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ESTHER DYSONrepeatedly shows up on lists ranking the most important people in Silicon Valley—she even ranked No. 23 in Russia’s Who’s Who in the Computer Market. Not bad for a New Yorker who still uses XyWrite. Dyson founded EDventure Holdings, an investment fund that finances Eastern European technology startups, but is best known for her monthly newsletter, “Release 1.0,” and her two annual conferences, which have been likened to a Cannes Film Festival for techies. In the midst of touring for her recent book, Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age (New York: Broadway Books, 1997), Dyson engaged in an e-mail chat with Mother Jones.

RECOMMENDED READINGfor understanding Silicon Valley culture: “People should read the books about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, and Intel’s Andy Grove. Also, Net Gain by John Hagel (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1997), which talks about communities as a business proposition, and Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community (New York: HarperPerennial, 1994), which talks about them as a social proposition. My brother George’s book, Darwin Among the Machines (New York: Addison Wesley, 1997), lends the opposite perspective. He discovered that no one in the computer world had looked at how we thought about artificial life in the past and what computers-as-machines told us about ourselves. It’s a philosophy book rather than one about technology.”

DYSON ALSO RECOMMENDS: Personal History by Katharine Graham (New York: Knopf, 1997). “She’s a wonderful role model! The second half of Graham’s life began when she was in her 40s and took over the Washington Post after the suicide of her husband. She rose to the challenge—showing the power of the free press to uncover and publish the truth.” [C.Q.]