"My father was a master mechanic; I grew up with a screwdriver in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other."
This is perhaps the first science fiction reference to a hand-held electronic device that emulates some book functions. It comes in the context of a remarkable book.
The first reference that I can find to "electronic book" is in a description of the PLATO II system that ran on ILLIAC in 1961.
(Description of electronic book system, 1961)
(From the Digital Computer Newsletter: Office of Naval Research - Mathematical Sciences Division, Vol 13 #4)
In practical terms, you can't have an electronic book without electronic text of books - and the first known electronic text of books was made available through Project Gutenberg. This project was started in 1971 when Michael Hart was given a substantial amount of computer time by the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the Materials Research Lab by the University of Illinois. He envisioned the idea that computers could indefinitely store books and retrieve them for as many people who needed them, wherever they were.
Speak of the devil - now Google has decided to put millions of books from libraries online - read about the Encyclopedia Googlactica.
For an earlier reference, see the entry for the opton from Stanislaw Lem's Return From the Stars. See also the entry for runcible from The Diamond Age (1995) by Neal Stephenson.
This item was contributed by Simon Smith.
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