In my high school computer classes, the teacher would have research and write a paper on the history of the Internet for the first day of classes. I took enough computer classes, that I have the highlights of that story well memorized. Reading Where Wizards Stay Up Late – The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon took me back to writing those 2 page papers. Where Wizards Stay Up Late is certainly much longer than my 2 pages of highly-summarized facts and shares many more details to the invention of the Internet. There are 265 pages in the book that details the individuals, the organizations, and the milestones of creating what we now use every day.
In the prologue, I was hooked as the assertion was made that ARPANET was developed for connecting academic institutions to share resources, not to protect military communication in the event of a nuclear attack. I was under the impression that the latter had been the motivation behind ARPA’s initial investments so I was intrigued to find out more about it. The seemingly controversial statement came from a reunion of many ARPANET folks in 1994, to which even Al Gore received an invitation. Unfortunately, the assertion was never really spelled out and even seemed a little contradicted on page 55 with a discussion of redundancy in military communication capabilities.
The book covers the establishment of ARPA, building the first network, bringing on more universities, troubleshooting problems and inventing solutions, working groups that stemmed from the creation of the network, standardizing email, and continuing to build out with more protocols. Where Wizards Stay Up Late provides much more depth than a simple Wikipedia article on the origin of the Internet. From interviews and notes, the book is able to provide details about the people involved and their personalities to the day-to-day operations and the big accomplishments. It was this kind of detail that an enthusiast would appreciate but a novice might become bored.
Where Wizards Stay Up Late – The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon was published in 1998 and covers from 1966 to 1989 with a jump to 1994 for the reunion event in the prologue and epilogue. I enjoyed the book and particularly the details of problems encountered, how new ways of thinking were required, and the people involved each brought their strengths to create what is now the Internet. It was also interesting to see the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s, my alma mater, involvement as well as the transition from ARPANET to the networks that came after it.