thing meant nothing to them.

-So how internet came to be?

Profile Image for Erhardt Graeff.
128 reviews13 followers
February 16, 2015
This was a fun and detailed look through the early history of the Internet. I revisited key figures like JCR Licklider, Vint Cerf, and Jon Postel, who I first learned about during my freshman year of information technology education at RIT. And I learned the inane origins of the inane debate between TCP/IP and OSI that added mind-numbing tedium to my computer networking courses in high school.

The majority of the book though focuses on the relationship between the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) and Cambridge, MA-based Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN) that won the contract to construct the ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. I didn't appreciate the impressive feat of engineering undertaken to connect the first mainframe computers together. Over the course of months, programmers, engineers, and computer scientists, largely coming from MIT / Lincoln Laboratory and inspired by a few crude experiments, some mathematical theory, and the visionary scientists cum policymakers at ARPA, willed computer networking into existence.

At least that's how it seems from the dramatic retelling offered by Hafner and Lyon in this book. For a nonfiction examination of technical protocol creation, this is a pretty decent page-turner. They don't spare too many technical details either, which I absolutely drank up—probably because I was familiar with the basic concepts already and so could simply enjoy the backfill of context and sweat.

I definitely recommend this to folks interested in getting a better sense of how we came to have the "series of tubes" we call the internet, and in appreciating the openness, pragmatism, and genius that built it. I also think the book helps us appreciate the fragility of what we have come to take for granted, and the rarity of the moment in history where federal funding and a willingness to experiment allowed the ARPANET to happen.

Finally, I want to recognize the grad students. While the core hardware of ARPANET was a perfect example of government contracting with a determined company, the success of the internet as a broader experiment was built on the free time and inquisitiveness of graduate students who wanted to play and push the system further: creating an ad hoc system of protocols and proposals (RFPs) that led to the internet transforming how we live our lives. Those early pioneers deserve all our thanks for their late nights.
Profile Image for Adam Wiggins.
251 reviews97 followers
June 9, 2015
History of computer networks and the internet, including:

- The founding of ARPA, spurred partially by the USSR's launch of Sputnik

- The shift from batch-processing machines (punchcards, multi-day delay on getting the output of your program) to time-sharing (multiple users logged into a system via interactive terminal)

- The invention of packet-switching networks (vs circuit switching, the standard at the time)

- The creation of the IMP network interface (a refrigerator-sized computer) and first four nodes of the ARPAnet

- Email, the killer feature / product-market fit for computer networking

- The emergence of the RFC ("request for comments") for community-developed network standards

- The invention of TCP/IP as an "internet" (meaning, linking several networks together) protocol

- The invention of Ethernet and proliferation of local area networks

Good stuff if you care about the topic area. Unfortunately it was a slog to read, perhaps because there are no big/central/story-worthy personalities in this history.

Furthermore, the authors tend toward awkward phrasing. One example is in the title: "Where the wizards stay up late" is a strange turn of phrase.
Profile Image for Vladyslav.
25 reviews19 followers
January 31, 2016
This book is Holly Grail for any computer history archaeologist. Katie Hafner provides extensive overview of the birth of the Internet: from the research chronology of the ARPA group, development journal of the government contractor -- BBN -- who basically build the ARPANET, maintenance and further usage, national and international expansion, E-mail, Request For Comments, DNS, TCP/IP vs OSI, to the sunset of ARPANET and the dawn of the NSFNET, and this is not nearly all what is covered in this brilliant book.

I believe this is my number one computer history book from now one.
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