Review of Where Wizards Stay Up Late

Where Wizards Stay Up Late
Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
Touchstone Books

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

July 28, 2001

The explosion of the Internet is arguably the most remarkable phenomenon of this generation. To most people, it must seem that the technology that now links just about everyone and everything came from nowhere in the mid to late 90s. However, that's not the case. Today's Internet rests upon a foundation that took decades to build. The story of how this came about is remarkable, and its history, from the conception of packet switching networks to the retirement of the ARPANET in 1989, is chronicled in Where Wizards Stay Up Late. Chapters four and five describe the development of the Interface Message Processors, the gateways that hooked local computers to the ARPANET, and the deployment of the first four ARPANET nodes. Chapters six and seven focus on the applications and uses for the ARPANET, including the development of the ARPANET's "killer application", email. Chapter eight focuses on the transition from the ARPANET to the modern Internet, most notably the transition from the Network Control Protocol to TCP/IP.

The early chapters are a little slow at times, but they are necessary to introduce some of the key characters in this drama and to lay the foundation for the events to follow. However, by the time the BBN crew is installing the first IMP at UCLA, the book really hits its stride, demonstrating just how much of a shoestring on which the first large-scale data network was developed, as well as how great the strides have been in the advancement of computer technology since this time.

There are several books on the market that describe the development of the early ARPANET and Internet. They all offer something of value to the prospective reader, but in my opinion, Where Wizards Stay Up Late is the most complete, is the most expertly written, and is simply the most entertaining to read. If a person were to read only one book on the history of the early Internet, this would be the one I'd pick. It's detailed enough for the die-hard Internet aficionado, but clearly enough written for a casual 'Net user to understand how remarkable an achievement internetworking really is. I believe this is a terrific book and I recommend it highly.


Of all the books written about the early history of what is now the Internet, Where Wizards Stay Up Late is the single best of them. Hafner and Lyon's book is both thorough enough to satisfy an Internet guru while being clearly enough written to entertain a relative network novice. This is a good book about a remarkable achievement in human history. Humanity has been done a considerable service by having these events chronicled for future generations.

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