cover image Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology

Ellen Ullman. MCD, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-53451-6

Novelist and former computer programmer Ullman returns to the domain of her seminal memoir, Close to the Machine (1997), an unflinching insider’s account of the digital revolution, with this equally eloquent collection of new and previously published essays from the past 20 years. Providing much-needed nuance to the binary world of code, the essays gracefully move between intimate anecdotes, frustrated rants about the unconscious bias and hypercompetitiveness that dominate much of venture-capitalist startup culture, philosophical meanderings about artificial intelligence and the nature of human thought, and big-picture analysis about the relationship between technical design and human desire. Not only is Ullman an astute observer of the changing culture but she proves prescient on a diverse range of issues including the siloing effect of the internet, the growing digital divide, and corporate-assisted government surveillance. Neither technophilic nor technophobic, this collection creates a time-lapse view of the rapid development of technology in recent years and provides general readers with much-needed grounding for the sweeping changes of the revolution underway. It’s also simply a pleasure to read. (Aug.)

This review has been corrected to note that the essays included are new and previously published.