Saturday, September 10, 2011

And the eBook Was Born

With the rise of Barnes and Noble's Nook sales, do you ever think about the how eBooks came to be? Me either. When I posted the Pulitzer Prize Winning fiction list and mentioned that many of the older winners were available to read for free at Project Gutenberg, I never thought for a second how important Project Gutenberg was to the eBook industry. 

You see, the founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Stern Hart is credited as the inventor of the ebook. Sadly, he died of a heart attack on September 6th at the age of 64. He was a visionary. He believed that classic books and important documents should be available to everyone for free, and that was the bedrock of his philosophy for Project Gutenberg . The invention of ebooks was not simply a technological innovation to Hart, but an efficient way of distributing free literature, thus providing opportunity for increased literacy.

It all began in 1971. He was granted access to the giant mainframe at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he was a student (brilliant as he was, he graduated in two years). On July 4th, after being inspired by a free copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he typed the text into a computer, and transmitted it to other users on the network. So began his life's work which spanned over 40 years. Project Gutenberg, and thus the ebook, was born. As of 1987 he had typed in a total of 313 books.

Read the history in his own words: The History and Philosophy of Project Gutenberg by Michael Hart.

Mr. Hart is survived by his mother and brother. My sincerest condolences to his friends and family.


"If what you did yesterday
Still seems great today,
Then your goals for tomorrow
Are not big enough." ~ Michael Stern Hart


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