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on 30 December 2011
The Internet is now the background to most of our lives - for some it is central - but how much do
we really understand about how it works and what it's doing to us? This book by John Naughton is a great place to start. It gives you the history, enough of the technology and most importantly, a very good way past the myths and into the real significance of the Internet.

Naughton is in a good place to do this. He is part geek, part academic, part journalist, part enthusiast. The result is a book with comfortable authority. He doesn't let his knowledge get in the way of your understanding.

I am supposed to be a new media expert, but really I'm just a journalist interested in its effects. For me, the Internet is not just central to our lives, but environmental. However, I don't really know much about how it works. So From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg was very useful. What is the difference between the Internet and the Web? How can a digital system have a virus? How can I get information from a cloud? All these and more of the technical questions are answered. But Naughton goes further than simply providing a kind of Haynes Manual for the Internet.

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg explores the concepts that make the Internet such an interesting and probably unique media force for social, political and economic change. He reminds us that the Internet is constantly evolving both as a structure as well as its content. He tells us to remember that disruption is the norm not the exception for the Internet. He asks us to think of the Internet as an ecology - a kind of living system, not a machine.

But it gets even more interesting and a little more contentious when he looks at the future. At this point Naughton changes persona somewhat from the affable guide to the Internet tapping away in his Cambridge study. Now we have John Naughton the Internet activist who believes that copyright is an outmoded restriction on the freedom that makes the Net such as creative force: "we're facing a situation where large numbers of our fellow citizens are effectively being criminalised by unenforceable laws".

In the final chapter Naughton takes us on a tour of the future of the Internet with competing utopian and nightmare visions. Through Orwell, Huxley and then Steve Jobs we journey through the battlefield for the Open Internet. Naughton cites the excellent Timonthy Wu and Evegeny Morozov to warn us of how corporations as well as authoritarian governments might want to use the Internet to control and exploit us. But in the end this feels more like a sober celebration of the Internet than a diagnosis of decay.

This is a clear, readable, unpatronising, well structured book where the appendix and glossary are actually very useful. I would recommend it to anyone seeking to understand the Internet in the round. Perhaps you already know about programming, or web design or blogging. Perhaps you do online marketing, journalism or campaigning. Or perhaps the Internet is just where you go for friendship, amusement or shopping. In any case, you will know at least part of this story, but Naughton's book gives you the whole picture.
Charlie Beckett
London School of Economics
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on 17 March 2012
Very readable and not too technical. But essential if you want a snapshot of where we're at with the internet now, what we need to be aware of and with hints as to where we might go. Fascinating with some very surprising facts and figures. Read it! Or maybe read JN's 1999 book first.
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on 21 August 2013
Following Ed Snowdens appearance I realised that I couldn't really function any more as an active and informed citizen unless I got to grips with the Internet. After a false start with Heather Brooke's truly cringe making 'The Revolution Will Be Digitised' I was desperate for something that spoke in a language and to ideas that non technorati could understand but which didn't treat me as a complete idiot ripe for being fed slf serving tripe about mainstream journalists being our saviours. This book would be worth it's price alone just for the short but fair and balanced account it gives of Wikileaks relay ship with traditional media. But the book contains so much more and gives much food for thought. Well written, with an ease of style and just enough humour to make you really warm to Naughton. I disagree with another reviewer who felt that the penultimate chapter didn't belong to this book. The subject of copyright and piracy is one that had struggled to understand and one that often divides older people like myself from the young. I came away from this feeling that I had gained more insight not just into the Internet itself, but also into the ideas of a lot of the young activists who have grown up with it. I hope with all the recent events that you can hold on to some of your enthusiasm Mr Naughhton and thank you.
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on 16 November 2013
A potted history of a selection of technologies from the 14th century to the present day - nothing insightful, no detail and little referencing except to other journalistic books of this type i.e. no scholarship, nor originality. If you have read the same eight to a dozen books you may come to the same non-conclusions. More like a assemblage of adricles or essays for a Sunday colour supplement and so targeted at the reading age of a 14 year old, or at best an undergraduate in their first year of .... well, I'm not sure.
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on 20 June 2014
I found this book in a bargain bin at The Works, which just goes to show that you can find great stuff in bargain bins – this book is, without a doubt, one of the best books that I’ve ever read about the internet. How much you enjoy it will probably depend upon how much you used the internet in the early days – there’s some great stuff about the founding of Napster, for example, that you’ll only really relate to if you used it the first time around.

Napster itself was only made possible by both the internet itself and the creation of the mp3 encoding format, two subjects that Naughton explains eloquently and in detail. If you’re a bit of a computer geek like I am then you’ll probably enjoy it, but it might be a bit too much if you’re not interested in the inner workings of the computers and networks that power our civilization.

Of particular interest is Naughton’s comparison of the internet to the Gutenberg press, another invention which revolutionised the way that we communicate. In fact, he begins the book by covering off the invention and adoption of the Gutenberg press and the way in which it changed the world for the better – the internet, he argues, will have a similar effect over time.

It’s also interesting to read Naughton’s views on the copyright culture that we live in, a set of views that I happen to share – I won’t go in to them in too much detail because I suggest that you go out and buy a copy of the book for yourself. Naughton also has some interesting ideas when it comes to predictions of the future – he looks at the dystopian futures proposed by Orwell and Huxley, and explains why they could both be right when it comes to their depressing view of what our society might become.

All in all, this book is a pleasure to read and a must-have for anyone who’s a regular user of the internet. So check it out!
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on 5 January 2012
I read a draft of this (truth in advertising, I know the author and he asked me to take a look) and I like the pitch a lot. I remember a dinner party in 1984 (yes, that year) when I was a bit tipsy and I told everyone there that their world was gonna change and the Internet was going to do it - they all looked at me as if I was barking mad. One of those people at the party went on to manage a TV company that has a big online presence, another ended up at a major posh english newspaper editing material which is mostly seen online, rather than in print (old joke, What's black and white and "red" all over). Another releases videos and music via myspace (well, she used to - its probably spotify or some other channel by now).

So this is about how and why.

Its a timely reminder of the relative impact of affordable mass produced print, and the effects of virtually free distribution of information to 2/5 of the world's population. Indeed, anything sufficiently viral in the interweb (old Ab Fab joke) will then be recycled by traditional media anyhow, so you'll probably get to 4/5 of the world's population with something genuinely interesting (e.g. a combined solution to climate change and recession:).

The author is a great writer and communicator, and the book reads very easily. Even for some old git like me whose been working on the technology (and its use) since, um, 32 years ago, this is a good read. For the intended audience (the woman upstairs on the clapham bendy bus?), this is excellent.

I think the culmination of the work, the hopes and fears for what the Internet may bring, is a great cultural contribution and alone makes the book worth buying.
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on 8 January 2013
I had read John Naughton's A Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet and found it incredibly informative and accesible. This book is even better! When thinking about the Internet, the focus often ends up on the technology more than the social repercussions. The author cuts to the nub of the technology, makes it accessible and then discusses its effect on us.

For the first time in human history, we have the opportunity to broadcast, communicate, collaborate and participate with no barriers, restrictions or censorship. This brings with it both good and bad, but I believe that it is a window of opportunity that will only be realised in a positive and productive way, if we understand both the medium and the social potential it embodies, that is why I consider this book so important.
Some of the traditional power structures and organisations that thrive on secrecy, distraction and apathy to control our World, are trying to control the internet, and it is only by the majority of people understanding what the Internet is and what it could be, that we can all have a voice in its future.

This isn't just a good read, I think it is an important read too, and I highly recommend it.
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on 26 February 2013
I loved this book so much that I bought four more copies for my family and friends.
They have all thanked me and said they are reading it with fascination.
Its the best book I have read in a long time. Really makes you think about the internet.
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on 24 June 2012
A great book to start an exploration of a topic which has had a profound impact on our world already. Worth buying just to read why the introduction of Gutenberg's printing press offers us a perspective on the internet. Given the complexity of the subject, John Naughton has written an easy to understand book, which instead of trying to provide just answers, asks many questions too, all of which helps the reader to understand a technology which affects us all, but most of us seem to have surprisingly little curiosity about.
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on 4 July 2013
Need to look no further in my case. My parent are nearing 65 yo and as opposed to me, a lot of the inner part of how computer and the internet works (on a theoretical level) are absolute alien to them. I was trying to explain the challenge representing the internet to the society as a whole.

I could have recommended 'The Pirate's Dilemma' by Matt Mason (The Pirates Dilemma Capitalists Millionaires but then I saw the interview of the author of the present book ([...] and it did convince me that he was going to do a better job for people from an 'older' generation.
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