Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg and the inventor, in 1971, of electronic books, died of a heart attack this past Tuesday, September 6, at the age of 64. His obituary at Project Gutenberg is here.
Some excerpts from his obituary, which is in the public domain:
Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.
Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.
In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.” He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children: “Learning is its own reward. Nothing I can say is better than that.”
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To read more about Mr. Hart’s life and mission:
Richard Poynder’s 2006 blog post on Michael Hart on “preserving the public domain”, with a link to an interview with Hart
The Washington Post’s obituary, from which: “ ‘There are two things in the world that are truly, totally free with an endless supply,’ he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. ‘The air we breathe and the texts on Project Gutenberg.’ ” And:
…other friends recalled that Mr. Hart’s house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books.
The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books.
“The Legacy of Project Gutenberg Founder, Michael S. Hart” by Rebecca J. Rosen, at The Atlantic