... entertaining and nuanced ... O’Mara goes far beyond familiar stories of humble beginnings in garages to trace the roles moneymen, politics, real estate, big business, marketing, Wall Street, the media, and foreign competition have played ... Much of this material has been covered before, but rarely in such detail, let alone with such insightful context. Concerned technology users—which pretty much sums up all of us—will find much of interest here.
... accessible yet sophisticated ... An academic historian blessed with a journalist’s prose, O’Mara focuses less on the actual technology than on the people and policies that ensured its success ... This is one of O’Mara’s strongest narrative threads: the casual misogyny that has defined Silicon Valley from past to present. She manages to bring the few women who did succeed to the forefront, most notably the programmer and entrepreneur Ann Hardy, who battled systemic sexism even as she wrote the code for many of the first computer time-sharing and networking applications built by the company known as Tymshare ... O’Mara toggles deftly between character studies and the larger regulatory and political milieu.
The Code urges us to consider Silicon Valley’s shortcomings as America’s shortcomings, even if it fails to interrogate them as deeply as our current crisis—and the role that technology played in bringing it about—seems to warrant ... On the one hand, O’Mara, a historian at the University of Washington, is clearly enamored with tales of entrepreneurial derring-do ... In her portrayal of Silicon Valley’s tech titans, O’Mara emphasizes virtuous qualities like determination, ingenuity, and humanistic concern, while hints of darker motives are studiously ignored ... at the same time, O’Mara helps us understand why Silicon Valley’s economic dominance can’t be chalked up solely to the grit and smarts of entrepreneurs battling it out in the free market. At every stage of its development, she shows how the booming tech industry was aided and abetted by a wide swath of American society both inside and outside the Valley ... What emerges in The Code is less the story of a tribe of misfits working against the grain than the simultaneous alignment of the country’s political, cultural, and technical elites around the view that Silicon Valley held the key to the future ... Despite offering evidence to the contrary, O’Mara narrates her tale of Silicon Valley’s rise as, ultimately, a success story ... she highlights the many issues that have sparked increasing public consternation with Big Tech of late, from its lack of diversity to its stupendous concentration of wealth, but these are framed in the end as unfortunate side effects of the headlong rush to create a new and brilliant future ... If there is a larger lesson to learn from The Code, it is that technology cannot be separated from the social and political contexts in which it is created.