Michael Hart, 1947-2011, inventor of the ebook

Last year I wrote a piece for the Reader magazine about ebooks, which explained to the relatively conservative and technophobic readership what they are, and how to go about reading them. The world of ebooks is changing fast, but they have been around much longer than most people realise–since 1971, in fact. That was the year that Michael S. Hart, who died on September 6th, aged 64, published the first ebook (the Declaration of Independence) to his Project Gutenberg. There are now 36,000 ebooks on the site, all of them free to download, and available in various formats. Hart was not well known, but his legacy is a revolution in the way we edit, publish, and distribute books. He saw the potential for electronic reading, and the widespread dissemination of literature and knowledge, at a time when computers lived in large, air-conditioned, and sealed facilities, and when handheld computing devices existed only in science fiction. An early obituary is here. Hart’s Wikipedia page is here.

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