A People’s History of Computing in the United States

tags: tech-history

I didn’t finish this book. I got through 3-4 chapters, then skimmed the rest.

I couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be. The author compared to to Howard Zinn’s book of similar name, but I couldn’t see it. The book seemed to be very specific vignettes about the early age of computing in the 60s. The chapters I read were centered around the environment at Dartmouth.

What was problematic was that the author kept pushing the subject into areas of social justice, especially feminism. I’m absolutely an ally there, but it seemed incredibly forced in this context. She was discussing computing history, yet claiming societal forces that had nothing to do with computing in particular. They were just endemic to society at that time.

Every time she brought it up, it was jarring. I kept thinking, “Yeah, but what does that have to do with the actual subject here.” Clearly, there were forces at work in society during that time that sucked, but I just couldn’t see the relevance to the specific thing she was discussing, and every time she injected it, it just seemed incredibly contrived, like she was reaching for some connection that I just wasn’t getting.

In the end, I wasn’t seeing the scope of Zinn’s book at all. I don’t doubt the veracity of her research, and the writing is quite good, but the stories were just very specific episodes from the early days of computing, and I didn’t think I was getting any broader context on anything.

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