ATG Book of the Week: The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America

by | Aug 27, 2019 | 0 comments

Title: The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America
Author: Margaret O’Mara
Hardcover: ISBN:
978-0399562181, $30
Imprint: New York: Penguin, 2019


“Long before Margaret O’Mara became one of our most consequential historians of the American-led digital revolution, she worked in the White House of Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the earliest days of the commercial Internet. There she saw firsthand how deeply intertwined Silicon Valley was with the federal government–and always had been–and how shallow the common understanding of the secrets of the Valley’s success actually was. Now, after almost five years of pioneering research, O’Mara has produced the definitive history of Silicon Valley for our time, the story of mavericks and visionaries, but also of powerful institutions creating the framework for innovation, from the Pentagon to Stanford University. It is also a story of a community that started off remarkably homogeneous and tight-knit and stayed that way, and whose belief in its own mythology has deepened into a collective hubris that has led to astonishing triumphs as well as devastating second-order effects.

Deploying a wonderfully rich and diverse cast of protagonists, from the justly famous to the unjustly obscure, across four generations of explosive growth in the Valley, from the forties to the present, O’Mara has wrestled one of the most fateful developments in modern American history into magnificent narrative form. She is on the ground with all of the key tech companies, chronicling the evolution in their offerings through each successive era, and she has a profound fingertip feel for the politics of the sector and its relation to the larger cultural narrative about tech as it has evolved over the years. Perhaps most impressive, O’Mara has penetrated the inner kingdom of tech venture capital firms, the insular and still remarkably old-boy world that became the cockpit of American capitalism and the crucible for bringing technological innovation to market, or not…”


“How an otherwise unexceptional swath of suburbia came to rule the world is the central question animating “The Code,” Margaret O’Mara’s accessible yet sophisticated chronicle of Silicon Valley. An academic historian blessed with a journalist’s prose, O’Mara focuses less on the actual technology than on the people and policies that ensured its success. . . . O’Mara toggles deftly between character studies and the larger regulatory and political milieu.” New York Times Book Review


“Condensing this range of stories into a compact narrative isn’t a task for the timid, but Margaret O’Mara, a historian at the University of Washington, has pulled off the feat with panache in The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America. She distills voluminous monographs and biographies, newspaper articles and trade-industry publications, unpublished company materials and transcripts that she gleaned from various university archives into a briskly paced narrative. She also enlivens the book with the reflections of dozens of participants who played roles in the Valley early on, obtained through interviews she conducted and from oral histories collected by others. . . . The Code is a wise chronicle of the accretion and deployment of power and is especially sharp in tracking the Valley’s evolving relationship to Washington, D.C. By taking the long view, Ms. O’Mara provides us with the ability to see the roots of contemporary problems created by Silicon Valley’s rise, such as for-profit companies compiling vast digital storehouses of personal information or freedom in the internet era being used to spread hatred and disinformation.” The Wall Street Journal


“In her wide-ranging history of Silicon Valley, Margaret O’Mara gets behind the myth of geniuses in garages and uncovers the true origin story. O’Mara . . . brings sophistication and nuance to her narrative, covering not only the engineer-dominated culture of building products, but also the absence of attention to their implications for the world.” The National Book Review


“[A] fresh, provocative take that upends the self-serving mythologizing of the valley’s own. . . . O’Mara spotlights the village of institutions, networks and ancillary services — corps of bankers, lawyers and marketers overlooked in many accounts of the valley’s exceptionalism — behind the big moments.” —San Francisco Chronicle


“Puts a gloriously human face on the history of computing in the U.S. . . . extraordinarily comprehensive . . . a must-read for anyone interested in how a one-horse town birthed a revolution that has shifted the course of modern civilization.” Publishers Weekly, starred review


“In a field crowded with accounts of how the tech industry has developed, this work places the story of our techno-human transformation within a thoughtful Darwinian context. A necessary addition to both public and academic library collections, it will become a reference for how technology has influenced America.” —Library Journal


“Entertaining and nuanced history . . . Concerned technology users—which pretty much sums up all of us—will find much of interest here.” —Booklist, starred review

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