Michael Stern Hart, who invented electronic books (e-books) in 1971, passed away on September 6, 2011, in his home in Urbana, Illinois, at the age of 64. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for e-books. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4, 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years.
You can find a series of recent writings by Michael online in the Public Library Blog Newsletter