If Then: How Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future

Liveright: Norton. Sept. 2020. 432p. ISBN 9781631496103. $28.95. HIST
In this latest book, historian Lepore (These Truths) focuses on the rise and fall of the Simulmatics Corporation and the impact it had on politics and society. Founded in 1959 by a group of prominent social scientists, the company’s mission was to automate the simulation of human behavior. Simulmatics provided data for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, but when the New York Times hired the company to help with its 1962 election coverage, the results were in “disorganized shambles.” Lepore effectively tells how, after being rejected by Lyndon B. Johnson for his 1964 campaign, Simulmatics worked with the U.S. Department of Defense and opened an office in Saigon. The company later became involved with Great Society programs and the Kerner Commission. The author profiles many fascinating characters who were involved with Simulmatics, including MIT’s Ithiel De Sola Pool and Berkeley political scientist and writer Eugene Burdick. Although Simulmatics collapsed and went bankrupt in 1970, Lepore considers it to be the “missing link in the history of technology.” Its legacy is the Internet, social networks, and firms like Cambridge Analytica.
VERDICT Scholars of American history and technology will appreciate the extensive research that went into this book, while general readers will be swept up by the novelistic scope of the story.
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