Silicon Snake Oil

Second Thoughts on the Information Highway

by Clifford Stoll

Doubleday, 1995

A division of Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

Hardcover $22.00

Flap copy:

Ah, the information highway. No phenomenon in modern times has received more attention, held out more promise, nor achieved more mythic stature than the information highway. This computer utopia is said to educate, entertain, and inform. It will supply us with vast amounts of information, put us in close touch with one another, and turn our fractious world into a global village.

Not so, says Cliff Stoll.

Stoll knows. He's the author of "The Cuckoo's Egg"--the bestselling book about how he caught German spies prowling through computers--and a genuine legend on the Internet. Involved with networks since their earliest days, Stoll has watched the Internet grow from an improbable research project into a communications juggernaut. He knows computers; he loves his networked community. And yet...

Stoll asks: when do the networks really educate, and when are they simply diversions from learning? Is electronic mail useful, or might it be so much electronic noise? Why do online services promise so much, yet deliver so little? What makes computers so universally frustrating?

Silicon Snake Oil is the first book that intelligently questions where the Internet is leading us. Stoll looks at our network as it is, not as it's promised to be.

Yet this is no diatribe against technology, nor is it one more computer jock adding his voice to the already noisy chorus debating the uses of the networks. Following his personal inquiry into the nature of computers, Cliff meets a Chinese astronomer with an abacus, gets lost in a cave, and travels across the Midwest on a home-brew railroad cart. And, at the end of the journal, we're all a bit wiser about what this thing called the information highway really was, is, could, and should be.

Grounded on common sense, Silicon Snake Oil is a meditation full of passion but devoid of hysteria. Anyone concerned with computers and our future will find it startling, wholly original, and ultimately wise.

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