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From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism Paperback – 15 Sep 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 354 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (15 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226817423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226817422
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 144,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Brand''s trajectory from arty 60s mayhem to the halls of Congress reflects, Turner argues, a realisation that ''the natural world and the social world really "were" all one system of information exchange.''"

"Turner convincingly portrays a cadre of journalists who strove to transform the idea of the computer from a threat during the Cold War into a means of achieving personal freedom in an emerging digital uptopia."

"Chapter by chapter, Fred Turner shows inventively and with a deep knowledge of the whole scene how cold war technology met hippie communalism to produce the "Whole Earth Catalog," WELL, "Wired," and everything that followed. This book is a tour de force of historical digging, sociological analysis, and full understanding."

"In Turner''s meticulously detailed . . . book, he postulates that Brand was an idealistic (albeit Barnum-esque) leader of a merry band of cybernetic pranksters who framed the concept of computers and the Internet with a seemingly nonintuitive twist: These one-time engines of government and big business had transmogrified into a social force associated with egalitarianism, personal empowerment, and the nurturing cocoon of community."

"Turner''s fascinating "From Counterculture to Cyberculture" gives us a detailed look at one slice through this marvelous story. Unlike many other histories that focus on the technical innovators . . . this account focuses on a key player whose role was making the counterculture-cyberculture connection: Stewart Brand. . . . There are a myriad of fascinating little historical details that [Turner] dug up that will surprise and enlighten even the key players in the drama."

"With its countercurrents and nuances, [the book] recalls works of the highest standard that also address technology''s interactions with national culture: David E. Nye''s "American Technological Sublime" (1994) comes to mind, as does Norman Mailer''s ''Of a Fire on the Moon'' (1971). . . . One of the many strengths . . . is that [the book] articulates the sociological forces that created this revolution in our time. Twenty-nine dollars will never buy you more book than this."

"Fred Turner's richly detailed history of how the alliance between the counterculture and "digirati" was formed is a fascinating story demonstrating that the computer's metaphoric implications are never simply the result of the technology itself. Engrossing, deeply researched, and rich with implications, "From Counterculture to Cyberculture" is highly recommended for anyone interested in how technological objects attain meaning within social and historical contexts."--N. Katherine Hayles

"Turner''s enjoyable deep cultural history traces the roots of 1990s techno-utopianism in the acid tests and communes of the 1960s." -- Steven Poole "Guardian" (08/23/2008)

About the Author

Fred Turner is assistant professor in the department of communication at Stanford University. He is the author of Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the first attempt to tell the remarkable story of Stewart Brand - one of the most influential men of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. And it achieves it brilliantly.

The story is book-ended by two important publications - Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Kevin Kelly's Wired magazine.

In the former, set in San Francisco in the mid 'sixties, Brand joined Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters in their search for the alternative consciousness and sense of community provided by LSD and a variety of mind altering chemical and technological stimulants.

In the latter, the action moves out to the Bay Area and we see Brand, Kelly and the electro-hippies seeking their own escape from the hierarchies of control in what they saw as the coming digital utopia.

In between, Turner displays a masterful command of the popular culture and technological landscape that Brand so nimbly traversed. In one of the many excellent reviews this book receives on, someone describes Brand as 'Zelig-like'. Yet, in the Woody Allen movie, Zelig was an incidental observer at landmark events. Brand, however, was aways a major player - absorbing new ideas, seeking and making connections where none appeared to exist and, most importantly, making things happen.

From Kesey's bus to organising the Trips Festival that kicked off San Francisco's Summer of Love; from the breakthrough demonstration of the moveable mouse interface to the launch of The Whole Earth Catalog (which Steve Jobs described as the offline www); from WELL, the first real working computer network to the launch of Wired, Brand was at the very centre of events that have shaped our world.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa1f2c81c) out of 5 stars 21 reviews
138 of 143 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1f37cf0) out of 5 stars Solid scholarship, cogent argument 25 Sept. 2006
By Stewart Brand - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As the guy in the subtitle, I might be expected to have all kinds of eye-rolling cavils with Turner's book, but I don't. I'm impressed by the thoroughness of his research and his astonishingly accurate depiction of the many brief historical contexts in which his story unfolds. That is hard to do even for people who were there.

I'll add here one micro-correction that I gather Turner plans to fix in the paperback edition. In the early 1960s I was not a draftee in the Army, but an officer on two years active duty in the Infantry. If I at times took a leadership role later on, I was just deploying what I'd been trained to do.

The guy in the subtitle CAN'T give a book 5 stars--- it's impertinent. Hence my 4 stars.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1f37d44) out of 5 stars An excellent record of an amazing life 26 Nov. 2006
By Paul Sas - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Stewart Brand is a high-IQ Zelig, who has been a catalyst of so many important developments throughout the last 4 decades of the 20th century. This volume is more scholarly, and more revealing of the social forces at work, than Markoff's What the Dormouse Said. It focuses with great intensity on Brand, due to Turner's unique access to Brand's diaries in the Stanford Library. SB is shown to have been central to far more moments of incipient Renaissance than anyone since Lou Salome, friend of Nietzsche, Rilke and Freud: He joined Ken Kesey as an original Prankster, was the videographer for Engelbart's 'mother of all demos,' then linked up all kinds of communes (including Ant Farm) while founding and editing the Whole Earth Catalog. Besides all the events already mentioned, Turner dives deeply into the WELL, which was the primordial "virtual community", co-founded by Brand. With his vision of power as drawn from network affiliations, Brand then built a consulting company called the Global Business Network, which used scenario planning as a form of "corporate performance art", by fusing countercultural norms with the needs of corporate board rooms. Turner does a fairly good job posing critical questions about how the privileged white male perspective defined the unfolding story. He flags the problem of this privilege, but isn't able to concretely identify how it could have been solved. Read this book to learn how SB helped create the world we live in, and deployed his unique social entrepreneurial skills to stay in the center of the game.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1f39198) out of 5 stars Insight into America's cultural transformation 3 July 2008
By Malvin - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"From Counterculture to Cyberculture" by Fred Turner offers a groundbreaking work that definitively traces the rise of digital utopianism to the ideals of the 1960s counterculture. Mr. Turner supports his fascinating narrative with original research and provides many pages of thoughtful analysis. This extraordinary book will no doubt be valued by researchers and interested readers who want to gain deep insight into some of the most interesting aspects of America's cultural transformation during the second half of the twentieth century.

Mr. Turner contends that the U.S. scientific/military/academic complex of the 1940s-1960s fostered radically new, collaborative work structures characterized by collegiality and the free sharing of information. While the New Left was repelled by this system and what it regarded to be its instruments of empire, Mr. Turner demonstrates that Cold War technology held great appeal to many of the New Communards of the 1960s, who had withdrawn from the political in order develop consciousness within music, drugs and alternative living arrangements. To key persons within the New Communard movement, it was felt that technology could play a key role in the task of empowering individuals to transform themselves and their world.

In particular, Mr. Turner focuses on the remarkable career of Stewart Brand to tell his story. Mr. Turner discusses how Brand personified the anxieties and aspirations of his generation but importantly, recognized the value of collaboration as a key life strategy and aimed to repurpose technology for the benefit of society. Mr. Turner follows Brand through the various phases of his life, including stints as a member of the LSD-dropping Merry Pranksters, an enterpreneur who published the Whole Earth Catalog, independent writer, organizer of computer conferences, developer of the WELL bulletin board/email system, and tech industry consultant to demonstrate how the personal and professional networks that Brand had a part in building have profoundly impacted our attitudes and perceptions about computing technology. Specifically, Mr. Turner argues that the notion of personal computing as a tool for achieving liberation and the Internet as a platform for constructing egalitarian communities were rooted in the countercultural values that Brand, and others within his circle, embraced.

Mr. Turner goes on to discuss how the so-called New Economy of the 1990s reveled in the libertarian rhetoric that echoed the apolitical logic of the New Communards, who had returned from the failed communes of the 1970s to seek redemption within corporate America through the construction of an immaterial economy of seemingly endless possibility. Assessing the limitations of ideology to achieve lasting reform both then and now, Mr. Turner suggests that the cyberculturalist task of building a truly egalitarian society will remain problematic as long as its members remain alienated from the material world.

I give this brilliant and thoroughly engrossing work the highest possible rating and recommend it to everyone.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1f39180) out of 5 stars An Important book about a major influence of the 60's through the 90's 22 May 2007
By Chris A. Cunningham - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who was deeply and profoundly influenced by the WEC, WER, and the WELL, I found this to both reinvigorate the excitement of the different eras it discusses and, also, to tie them together and provide fresh insights. After I finished it I looked around my office and realized how much of my thinking was influenced by Steward Brand and his experiments. Easily 30% of the books in my library were originally recommended in either the Catalog or the Review. I was also an early WELL subscriber and a `Maniacal' Whole Earth Review subscriber so almost everything mentioned here I could relate to.

It may devolve into `professor-speak' at times but it is well worth it. If you want to know about one of the critical components of both the `counter culture' of the 60's and the internet revolution of the 90's this is a must read.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1f3954c) out of 5 stars What one person can turn on within these vast systems within which we vibrate 26 Oct. 2006
By Shalom Freedman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Like one of his teachers and friends Buckminster Fuller, Stesart Brand is an archetypal example of the American individualist- inventor the man who Thoreau said ' hears the sound of his own drummer'. Paradoxically the super- individualist Brand is also perhaps the single person most responsible for making ordinary Americans connect with, show concern with the various systems cyber-systems, eco-systems, communications - systems we are moving within.

In this informed, detailed, and extremely well- written survey of the career of Brand, Fred Turner also provides a insightful and exciting look at America 's cultural, and especially 'alternative culture ' development from the sixties through the nineties. Brand meets up on his travels with 'Edge's' John Brockman, with Ken Kesey with whom he is a Merry Prankster, with Bucky Fuller who tries to help his projects,with Kevin Kelly of the 'Wired' world, with many of those seeking new ways of making the Technology connect with communal frameworks that will enable ( at least this is one of Brand's goals) the individual to truly be an individual .

Brand's most famous contribution 'The Whole Earth Catalogue' which was certainly one of the major cultural influences upon the Environmental Movement, and incidentally the Hippy Culture of the Sixties , told us the way we could get anything we needed to make our way into the rapidly changing future. Brand's work as editor and thinker also contributed to the World Wide Web to come, and the name and concept 'personal computer' is also one of his contributions.

This is an important work to read not only to learn about decisive moments in the life of a remarkable individual, but to better understand the world- in- the -making we are a part of.
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