Markoff, John 1949–
Markoff, John 1949–
PERSONAL: Born October 24, 1949, in Oakland, CA; married. Education: Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA), graduated, 1971; University of Oregon, master's degree, 1976.
CAREER: Infoworld, reporter and editor, 1981–83; Byte magazine, West Coast editor, 1984–85; San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco, CA, staff member, c. 1985–88; New York Times, New York, NY, business reporter, beginning 1988, later named senior writer assigned to cover technology issues from southern CA. Visiting lecturer, Stanford University, 2002–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Software Publishers Award, 1988, for best news reporting.
(With Lenny Siegel) The High Cost of High Tech: The Dark Side of the Chip (nonfiction), Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1985.
(With Katie Hafner) Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier (nonfiction), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Tsutomu Shimomura) Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw—by the Man Who Did It (nonfiction), Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.
What the Dormouse Said: How The Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry (nonfiction), Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Author of a column on personal computers for the San Jose Mercury, 1983–85.
ADAPTATIONS: Takedown was adapted for film.
SIDELIGHTS: John Markoff, a veteran reporter for the New York Times, specializes in writing on computer and other high-technology issues. In addition to his extensive writings for the newspaper, he has coauthored nonfiction books on computer-related crime, including Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier, Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw—by the Man Who Did It, and What the Dormouse Said: How The Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.
In Cyberpunk, Markoff and Hafner, also a journalist specializing in computers, describe young computer hackers "who have managed to rob, spy and play pranks on a grand scale," to quote Walter Mosley in the New York Times Book Review. While elaborating on the activities of these renegade computer experts, who have unnerved the computer industry with their criminal activities, Hafner and Markoff write for a wide, nonexpert audience. "The authors offer lucid explanations of just enough technology to make the stories work, even for the computer illiterate," observed John Schwartz in a Newsweek review. "There is something for almost everyone in these occasionally rambling pieces—romance and lost love, passion and revenge, cowardice and heroic effort, the high jinx of youth and the responsibilities of growing up and, of course, the step-by-step solution of complex crimes," remarked Mosley in the New York Times Book Review. Several critics found fault with the work's style but judged the overall effect to be noteworthy. Schwartz maintained in Newsweek: "If the prose sometimes seems a bit workmanlike, there's plenty of juicy detail to keep the narrative moving."
Markoff coauthored Takedown with computer security expert Tsutomu Shimomura, whose first person point of view informs the work. In an interview in Salon.com, Markoff commented that the book "was a collaborative effort, but the world view is clearly Tsutomu's. I was trying to capture Tsutomu's voice." The theme of Takedown is Shimomura's relentless search for computer hacker Kevin Mitnick, who had invaded Shimomura's computer on December 25, 1994. Mitnick had been plaguing computer users and law enforcement officials for some time. After a seven-week chase, which ended in Raleigh, North Carolina, in February, 1995, Mitnick was arrested on fraud charges. "Was Kevin Mitnick a national menace?" Markoff asked rhetorically in the Salon.com interview. "No way…. Was Kevin Mitnick an information age terrorist? No. His motivation is still a mystery to me." What Mitnick was, according to Markoff, was "a hardened computer criminal" who stole software as well as source codes from cellular telephone companies. "He was costing Internet service providers tens of thousands of dollars or more just watching him—and they were helpless to stop him," Markoff said.
Several critics have compared and contrasted Takedown with two other works on the same topic, The Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick by Jonathan Littman and The Cyberthief and the Samurai by Jeff Goodell. Although Entertainment Weekly writer Dana Kennedy remarked that Takedown and The Fugitive Game "suffer from self-conscious insiderism, as if their audience consisted only of subscribers to Wired magazine and they wanted to impress them," she nevertheless enjoyed the works. According to Kennedy, the writers of Takedown, The Fugitive Game, and The Cyberthief and the Samurai "all succeed in making a flat story rather absorbing: For that I will tell them what Mitnick told Shimomura when the two finally met in the courtroom: 'I respect your skills.'" Gilbert Taylor commented in a review for Booklist: "Despite the technical field of battle, the drama is attractively unencumbered by jargon and is humanly appealing."
In What the Dormouse Said, Markoff chronicles the early history of Silicon Valley and profiles the individuals who were at the forefront of the computer revolution, including Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, and Douglas Engelbart, who designed the first mouse. Markoff also notes how social and cultural forces influenced the pioneering computer scientists. "The people who conceived of critical aspects of modern computing," observed Jaron Lanier in the American Scientist, "moved in the same social circles as the musicians who became the Grateful Dead and the people who invented drug 'tripping' and New Age spirituality." According to Library Journal contributor Joe Accardi, Markoff "offers a striking account" of the period.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, July-August, 2005, Jaron Lanier, "Early Computing's Long, Strange Trip," review of What the Dormouse Said: How The Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, p. 364.
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Gilbert Taylor, review of Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw—by the Man Who Did It, p. 763.
Entertainment Weekly, February 2, 1996, Dana Kennedy, review of Takedown, pp. 50-51.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2005, review of What the Dormouse Said, p. 277.
Library Journal, May 15, 2005, Joe Accardi, review of What the Dormouse Said, p. 138.
Macworld, March, 2006, Scholle Sawyer McFarland, review of What the Dormouse Said, p. 112.
Newsweek, July 29, 1991, John Schwartz, review of Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier, p. 52; May 9, 2005, "Quick Read," review of What the Dormouse Said, p. 36.
New York Times Book Review, August 11, 1991, Walter Mosley, review of Cyberpunk, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2005, review of What the Dormouse Said, p. 48.
American Scientist Online, http://www.americanscientist.org/ (April, 2005), Greg Ross and Amos Esty, "The Bookshelf Talks with John Markoff."
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (December 30, 1995), "A Conversation with John Markoff."