• If Then

  • How One Data Company Invented the Future
  • By: Jill Lepore
  • Narrated by: Jill Lepore
  • Length: 10 hrs and 39 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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If Then  By  cover art

If Then

By: Jill Lepore
Narrated by: Jill Lepore
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Publisher's summary

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 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.

©2020 Jill Lepore (P)2020 Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

Critic reviews

"Back in the 1960s, long before the denizens of Silicon Valley were infiltrating every facet of our lives, the smart men and women of The Simulmatics Corporation were creating algorithms to predict and even influence human behaviour. Jill Lepore reveals how this forgotten company invented the data-weapons of the future. If Then is simultaneously gripping and absolutely terrifying." (Amanda Foreman) 

"An authoritative account of the origins of data science, a compelling political narrative of America in the '60s, a poignant collective biography of a generation of flawed men - Jill Lepore's If Then represents not only a stunning achievement in itself, but a stirring defence of the humanities in our techno-reductive age." (David Kynaston)

"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)

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Impecable historia

Una historia impecable e imperdible para quienes trabajamos en el mundo de los datos en ambientes de medición de opinión pública, elecciones y comunicaciones.

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  • JJ
  • 11-26-20

Fascinating and important history about the birth of social media

The subject matter of this book could not be more timely - the first attempts during the 1950’s and 60’s to use computers to identify groups of people whose behaviour could be predicted and influenced. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram had to await the arrival of the world wide web, but the ideas are not new, nor the problem of increasingly fragmented electorate. Five stars for content and relevance. If only Audible had commissioned a recording from the quality of vocal artists the material deserves. I am a great admirer of Prof Lepore, but many listeners may find her voice suffers in comparison to professional vocal artists.

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  • Kate
  • 11-08-20

Fascinating story, but poor performance

This is a fascinating story, particularly in the context of recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica. Unfortunately it's let down rather by a poor reading - the author reads out quotes (of which there are many) in a strange gabble, which makes them rather hard to understand. It's a shame, but still well worth a read, just maybe better on paper.

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  • Avi D Reader
  • 10-25-20

Serious History. Superb storytelling.

Serious History. Superb storytelling. Surprising history of social network analysis, predictive analytics, MIT Media Lab, ...

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  • Dr Neville Rochow KC
  • 05-31-22

sensationally well written history

Lepore is one of the greatest history writers and her prodigious talents are well on display in this book. But for her excellent work, few would have expected that the digital manipulation of our lives had started so early.

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