Yet for all the material here, or perhaps because of the very breadth and depth and complexity of the forces that created Silicon Valley and the technology world as we know it today, there is no Bible to describe the creation, no Talmud to lay out the rules of engagement, no accepted set of narratives to put everything in context. The literature of the technology era, rather, is a fractured oeuvre, diverse in its perspectives and focus, and surprisingly lacking in definitive texts. There are many writings, both historical and contemporary, but the diligent student has almost too much to choose from — the curse of information overload that these very technologies made possible.
I can say from personal experience that the New York–centric media industry, writers and editors and book publishers included, was slow to get its arms around the fact that something very important was happening in technology, in general, and in Silicon Valley, in particular. Until the 1980s, computers were mostly arcane, expensive tools for enterprise that were made by big, stodgy East Coast companies, and there was no reason any layman should be any more interested in them than they were in, say, the insurance business. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the tech beat at newspapers and magazines was considered something other than a boring backwater — that’s when I launched a Los Angeles Times section on the subject — and that may be one of the reasons the literature about the formative years of Silicon Valley is surprisingly scant. Since then, however, the opposite rule has generally applied: No alleged technological breakthrough is too small for the front page of the paper, no instant Internet millionaire is too insignificant for the celebrity treatment, and books about Silicon Valley pour forth (and then usually vanish without a trace). In fairness, the sheer speed of change adds another hazard to the always-daunting challenge of writing a good book. The main characters could be history by the time the book hits the streets, and it’s often jarring to read the journalistic “rough draft of history” even a year or two later.
That said, there are a lot of great things to read out there, if you can figure out how to organize your approach. I find it useful to segment any study of Silicon Valley into a few distinct areas. There is, first of all, the history of computers and of the computer business, from its origins in government, university, and corporate research labs in the 1940s and ’50s, through its initial entrepreneurial emergence around Boston and elsewhere on the East Coast in the 1960s and ’70s, to the full flowering of the PC revolution in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. Then there are the contemporaneous accounts of the key moments of that history — the rise of Microsoft, for example, or the fall of IBM, or the inflating and then bursting of the first Internet bubble. There are also what might be called the philosophical manifestos, as well as the management treatises and how-to books, that help define the way businesspeople think about the technology revolution and its implications. And finally there is the ongoing torrent of writings, in newspapers and magazines, on blogs, and, yes, even in books, about the Internet and its implications.