Looking back on Silicon Valley’s early years, when magic was brewing in the suburbs of the Bay Area.
Steve Jobs may have received most of the narrative oxygen coming out of Silicon Valley for the last quarter-century or so, with Elon Musk a close successor. However, as New York Times technology columnist Berlin (Project Historian/Stanford Univ. Silicon Valley Archives; The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, 2005, etc.) writes in this vigorous account, the first days were the hardest—and, all in all, involved the most interesting players. At the center of her narrative is Bob Taylor, a sometimes-prickly computer scientist who “kick-started the precursor to the Internet, the Arpanet.” Though employed by Xerox for years, Taylor was committing to breaking “the stranglehold of mainframe computing” and evangelized for the vast possibilities of personal computers. Others picked up on his vision even as Taylor eventually broke with Xerox and early adapters discovered the many difficulties inherent in creating a useful PC. Mike Markkula, for one, worked quietly as Apple chairman to raise the quality and look of its products. “Markkula placed a high priority on first impressions,” writes Berlin, “so high that Jobs would later say that it was Markkula who taught him to do the same.” It’s noteworthy, as the author notes, that Markkula’s departure saw Apple grow increasingly lost in the wilderness throughout much of the 1980s and ’90s. Some of the other visionaries Berlin profiles include Sandra Kurtzig, the pioneering entrepreneur who was the first woman CEO to take a Silicon Valley company public, and Al Alcorn, who masterminded the video game “Pong.” Others earn less space but are no less influential, such as HP president John Young, who predicted in 1980 that Silicon Valley would replace manufacturing with research, thus making it the domain of “highly skilled professionals who can afford to live here”—which, of course, is just how things turned out.
A sturdy, skillfully constructed work of business and technological history.