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Michael Stern Hart, 1947-2011

Dinner, ca. 2000 . Copyright CC BY-NC-SA Maitri Erwin

Founder of Project Gutenberg, Michael Hart, passed away unexpectedly at his home in Urbana, Illinois yesterday. The world has lost a true renaissance man, the one who first gave us the gift of electronic books (eBooks). I have lost my oldest friend and confidant in these United States.

Read Michael’s obituary, wonderfully written by Greg Newby, CEO of Project Gutenberg.

My heart is in a million pieces and my brain equally scattered, and with all the words I come up with for the most pedestrian of things, I’d like to be more together and present when writing about Michael. To say he was an iconoclast, inspired me and was a crucial ingredient in the brazen, outspoken human I am today doesn’t even begin to cover it. Michael showed me what the internet could do, but more importantly, he gave it back to you and millions and millions of others, its rightful owners.

This is one of the last things Michael reiterated to me recently, “We only rise above mediocrity when there’s something at stake, and I mean something more consequential than money or reputation.” So, if I am happy and proud today, it’s because Michael will live on forever through Project Gutenberg and every spark, idea and changed life that has come from it. If I am also devastated and horribly angry, that comes from the fact that there are simply not enough people in the world like him. You and I may be clever, but Michael was a doer who DID. He changed the world forever. What I love him for the most is he would kick my behind for this negativity. And so I say, we are all – each and every one of us – Project Gutenberg. We will continue to break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy.

As Greg says in the obit,

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, the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

Michael is remembered as a dear friend, who sacrificed personal luxury to fight for literacy, and for preservation of public domain rights and resources, towards the greater good.

Funerals are not for the dead but for the survivors. I don’t mourn Michael, for he would not want for us to do that, but I do mourn the loss of a Roman candle in a sea of tealights. Michael, my friend and teacher, never goodbye, only thank you and love. Lots of love. Lots and lots and lots of love.

1 comment… add one

  • Gary B September 9, 2011, 9:13 PM

    Maitri, I was so sorry to read about Michael’s passing. I remember playing Atari Boxing in his basement, watching a recording of that last episode of Star Trek:TNG, and so on. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.

    I’m glad that you and he stayed close.

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