Although I enjoy learning about the history of computing, I didn’t love this book. I struggled to keep track of the many people described in the book, and the story seemed to lack a cohesive flow. The supposed tie-in to the counterculture is rather weak, too; Markoff describes the radical political opinions and recreational drug use of several pioneers of personal computing, but the connection doesn’t feel quite strong enough to merit the subtitle.
The book’s content is interesting, though, at least for a nerd like me. I was struck by the fact that while just about everybody has their own computer these days (often in the form of a smartphone), we haven’t really reached the goal that early personal computing advocates were reaching for. Most of our computing experience is still heavily dependent on the products and services of big companies. (Not to mention that these services are typically “in the cloud” – on someone else’s computer – just like time sharing.) Rather than giving individuals more power, modern technology has in many ways allowed a few large corporations to have greater control over our lives than ever before. Computers are widely available and do plenty of good in the world, but they haven’t quite fulfilled the idealistic hopes portrayed in this book.