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Close to the Machine

Technophilia and Its Discontents (25th Anniversary Edition)

Ellen Ullman; Introduction by Anna Wiener


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ISBN10: 1250884128
ISBN13: 9781250884121

Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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In 1997, the computer was still a relatively new tool—a sleek and unforgiving machine that was beyond the grasp of most users. With intimate and unflinching detail, the software engineer Ellen Ullman examines the strange ecstasy of being at the forefront of the predominantly male technological revolution, and the difficulty of translating the inherent messiness of human life into artful and efficient code.

Close to the Machine is an elegant and revelatory meditation on the dawn of the digital era.


Praise for Close to the Machine

"Part memoir, part techie mantra, part observation on the ever-changing world of computer science . . . [Ullman is] a strong woman standing up to, and facing down, ‘obsolescence' in two different, particularly unforgiving worlds—modern technology and modern society."The New York Times Book Review

Astonishing . . . Impossible to put down."San Francisco Chronicle

"Fascinating . . . Chock-full of delicately profound insights into work, money, love, and the search for a life that matters."Newsweek

"Close to the Machine may be the best—it's certainly the most human—book to have emerged thus far from the culture of Silicon Valley. Ullman is that rarity, a computer programmer with a poet's feeling for language."—Laura Miller, Salon

"Ullman comes with her tech bona fides intact (she is, after all, a seasoned software engineer). But she also comes with novel material . . . We see the seduction at the heart of programming: embedded in the hijinks and hieroglyphics are the esoteric mysteries of the human mind."Wired

"For someone sitting so close to the machine, Ellen Ullman possesses a remarkably wide-angle perspective on the technology culture she inhabits."The Village Voice

"This book is a little masterpiece . . . I have never read anything like it."—Andrei Codrescu

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TIME IT IS. There are no windows in this office and no clock, only the blinking red LED display of a microwave, which flashes 12:00, 12:00, 12:00, 12:00. Joel and...

About the author

Ellen Ullman; Introduction by Anna Wiener

Ellen Ullman wrote her first computer program in 1978. She went on to have a twenty-year career as a programmer and software engineer. Her essays and books have become landmark works describing the social, emotional, and personal effects of technology. She is the author of the novels By Blood, a New York Times Notable Book; and The Bug, a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her memoir, Close to the Machine, about her life as a software engineer during the internet’s first rise, became a cult classic. She is based in San Francisco.

Marion Ettlinger