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If Then: How One Data Company Invented the Future

Jill Lepore

8 Reviews

Rated 0

Data mining

A brilliant, revelatory account of the Cold War origins of the data-mad, algorithmic twenty-first century, from the acclaimed and internationally bestselling author.

Radio 4's Book of the Week

A Financial Times Book of the Year

Shortlisted for the 2020 Financial Times / McKinsey Business Book of the Year

Longlisted for the National Book Award

'The story of the original data science hucksters of the 1960s is hilarious, scathing and sobering - what you might get if you crossed Mad Men with Theranos' David Runciman

The Simulmatics Corporation, founded in 1959, mined data, targeted voters, accelerated news, manipulated consumers, destabilized politics, and disordered knowledge--decades before Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Cambridge Analytica. Silicon Valley likes to imagine it has no past but the scientists of Simulmatics are the long-dead grandfathers of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.

Borrowing from psychological warfare, they used computers to predict and direct human behavior, deploying their "People Machine" from New York, Cambridge, and Saigon for clients that included John Kennedy's presidential campaign, the New York Times, Young & Rubicam, and, during the Vietnam War, the Department of Defence.

In If Then, distinguished Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer, Jill Lepore, unearths from the archives the almost unbelievable story of this long-vanished corporation, and of the women hidden behind it. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lepore argues, Simulmatics invented the future by building the machine in which the world now finds itself trapped and tormented, algorithm by algorithm.

'A person can't help but feel inspired by the riveting intelligence and joyful curiosity of Jill Lepore. Knowing that there is a mind like hers in the world is a hope-inducing thing' George Saunders, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo

'An authoritative account of the origins of data science, a compelling political narrative of America in the Sixties, a poignant collective biography of a generation of flawed men' David Kynaston

'If Then is simultaneously gripping and absolutely terrifying' Amanda Foreman

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Praise for If Then: How One Data Company Invented the Future

  • If you're looking for beautiful writing and love history ... this is a lovely read that takes you through a history of American politics and campaigning, cold war intrigue and artificial intelligence. - Financial Times

  • Jill Lepore is the pre-eminent historian of forgotten tales from America's past that throw startling light on the present. This brilliant book illuminates the future too. The story of the original data science hucksters of the 1960s is hilarious, scathing and sobering - what you might get if you crossed Mad Men with Theranos.

  • Fascinating. - New York Times Book Review

  • A person can't help but feel inspired by the riveting intelligence and joyful curiosity of Jill Lepore. Knowing that there is a mind like hers in the world is a hope-inducing thing.

  • Jill Lepore writes history like a poet. In If Then she yet again binds lyrical story telling to meticulous archival research to tell a gigantic story from our past. She builds our present, and makes it feel so familiar and yet so contingent.

  • Two things make this tale worth reading. One is Lepore's brisk and confident depiction of the individuals involved...the other is her exploration of the growing power of computers to accumulate and analyse data, bringing marketing and politics into ever closer union. - The Literary Review

  • Beautifully written and intellectually rigorous account of the origins of the science of predictive analytics and behavioral data science in the cold war era. - Financial Times

  • Fascinating. - Start the Week

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