'1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus' by Charles C. Mann
If you don't understand why people get so mad about Columbus Day, read this book. Before Columbus made his voyage, there were more people living in the Americas than in Europe. The city of Tenochtitlán was a technological marvel, with running water, gorgeous botanical gardens, and immaculate streets. Early genetic engineering of corn rivals modern science. 1491 is a revelation, exploring the achievements of Pre-Colombian America and debunking long-held historical myths.
10 Science Fiction Books That Changed the Course of History
Many science fiction books imagine strange new worlds — but only a few science fiction books have actually changed the world we live in. A few visionary authors have managed to make such an impression that they left the world a vastly different place.
Here are 10 seminal science fiction novels that changed the world as we know it.
Top image: Chiba in William Gibson's Neuromancer by PHATandy on DeviantArt.
1) The Tom Swift Series
First appearing in 1920, Tom Swift, the teenage homeschooled genius inventor and protagonist of over one hundred stories — ghostwritten by a bullpen of authors under the pseudonym "Victor Appleton" –- inspired innumerable children to take an interest in science, including futurist/writer/inventor Ray Kurzweil, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Steve Wozniak , who credits the character directly for his becoming a scientist. Jack Cover, inventor of the Taser, was inspired to create a less-lethal alternative to guns after reading about a similar device Swift had created, and then decided to name it after the character: "Thomas A. Swift's Electric Rifle".
William Gibson's classic novel that popularized the cyberpunk subgenre is often cited as an indirect influence in the development of the Internet – in the words of fellow SF writer Jack Womack, "What if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?" More concretely, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, cites Arthur C. Clarke's short story Dial F. for Frankenstein, in which a network of computers linked together learn to think autonomously, as a childhood influence.
Philip Wylie's 1930 novel, about the excellently named "Professor Abednego Danner", who invents an "alkaline free radical" serum that imbues those who ingest it with insectile powers, served as the inspiration for the modern superhero. In the story, Danner uses the serum on his unborn child, Hugo, giving him the proportional strength of an ant, the leaping ability of a grasshopper, super speed, and
bulletproof skin. As Hugo grows up, his parents teach him to use his powers responsibly, causing him to be bullied at school, but he finds relief by cutting loose in the wilderness surrounding his rural hometown. Sound familiar? It doesn't end there – Hugo later becomes a star quarterback, but after accidentally killing a football player, he quits in disgrace, joins the French Foreign Legion, and fights in World War I. After the war, he returns home and gets a job as a bank teller, though is fired after ripping off the vault door while rescuing a suffocating employee. He then continues on to two other short-lived careers in politics and Mayan archeology before the story's tragic finale. Although Hugo never dons a costume or sets out to fight crime, Wylie's brief novel managed to predict nearly every classic superhero origin, impacting 20th Century pop culture like nothing else — and now, ninety years later, real-world superheroes are taking the streets, and though none of them have super powers like Hugo, Grant Morrison posits it's only a matter of time and expense until one does.
Civilization and Its Discontents
By Sigmund Freud
What It’s About: Freud was an academic sensation at the beginning of the 20th century. He had invented psychoanalysis, brought the science of psychology to the mainstream, and was highly regarded in intellectual circles around Europe. Then World War I broke out, and destroyed, well, just about everything. Freud was deeply moved by the devastation and fell into a deep depression and secluded himself for much of the 1920s. Civilization and Its Discontents was the result of this depression.
The book makes one simple argument: that humans have deep, animalistic instincts to eat, kill, or fuck everything. Freud argued that civilization could only arise when enough humans learned to repress these deeper and baser urges, to push them into the unconscious where (according to his model) they would fester and ultimately generate all sorts of neuroses.
Freud basically came to the conclusion that as humans, we had one of two shitty options in life: 1) repress all of our basic instincts to maintain some semblance of a safe and cooperative civilization, thus making ourselves miserable and neurotic or 2) to let them all out and let shit hit the fan.
To Freud, Hitler and World War II just proved his point a few years later. And as an Austrian Jew, he ran for the hills. The hills being London, of course. He lived out the last years of his life in a city being bombed into oblivion.
“It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built up upon a renunciation of instinct.”
“A love that does not discriminate seems to me to forfeit a part of its own value, by doing an injustice to its object.”
Bonus Points For: Basically arguing that we’re all fucked and there’s no hope for any of us. And doing it convincingly.
If This Book Could Be Summarized in An Image, That Image Would Be: The Eye of Sauron overlooking hordes of his minions advancing on the kingdom of Gondor as the darkness consumes the — oh wait, wrong book.
Read This Book If…
…you like the explanation that the only problem any of us have is that we want to fuck and/or kill everybody in sight, yet we’re not allowed to.
…you basically hate humans and think they’re a bunch of rape-hungry assholes waiting to stab each other over a sandwich.
…Hitler makes you sad.
6 Either/Or &ndash Søren Kierkegaard (1843)
Either/Or portays the two lifeviews, one being consciously hedonistic and one based on ethical duty and responsibility, in two volumes. Each lifeview is written and represented by a fictional pseudonymous author and the prose of the work depends on which lifeview is being discussed. For example, the aesthetic lifeview is written in short essay form, with poetic imagery and allusions, discussing aesthetic topics such as music, seduction, drama, and beauty. The ethical lifeview is written as two long letters, with a more argumentative and restraint prose, discussing moral responsibility, critical reflection, and marriage.
This book, by the father of existentialism has been highly influential with other existentialists. Despite its great popularity, it was not published in English until 1944. Existentialism is a philosophical movement that claims that individual human beings have full responsibility for creating the meanings of their own lives. It is a reaction against more traditional philosophies, such as rationalism and empiricism.
The Book that Changed the World - HISTORY
A 208 page book written in 2009 by Journalist and Author Andrew Taylor. Books from every field of human creativity and intellectual endeavor - from poetry to politics, from fiction to philosophy, from theology to anthropology, and from economics to physics – have been selected to create a rounded and satisfying picture of how 50 towering achievements of the human intellect have built our societies, shaped our values, enhanced our understanding of the nature of the world, enabled technological advancements, and reflected our concerns and dilemmas, strengths and failings. In a series of engaging and lively essays, Andrew Taylor sets each work and its author firmly in historical context, summarizes the content of the work in question, and explores its wider influence and legacy. A fascinating and richly informative read.
The Iliad by Homer
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set in the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of Ilium by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and e.
The Histories of Herodotus by Herodotus
The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serve.
Analects by Confucius
Lunyu, also known as the Analects of Confucius, are considered a record of the words and acts of the central Chinese thinker and philosopher Confucius and his disciples, as well as the discussions .
The Republic by Plato
The Republic is a Socratic dialogue by Plato, written c. 380 B.C.E.. It is one of the most influential works of philosophy and political theory, and Plato's best known work. In Plato's fictional di.
The Bible by Christian Church
The Authorized King James Version is an English translation of the Christian Bible begun in 1604 and completed in 1611 by the Church of England. Printed by the King's Printer, Robert Barker, the fi.
The Odes by Horace
The Odes (Latin: Carmina) are a collection in four books of Latin lyric poems by Horace. The Horatian ode format and style has been emulated since by other poets. Books 1 to 3 were published in 23 .
Geography by Ptolemy
The Geography (Latin: Geographia, Cosmographia Greek: Γεωγραφικὴ Ὑφήγησις Geographike Hyphegesis) is Ptolemy's main work besides the Almagest. It is a treatise on cartography and a compilation of .
Kama Sutra by Vātsyāyana
The Kama Sutra (Sanskrit: कामसूत्र About this sound pronunciation (help·info), Kāmasūtra) is an ancient Indian Hindu text widely considered to be the standard work on human sexual behavior in Sansk.
The Quran by Various Authors
The Qur’an is the central religious text of Islam, also sometimes transliterated as Quran, Qur’ān, Koran, Alcoran or Al-Qur’ān. Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the book of divine guidance and dire.
Canon of Medicine by Avicenna
The Canon of Medicine (Arabic: القانون في الطب al-Qānūn fī al-Ṭibb) is an encyclopedia of medicine in five books compiled by Persian philosopher Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and completed in 1025. It prese.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
With their astonishing diversity of tone and subject matter, The Canterbury Tales have become one of the touchstones of medieval literature. Translated here into modern English, these tales of a mo.
The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Il Principe (The Prince) is a political treatise by the Florentine public servant and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. Originally called De Principatibus (About Principalities), it was origi.
Atlas by Gerardus Mercator
Gerardus Mercator (born 5 March 1512 in Rupelmonde, County of Flanders (in modern Belgium), died 2 December 1594 in Duisburg, United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, (modern-day Germany)) was a carto.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman in his fifties, lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes th.
First Folio by William Shakespeare
Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies is the 1623 published collection of William Shakespeare's plays. Modern scholars commonly refer to it as the First Folio. Printed in folio.
An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings by William Harvey
Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (An Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Living Beings) is the best-known work of the physician William Harvey.
Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo
The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was a 1632 Italian language book by Galileo Galilei comparing the Copernican system with the traditional Ptolemaic system. It was translated to L.
Principia Mathematica by Issac Newton
A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
Published on 15 April 1755 and written by Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, sometimes published as Johnson's Dictionary, is among the most influential dictionaries in the histor.
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary and loosely autobiographical novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, first published in 1774 a revised edition of the novel was published in 1787. Werthe.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (generally referred to by the short title The Wealth of Nations) is the magnum opus written by Scottish economist and moral philosophe.
The book that changed the world
Darwin's On the Origin of Species may have been a shock in 1859, but it was hardly a surprise: hundreds of naturalists, geologists and palaeontologists, many of them giants of science, must have known that something was coming, and some of them dreaded it.
Among the more alarmed readers were people like Charles Lyell and Adam Sedgwick, geologists who taught Darwin and who had done more than anyone to show that creation must have taken a lot longer than the Biblical seven days. Even more outraged was Richard Owen, the man who coined the word "dinosaur" and created the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, and whose theory of the origin of species was rooted in religion: he accepted some evolutionary adaptation, but from a set of archetypes created by God.
Much of the hostility and alarm came not overtly from religion, but from within science. The book was hailed, applauded, challenged, questioned, condemned, cruelly dismissed and, rather astonishingly, ignored: the president of the Geological Society of London in 1859 managed to give Darwin a medal of honour for his geological observations in the Andes and his stunning four-volume study on barnacles, without mentioning his seminal paper with Alfred Russel Wallace, or the forthcoming book.
Origin was the book of the year - perhaps the book of the century - but it faced some stiff competition in 1859. Alfred Lord Tennyson printed the first Idylls of the King, his long cycle of Arthurian poems. John Stuart Mill wrote his mighty work On Liberty. Samuel Smiles delivered Self Help, a classic in a genre that has kept publishing houses alive ever since. George Eliot published Adam Bede and Charles Dickens produced A Tale of Two Cities.
It was the best of times and the worst of times for Charles Darwin. The book attracted enormous attention, much of it admiring. A century and a half later, in a book called Darwin's Dangerous Idea, the philosopher Daniel Dennett called evolution by natural selection acting upon random mutation "the single best idea anyone has ever had", but the proposition of evolutionary change was not new, even in 1859.
The book appeared in a Christian world that was already aware - 50 years of debate and research by some of Darwin's critics had helped - that the Book of Genesis might not be taken literally. Lamarck, Wallace and Darwin all tackled the interesting question of why giraffes had long necks and the public took an interest. A popular song of 1861 sums it up:
A deer with a neck that was
longer by half
Than the rest of his family's
(try not to laugh)
became a Giraffe
Darwin's version of the great giraffe argument made a splash, it made money - Darwin, says his biographer Janet Browne, was one of the first Victorians to negotiate what is now known as an advance against royalties - and it attracted interest far beyond the scientific community. Darwin received immediate support from that energetic churchman, naturalist and novelist Charles Kingsley, and later an admiring letter from Karl Marx.
Origin was a bestseller. The publisher John Murray ran off 1,250 copies and took orders for 1,500 even before the publication day, including 500 for a circulating library. A month later, he produced another 3,000 copies. Darwin helped sales along by a tactic now routinely employed by modern authors: he promoted it, says Browne, through "journals, newspapers, public lectures, controversial tracts and freethinking magazines".
Altogether, before the copyright expired in 1901, the publishers had printed 56,000 copies in the original format and another 48,000 in the cheap edition. This was not bad for a big fat volume that (apart from one diagram) failed the Alice in Wonderland test for a useful book: it had no pictures or conversations.
On the other hand, the storm it provoked alarmed Darwin. He had worried about its possible effect on his friends Thomas Henry Huxley and Charles Lyell. The first had scientific reservations, the second religious scruples. Lyell maintained his loyalty to Darwin, and Huxley became Darwin's most ferocious supporter. Darwin certainly needed his support.
One cruel review was published anonymously - by convention reviews were then unsigned - but the Darwin camp quickly identified the hand of Richard Owen, the titan of palaeontology. "Some of my relations say it cannot possibly be Owen's article, because the reviewer speaks so very highly of prof Owen. Poor, dear simple folk!" Darwin mused wryly afterwards, but he was hurt by attacks from scholars he had once respected.
'Old ladies of both sexes'
Origin was also famously attacked in print by Bishop "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce, again, anonymously. Huxley delivered an anonymous and highly favourable review in the Times and then defended Darwin against Wilberforce in the Westminster Review with some wonderful lines, including the classic jibe about the fears of "old ladies of both sexes" and that climactic and often quoted pronouncement: "Extinguished theologians lie about the cradle of every science as strangled snakes beside that of Heracles, and history records that wherever science and dogmatism have been fairly opposed, the latter has been forced to retire from the lists, bleeding and crushed, if not annihilated scotched if not slain."
Reviews such as Huxley's turned the Origin into a book that everybody wanted to read. Darwin launched a revolution in biology but his epic study was just a beginning. His Voyage of the Beagle remains a delightful, astonishing book, whereas Origin has become one of the classics of science, and like most of the classics of science - think of Copernicus and Galileo, Newton's Principia and Linnaeus's Systema Naturae - more people know about it than have ever opened its pages.
But Origin is part of the literary canon: Darwin joins Aristotle and St Augustine, Shakespeare, Milton and Stuart Mill, Dickens, Dostoevsky and Balzac in that pantheon of texts that provide the foundations of western culture. Origin meets the test of a great book: it mattered then, and it matters now. Its publication changed the world, and yet it can be read again and again, even in that changed world.
James P. Womack was a highly regarded professor and authority on systems engineering at MIT. He went on to become the founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc. Co-authors of the book, Daniel Jones and Daniel Roos have also authored many other well-respected books on lean manufacturing and engineering techniques.
In his book review, MIT then-student wrote that the history of lean manufacturing began with artisans prior to the industrial revolution when standardized supplies were not yet available to enable large production runs. It wasn't until Henry Ford revolutionized mass production for his automobiles that made it possible for minimally trained workers to assemble cars quickly and efficiently. Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota modified the process into the first true "lean" method of production. They were able to eliminate much of the waste inherent in Ford's system, making smaller batches of parts to be used as needed as opposed to stocking larger quantities. Toyota also empowered its workers to improve the process and stop the line when issues and errors occurred. This new, lean method required communications to flow in both directions and increased quality while reducing time and costs. The authors, Womack, Jones, and Roos, suggest that lean production can be used outside of automobile manufacturing by adapting its principles to traditional mass production of many kinds. 
Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog, the book that changed the world
S tewart Brand didn't just happen to be around when the personal computer came into being he's the one who put "personal" and "computer" together in the same sentence and introduced the concept to the world. He wasn't just a member of the world's first open online community, the Well he co-founded it. And he wasn't just another of those 60s acid casualties he was the definitive 60s acid casualty. Well, not casualty exactly, but he was there taking LSD in the days when it was still legal, with the most famous hipster of them all, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters.
For nearly five decades, Stewart Brand has been hanging around the cutting edge of whatever is the most cutting thing of the day. Largely because he's discovered it and become fascinated with it long before anyone else has even noticed it but, in retrospect, it does make him seem like the west coast's answer to Zelig, the Woody Allen character who just happens to pop up at key moments in history. Because no one pops up like Stewart Brand pops up, right there, just on the cusp of something momentous.
I discover this for myself when I go and hunt down my ancient copy of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It's one of the defining pieces of new journalism, a rip-roaring ride through 1960s psychedelia in which Wolfe accompanies Kesey and the Pranksters across the States on a Day-Glo bus. And although I know about Brand's connection to Kesey, I didn't know he was in it. But of course he is, right there on page two, driving the Pranksters' pick-up truck ("a thin, blond guy", according to Wolfe, with "a blazing disk on his forehead" and "a whole necktie of Indian beads … but no shirt").
"That is classic Stewart," says Fred Turner, associate professor of communication at Stanford, who has written a book about Brand. "He only hung out with the Pranksters for about 10 minutes."
And he's right there on page two, of the definitive account of them.
"Exactly. He has a sort of genius for being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time."
It is a sort of genius. The same year that Tom Wolfe's book came out – 1968 – Brand just happened to be at what came to be known as the "mother of all demos" when the world first saw what computers could do. Douglas Englebart astonished the 1,000 foremost computer scientists with the first computer mouse, the first teleconferencing, the first word processing, and the first interactive computing. (Being Stewart Brand, of course, he wasn't just there, he was operating the camera and consulting on the presentation.)
What's more, later that same year he published the first edition of what came to be the magnum opus of the entire counterculture, the Whole Earth Catalog – a book that some people, Turner included, believed changed the world. Though it wasn't exactly a book, it was a how-to manual, a compendium, an enyclopedia, a literary review, an opinionated life guide, and a collection of readers' recommendations and reviews of everything from computational physics to goat husbandry.
This year marks its 45th anniversary. I have a slightly later, yellowing and decrepit edition, from 1971, though it's the same oversized format. It's the edition that sold 2m copies and won a US National Book award, and the tips on spot welding, home remedies for crabs (not the marine kind, I don't think), dealing with drug busts, and building your own geodesic dome are rather delightfully quaint. (I especially like an extract from the underground guide to US colleges which states that, at the University of Illinois: "The hip chicks will do it. It is easier to find a chick who will have sex now than it was two years ago when things were extremely difficult.") But it doesn't even begin to convey the revolution that the Whole Earth Catalog represented.
But then, it's almost impossible, to flick through the pages of the Catalog and recapture its newness and radicalism and potentialities. Not least because the very idea of a book changing the world is just so old-fashioned. Books don't change anything these days. If you want to start a revolution, you'd do it on Facebook. And so many of the ideas that first reached a mainstream audience in the Catalog – organic farming, solar power, recycling, wind power, desktop publishing, mountain bikes, midwife-assisted birth, female masturbation, computers, electronic synthesizers – are now simply part of our world, that the ones that didn't go mainstream (communes being a prime example) rather stand out.
Turner's 2006 book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, gives more of a clue. Several epoch-making events were going on in the San Francisco area in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, and at the centre of them all, linking them together – no surprises here – was Stewart Brand.
Ken Kesey believed that drugs would herald a new era of human consciousness. While scientists like Doug Englebart (who had, like Brand, taken part in LSD-assisted creativity sessions) came to believe that computers would be part of that. They were were developing the hardware while Brand was articulating a vision of how they might be a new tool to empower ordinary people: small scale, democratic and free.
Or, as John Markoff, a technology writer for the New York Times, puts it, the Whole Earth Catalog was "the internet before the internet. It was the book of the future. It was a web in newsprint."
It changed the world, says Turner, in much the same way that Google changed the world: it made people visible to each other. And while the computer industry was building systems to link communities of scientists, the Catalog was a "vernacular technology" that was doing the same thing.
"And Stewart knew this because he's sitting here in the middle of the tech world. But much of the rest of America can't see that yet. But he can see it. And he makes it visible and he makes it cool – and these things are important."
Forty-five years on and he's still cool. Mick Jagger might be the most obvious 60s icon who's kept on rocking. But mostly he's kept on rocking all the old tunes. Stewart Brand, on the other hand, has continued to evolve and change and at the age of 74, he's still out there at the intellectual cutting edge.
The Whole Earth Catalog may have been his most famous creation, but he's been involved in dozens of other, possibly even more influential, projects since. I interview him at the TED conference in Long Beach where he'd just delivered a talk (his fifth at TED) on his latest enthusiasm, which is about as radical as they come: de-extinction. He's trying to resurrect extinct species by retro-engineering their DNA.
In many ways, he's the elder statesman of radical ideas, an emissary from the Sixties counterculture who continues to inspire each successive generation anew a living link between the heady days of the pioneering new technology and today.
John Markoff, who wrote What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, says, simply: "Stewart was the first one to get it. He was the first person to understand cyberspace. He was the one who coined the term personal computer. And he influenced an entire generation, including an entire generation of technologists."
It is in no way hard to find people who have been inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog and by Stewart Brand. Chris Anderson, curator of TED, the conference series for "ideas worth spreading", tells me that "in my own mind, he's my intellectual hero". Chris Anderson – yes, there's two of them – a former editor of Wired and leading light in the "maker movement" of industrial DIYers – describes him as "an international treasure" and "one of my gods". He actually thanks me for writing about him. Stewart Brand, it turns out, is the hero's hero.
And to no one more so than Steve Jobs. No one was more influenced, or inspired by, Stewart Brand, than the founder of Apple. And while many credit Jobs with being one of the most creative agents of change in the late 20th century, Jobs credited Brand.
Steve Jobs's Stanford commencement address, a short talk that he gave in 2005 and which went viral after his death in 2011, is, in many ways, the ne plus ultra of Jobsian wisdom. It encapsulated his thoughts on life, love and death. It expressed his lifelong philosophy and motivation. And it ends with a moving tribute to Brand and what he calls "an amazing publication called the Whole Earth Catalog", which he describes as "one of the bibles of my generation". It's worth quoting the rest of it in full: "It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and Polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
"Stewart and his team put out several issues of the Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: 'Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.' It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you."
Were you surprised when you heard that, I ask Brand. "I was, yes, though I'd known it meant something to him as I'd been told that he wanted a copy of the cover of 'Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish' signed by me. And I signed one and sent it off to him. That was the first inkling I had that it mattered to him. But I wish I'd had a chance to really quiz him on what he got from that.
"I think he used it as a way to deal with the amount of wealth and power that was accumulating around him. That though he took great care to make sure that it did accumulate, it was a way to keep himself two-minded about it. I think it may have been the way of dealing with the innovator's dilemma, where to keep building on the new innovations you have to destroy the wonderful thing you built a couple of years ago.
"And remember this was the 70s. We were: fuck around with it, mess with it, try it sideways. That was what it was all about. I was an early hippy as it turned out, and Steve Jobs was a late hippy, and we were paying attention to the beatniks and the late hippies were paying attention to the early hippies and so it goes on."
Jobs may have given the world the Apple 2 and iTunes and the iPhone but he's the heir to a cultural mash-up that Brand was both an observer of and a participant in: hippies and computers. And for those puzzled by the confluence of Steve Jobs's professed peace'n'love ideals and his life spent making shiny consumer durables, Fred Turner points out that the Catalog was at its heart "deeply consumerist". I hadn't really thought of in that way but as Turner says "it's full of stuff to buy. All those down jackets and kayaks. It's one of the first places you see the earliest mountain bikes." It offers a vision of changing the world, he says, through buying stuff, an "idea which has stuck around".
There was nothing in Brand's background to suggest that he would become this pivotal figure. He was brought up in Rockford, Illinois, where his father worked in advertising and his mother was a Vassar-educated space fanatic, an enthusiasm that rubbed off on her son. He studied biology at Stanford and then had a stint in the army where he became a "weekend hippy and weekday soldier".
It was meeting the Beats that changed everything. He took up photography and started photographing Native American reservations around the country and it is was this link that led him to Ken Kesey, who had featured a Native American as a central character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. "I got his address from a mutual friend and he said come on by. So I went on by and was met at the door by somebody with a joint. Next thing I knew I was part of the scene."
But his encounter with Kesey came at the same time as his encounter with another San Francisco phenomenon. "I was at the Stanford computation centre and this was some time in the early 60s and I saw these young men playing Spacewar! [an early computer game]. They were out of their bodies in this game that they'd created out of nothing. It was the only way to describe it. They were having an out-of-body experience and up until that time the only out-of-body experiences I'd seen were drugs."
It wasn't until 1972 that Brand wrote about it, and he still wrote about it before anyone else, in Rolling Stone magazine, an article that is so prophetic, it's almost hallucinatory. Brand's revelation, that he understood before almost anyone else, was that cyberspace was some sort of fourth dimension and the possibilities were both empowering and limitless.
At that time, computers weren't hip. They weren't cool. They were controlled by faceless corporations and the military. They were Big Business and authority, or, as they said then, "The Man". "What Buckminster Fuller was saying and what Marshall McLuhan was saying and what I was saying, all in our different ways, was that technology is liberating if you make it so. And a fair number of the hippies bought that programme. I guess Steve Jobs is the most conspicuous one. He was a total hippy, his last words were 'Oh wow' – he said it three times, according to his sister."
It was also the starting point for another of Brand's most famously repeated ideas: that information wants to be free (although he always points out the second half of the sentence was that "it also wants to be expensive").
"We are as gods and might as well get good at it," wrote Brand on the title page of the Whole Earth Catalog. Up until now, he noted, power has been in the hands of "government, big business, formal education, church". But now "a realm of intimate, personal power is developing – power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog."
In his mind, he says, he had "Diderot and his Encylopédie and this Enlightenment idea that basically knowledge had been held back by the aristocrats and all the rest. The whole thing was to keep people from knowing how to do things. So Diderot was in my mind. And so was the LL Bean catalogue which was full of outdoors stuff."
His hero was Buckminster Fuller, a futurist architect and designer, who he says "bent my twig" with what Brand calls a "psychedelic version of engineering".
"Fuller said if all the politicians died this week it would be a nuisance, but if all the scientists and engineers in the world died it would be catastrophic. So where's the real juice here?
"And he really got me and others focused on that. Lots of people try and change human nature but it's a real waste of time. You can't change human nature, but you can change tools, you can change techniques." And that way "you can change civilisation".
Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired magazine, tells me how he first came across the Catalog when he was still in high school "and it changed my life. But then it changed everybody's life. It inspired me not to go to college but to go and try and live out my own life. It was like being given permission to invent your own life. That was what the Catalog did. It was called 'access to tools' and it gave you tools to create your own education, your own business, your own life."
Chris Anderson, the later editor of Wired, who is younger than both Brand and Kelly, says that he is absolutely the inheritor of the Catalog's "chain of influence". "The Whole Earth Catalog inspired the Homebrew Computing Club, who inspired Steve Wozniak to build the Apple 2, who inspired the personal computer movement, who in turn inspired the original web. Who inspired the open-source software movement. Who inspired the open-source hardware movement which inspired the maker movement who inspired me."
What's perhaps most remarkable about Brand, though, is the way that he himself has stayed hungry, has stayed foolish. Markoff says that his extraordinary capacity to be at the edge of the change "has puzzled me for years. Some people will be at the heart of one event but not over and over a long period of time. It can't be happenstance to keep on doing it."
He made millions from the Catalog but gave most of it away. At the final party he experimented with giving away $20,000 in cash because he thought that the extra stimulation of handing over wads of notes would "be an interesting thing to do. And indeed it was an interesting thing to do. I did not turn out any particularly creative ideas, I have to say. That was part of what made it interesting. My hypothesis was that under duress people would get extra creative. But it turns out they become extra knee-jerk and the opposite of creative. But you know, that's how you find out these things."
Turner calls him the most influential person you've never heard of, and though in Silicon Valley he's a god to many he still lives on a houseboat in Sausalito just outside San Francisco, and in the flesh is modest and unassuming. He looks like the fit and active 74-year-old he is, dressed in clothes that look like they'd take him straight from a conference hall to a hike in the mountains. I'd thought he might be quite forbidding but he's a great storyteller with a healthy sense of humour that he's happy to turn against himself.
Can he remember where the idea for "stay hungry, stay foolish" came from? "That one is a mystery," he says at first. And then, "Oh I know, it's because of my campaign to get photographs of the whole Earth which I did in 1966 and after which the Whole Earth Catalog is named.
"We were just starting to get files of photographs of the Earth, and there was a sequence from a satellite of basically a day in the life of Earth from sunrise to sunset, and I wanted that sequence and to make the connection between the view from space of the shadow moving across the Earth, and the experience of being on Earth and seeing dawn. And for some reason the image I had in my mind was of a hitchhiker at dawn on a road somewhere and the sun comes up and there are trains going by. The frame of mind of the young hitchhiker is one of the freest frames of mind there is. You're always a little bit hungry and you know you are being completely foolish."
It's a long explanation but what's interesting is how it ties in Brand's cosmic view of Earth, expanded consciousness (he first started his campaign to get photographs of the Earth from space after an LSD trip in which he thought he could see the curvature of the Earth), science – the Nasa space programme – and personal freedom.
He's always someone who's been able to take the long view, says TED's Chris Anderson. "I see him as someone whose life's work has been making people see the world in a different way."
In recent years, he established the Long Now Foundation, which aims to promote long-term thinking (projects include building a clock that will keep time for 10,000 years, ticking once a year and chiming to mark each millennium). He's written on architecture in How Buildings Learn, he's shaken up the ecology movement with Whole Earth Discipline – in which, among other things, he espouses mass urbanisation and nuclear power and then of course there's "de-extinction".
He's working alongside his wife, Ryan Phelan, a biotech entrepreneur, and George Church, the leading Harvard geneticist, and there's more than a touch of Jurassic Park to the concept. They're trying to retro-engineer lost species by comparing their DNA with that of their closest living relatives – though sadly they're starting with the American passenger pigeon rather than Tyrannosaurus rex.
Once the most populous bird in North America, its extinction was a "tragedy", Brand says in his TED talk, but then adds: "Don't mourn, organise."
This could be another of Brand's maxims. He's always been a doer. Kevin Kelly tells me that he says when he has an idea, he tries to act on it within 10 minutes, which just seems impossibly dynamic. But then, Fred Turner points out, "he's also had a lifetime of organising. And a lifetime teaches you things. I assure you that when he was much younger he did not feel he needed to get things done in 10 minutes. He would do things like take his entire production staff out into the desert, inflate a giant plastic bubble, and try to live around and inside that bubble to see how that affected production."
Adversely, it turned out. But then Brand is first and foremost a scientist. As was the case when he gave away $20,000 in cash, he wants to test things empirically. He's an experimenter who's always prepared to test his theories. ("It may have been the entire function of communes to go big, fail and then go home," says Brand, to take one example. "At the time we thought we were reinventing civilisation but all we discovered is that free love isn't free at all, that [when] one guy puts up all the money for your commune he is going to feel robbed after a period of six to 12 months, that gardening is actually hard, and that if you treat your women as people who are supposed to wash the dishes, they will leave after six months.")
The drugs didn't work. Or at least only for a bit. "We believed there was no hope without dope but we were wrong. I'm always amazed there aren't drugs by now, but there aren't. They didn't get any better, whereas computers never stopped getting better."
He didn't just theorise about cyberspace, he co-founded the Well, the pioneering online community in the 80s, and lived on it, fighting the first flame wars, the first trolls, making the first mistakes (he wishes he'd insisted the people used their real names rather than post anonymously, an innovation that may well have changed the web for the better).
And he's still out there on the leading edge today. It's no surprise that he's into biotech. It really is the next frontier, though he claims at the moment that he's not so much surfing the next wave of innovation as "paddling to keep up".
There used to be a sense, though perhaps less so now, that there would never be as exciting a time as the 60s again. And yet Brand, who had the best of the 60s, who really was there and can even remember it, is so much more excited by the present, by the future.
"It's much much more exciting right now. The tools of connectivity are so much stronger. The tools of empowerment have absolutely lowered the thresholds of entry. There's things like the iGem with tens of thousands of students producing new organisms. And society is not noticing. I find that both strange, wonderful and in some ways a little bit disturbing."
And it's possibly worth noticing what Stewart Brand is noticing. "Think about the Bay Area in the early 60s," Fred Turner tells me. "He could have focused on antiwar protests, on fluorescent parties, on any number of things. He goes to a basement in Stanford and watches people run a computer game."
Brand's career is as extraordinary and eclectic as they come. As they used to say in the 60s, it's been quite a ride. And yet I still hesitated over whether to include this last quote on him. It's rather delightfully of its time but it's also so over the top. Or is it? It's Kevin Kelly (whom Wired's Chris Anderson describes as "the patron saint of the technology movement") who says it to me. "I've had maybe a daily encounter with Stewart on email or whatever for at least 20 years, and every day I'm more impressed with him. He is genuinely… I don't know what the word is… an inspiring, uplifting, helpful force in the world. I've seen him in many situations, I've seen him under stress, I've seen him in private, and I have never been disappointed."
And then, a hippy – like Brand, like Jobs – to the last, Kelly adds: "If it was possible to be an enlightened person, I would say he's an enlightened person."
9 novels that changed the world
World Book Day is observed in more than 100 countries as a celebration of the joys of reading.
But reading is not just about pleasure: books have the power to touch us profoundly, to open our eyes to injustices – and sometimes even act as a catalyst for social change.
To mark World Book Day, we take a look at some of the novels that have changed society.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
“So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” This was how Abraham Lincoln reportedly greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe when he met her in 1862, a decade after she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the second-best selling book of the 19th century after the Bible.
The story of Uncle Tom, an African-American slave, brought the horrors of slavery to the attention of the public on a personal level for the first time, causing an uproar.
The novel greatly furthered the abolitionist cause in the north, ratcheted up tensions with southern slaveholders and, as Lincoln suggested, possibly even helped tip the country into civil war.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel portrays the harsh working conditions, extreme poverty and exploitation faced by the mainly immigrant labourers in Chicago’s meat-packing industry.
Although the book was written to highlight the plight of the working poor and the deep-rooted corruption of people in power, it also sparked a public outcry over food hygiene. Sinclair famously complained:“I aimed for the public’s heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
Still, it is arguably considered one of the most politically influential American novels of the last century.
After reading The Jungle, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned an investigation into Chicago’s meat-packing industry. Within a year, the Meat Inspection Act was passed, along with the Pure Food and Drug Act, which later paved the way for the Food and Drug Administration.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
One of the best-known anti-war novels, All Quiet on the Western Front depicts the horrors of the First World War trenches from the perspective of a young German soldier.
Translated into more than 20 languages and adapted into a celebrated Hollywood film in 1930, the book spoke for a generation that had been, in Remarque’s words, “destroyed by war, even though it might have escaped its shells”.
It deals with the futility of conflict and attracted both praise and harsh criticism at the time, mostly from Remarque’s fellow countrymen, who felt it denigrated the German war effort. It was among the books banned and publicly burned by the Nazis.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Perhaps the best-known novel of Nigerian novelist, poet and essayist Chinua Achebe describes a tribal society falling apart as a result of the arrival of Christian missionaries.
Written in 1958, the novel has sold more than 10 million copies around the world and has been published in some 50 languages. It is still widely read and studied as an example of the impact of colonialism on African culture and identity.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
Robert Tressell’s 1914 socialist polemic about a group of honest men exploited by money-grabbing capitalists was based on the injustices faced by the working classes in Edwardian England.
The workers are “philanthropists” because they slave away for a pittance, essentially giving away the value of their labour to their employers.
The novel was an integral part of the drive for social reform at the start of the last century.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The 1939 classic chronicles a penniless Oklahoma family’s journey westward along Route 66.
An immediate bestseller, the novel highlighted the shocking Depression-era poverty and destitution of hundreds of thousands of migrants making the journey to California to find work.
The book was banned and burned in a number of places, including Kern County, California, where the Joad family’s journey ended.
1984 by George Orwell
George Orwell’s dystopian work about life under a totalitarian regime inspired a whole subgenre of books, such as Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, that envision the future as a nightmarish place with no freedoms or rights.
Terms from 1984, including “Big Brother”, “doublethink” and “thoughtcrime” are still commonly used today. The novel is a poignant reminder of the importance of freedom of thought and speech.
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
The words of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s 1960 tale of racial inequality in 1930s Alabama still resonate with readers around the world today. The book has left an indelible mark on generations and is a valuable lesson in looking at the world through another person’s eyes.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved, which deals with the legacy of slavery, was voted the best work of American fiction in the past 25 years by the New York Times.
It was inspired by the story of a runaway slave who, rather than give up her children to her former "owners" when they came looking for her, cut her daughter’s throat.