How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future
Jill Lepore is a Harvard History professor and she has written at least 14 books. Her book on The Secret History of Wonder Woman captured my attention and her book of This America cemented my affection for her writing. Her writing displays all the skills of a professional historian but she pours it though the pen of a popular writer. She has the ability to take obscure objects or events of American culture and use it as a lens to breathe meaning into a broad swath of our history and our present life. In If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future Jill Lepore tackles the Simulamatics Corporation and how it aimed to not only predict but determine our political elections by using computer technology to provide voter data to political campaigns. It is a story of 1950's white liberals during the Eisenhower administration with dream of using computer science to realize the goal of a society based on liberal social science. They begin their project began in the 1950s with the goal of using science to elect Adlai Stevenson president as a way of realizing liberal values and the project devolves into a goal of sucking up as much Department of Defense money as possible to study counter insurgency and they move from studying the problems that lead to rioting to riot prediction. In telling the story Lepore digs into the lives of all the personalities involved such as Eugene Burdick, Edward L. Greenfield, Alex Bernstein and Ithiel de Sola Pool. By digging into the personal lives of the key actors, we learn how they reflect and are shaped by the culture of the 50's, McCarthyism, the cold war, the Vietnam war. Lepore reduces the goal of organizing society based on social science to a shambles and her work exposes many of the computer visions that come after Simulmatics such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. This is an entertaining and important book. Based on this book, I have put reserves on Lepore's books I haven't read at the local library.