Date and Time
Jan 16, 2020 6:00 pm
The never-before-told true account of the design and development of the first desktop computer by the world's most famous high-styled typewriter company, more than a decade before the arrival of the Osborne 1, the Apple-1, the first Intel microprocessor, and the IBM PC 5150.
Meryle Secrest, acclaimed biographer and cultural historian, writes of the human, business, design, engineering, cold war, and tech story behind the Olivetti company—how it survived two world wars and helped to bring a ravaged Italy back to life. Secrest tells the story of how the company mastered the typewriter business with the famous “Olivetti touch,” and how it forged a path into the new futuristic electronics field with its pioneering P101 desktop computer, prefiguring IBM’s desktop computer by twenty years, the American giant then acting as an arm of the U.S. government by producing computers for air defense programs and intercontinental missiles. Secrest writes that Olivetti’s desktop prototype sold 40,000 units, including to NASA for its lunar landings . . . She writes of Olivetti’s making inroads into the U.S. market by taking control of Underwood of Hartford, CT, as an assembly plant for its typewriters and future miniaturized personal computers, and how, within weeks of Olivetti’s purchase, the U.S. government filed an antitrust suit to stop the takeover.
And at the center, Adriano Olivetti, the legendary idealist, socialist, visionary, heir to the company founded by his father, building Olivetti into a fantastical dynasty—with factories, offices, satellite buildings spread over fifty acres and offices in more than one hundredcountries—on a train headed for Switzerland in 1960 for supposed meetings and then to Hartford, never arriving, dying suddenly of a heart attack at age fifty-eight. And how, eighteen months later, his brilliant young engineer, who had assembled Olivetti's superb team of electronic engineers and designed its computers of the future, was killed in a suspicious car crash. And, Secrest brilliantly, meticulously pieces together how Olivetti, Italy’s foremost company and a global phenomenon, and its pioneering P101, came to its insidious and shocking end.
MERYLE SECREST was born and educated in Bath, England, and lives in Washington, D.C. She is the author of twelve biographies and was awarded the 2006 Presidential National Humanities Medal.
Meryle Secrest’s Stephen Sondheim is available in Vintage paperback.
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