Life in Code
- Farrar, Straus & Giroux
- publication date
- Ellen Ullman
We gave it an A-
Our megabytes, ourselves. Is there a love story more central to the past half century than the one between people and technology? It’s a peculiar, lopsided intimacy for sure; think of the immeasurable hours lost in the pearly glow of an iPhone, or how it would feel to see your recent browser history projected onto a billboard in Times Square. Ellen Ullman is one of the many mostly faceless creators of this brave new world: A programmer and author of the cult memoir Close to the Machine (see below), she has spent nearly four decades in the Wild West of California’s digital vanguard, and her Life in Code is a consummate insider’s take, rich with local color and anecdotes.
But a front seat (or at least a very good lawn chair) at the zeroes-and-ones revolution does not a mindless proselytizer make. A self-taught female in a sea of fiercely territorial boys and their toys, Ullman has a pure passion for computing that doesn’t stop her from recognizing all the ways it can isolate and intimidate — or how unconscious bias works like a sort of snow blindness on the striving (and yes, still overwhelmingly white and male) dreamers who would call themselves disrupters. Like all great writers, she finds the universal in the specific, mixing memoir with industry gossip (cameos by Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, a wry Microsoft dig) and ancillary tales of house cats, dairy farmers, and Julia Child. Code is illuminating and unfailingly clever, but above all it’s a deeply human book: urgent, eloquent, and heartfelt. A-
Close to the Machine by Ellen Ullman (1997)
No one captured the zeitgeist of the high-tech boom better than Ullman.
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