Xconomy Bookclub: “Troublemakers” Charts the Birth of Silicon Valley

Xconomy National — 

In 1968, a little-read article in a soon-to-fail magazine prophesied an age of networked machines that could be more than passive, oversized calculators to become digital partners in solving problems alongside humans.

“In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face,” wrote JCR “Lick” Licklider and Bob Taylor, in a Science and Technology article called “The Computer is a Communication Device.” The men worked together at the Pentagon during the early days of the Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet. In the paper, they predicted that society “will spend much more time in computer-facilitated teleconferences and much less en route to meetings.”

Whether our communication is more effective today is still up for debate, but there’s no doubt how the Internet, personal computing, and other technologies have changed the way we live. How we got here from there is the theme of Leslie Berlin’s “Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age.”

The book, more or less, marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of what we now call Silicon Valley. Berlin, project historian of the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University, focuses on the period between the late 1960s and 1984, when a 35-mile patch of California farmland—home to a smattering of defense-based manufacturers and plum and apricot orchards—began to become the birthplace of modern-day tech innovation.

Berlin writes about a group of engineers, scientists, marketers, and others, who she says “invented the future.” These include Taylor, who had a hand in developing the Internet, the mouse, and the personal computer at PARC, Xerox’s legendary R&D division in California. Yes, we know all about Steve Jobs, so Berlin shines her spotlight on another seminal figure: Apple’s first chairman, Mike Markkula, who actually had an equal ownership stake with Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Other chapters focus on the founding of the modern-day venture capital industry, the birth of biotech and gene therapies, and how Stanford set up the gold standard on university IP licensing, a bar that even today most institutions … Next Page »

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