Computer Lib/Dream Machines

By Theodor H. Nelson

Ted Nelson’s infamous double volume, a foundational text in weird computer literature!

I know it’s very influential and revered by a lot of people but I haven’t actually ever seen it in person to flip through the pages let alone read it.

Recently republished, though it seems to now be sold out again. From the book description:

Computer Lib/Dream Machines is one of the most important books on technology. It was written in 1974 by Ted Nelson, who is known for coining the terms hypertext and hypermedia in the 1960s, and had the foresight to write loudly on the cover – “You Can and Must Understand Computers NOW.”

Computer Lib/Dream Machines is actually two books attached together back-to-back. Computer Lib explains the inner workings of the computer to the layman. And Dream Machines discusses the potential of computers and basically predicts the future of artificial intelligence, animation, hypertext, virtual reality and a whole lot more.

This book has inspired many of today’s greatest technologists and entrepreneurs, and in some cases is the original reason they got into computers. And with this re-publishing, the hope is that this book will continue to inspire the next generations, who can now experience this book as a historical artifact – of a time when computers did not really exist and how one man’s creativity could come up with so many possibilities of what could be. This is despite many of his contemporaries thinking of how pointless or just insane it all was. Yesterday’s fiction was Ted’s reality and is now today’s reality.

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* Independent online book marketplaces. While these sites are often lighter on data / reviews, and thus not the first place to go to learn about a book, they're a great place to actually purchase!

Highlighted Replies

  1. Avatar for brian brian says:

    Very cool, good find! That price does seem pretty steep, but it’s tempting…

    I thought Ted’s Tools & Craft interview was interesting. He also made an eccentric video where he lays out his own perspective on his life’s work. I’d love to read the original Comp Lib/Dream Machines though to see his ideas in their original form.

  2. I started reading my copy. So far it’s like… Really a guide to computers in the 70s or whenever he released it. Even has recommendations on what languages to try and what computers to buy. Explains some deep concepts.

    I haven’t read the Dream Machines half yet tho. Hoping that’s more interesting

  3. I bought it and read it recently. It’s more interesting as a fun piece of computer science history than anything else. It’s a truly weird book (it’s physically quite large, like newspaper-sized) with lots of tiny columns (again, more like a newspaper than a book). The illustrations and random musings are fun.

    But… beyond it being a historical curiosity, I don’t think there’s too much else to glean from this book. It’s impressive how prophetic he was in some sense but I didn’t find myself too blown away otherwise. I really do think most of the charm is from how bizarre the whole book is, rather than the content itself, if that makes sense.

  4. Yea I’d agree. I need to figure out where to donate this copy after I’m done lol. Wonder if the Palo Alto library needs a copy

  5. Avatar for kyle kyle says:

    I mentioned this in my intro, but having also read the thread on book collecting I’m coming to terms with the fact I like old computing books. CL/DM is definitely on the short list, and one could compile essentially a whole list of items from The New Media Reader.

    My favorite though of this ilk are the writings of Joseph Wizenbaum, who wrote Computer Power and Human Reason, which I also own a copy of. He’s less flamboyant than Nelson but writes with a stoicism and pointedness that feels more like inspired prose than philosophical grappling.

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