Really, sad. But his legacy lives on in one of the finest projects on the internet. It's provided me and my family with countless hours of enjoyment and immensely lowered the cost of ownership of my Kindle.
Imagine my wonderful surprise when I found not just one, but an entire library of Oz and Edgar Rice Burroughs novels that I quickly disseminated to all of the youngsters in my extended family ... then watched them spend hours entertained by these century old tails of fantasy and adventure.
No project has proven more firmly that our modern endless extensions to copyright is hopelessly wrong headed.
Michael Hart was a fantastic guy to know back in the early 90s as the Internet was transforming from a research network into a popular phenomenon. He'd foreseen this eventuality in the late 70s and made Project Gutenberg in part so it would be there when the world needed it. I'll always remember Michael rollerblading through Champaign-Urbana in his trademark ruby spandex singlet. And his incredible ability to scrounge computer parts. He once invited me to drive through the night to score an obsolete supercomputer that was allegedly sitting beside a dumpster at the University of Minnesota. He wanted to get to those hard drives before the rain did. Sadly, I turned him down - I had a first date that night. I don't remember her name. But I'll always remember Michael. And miss him.
Five years ago I was at HOPE Number Six and Michael Hart was the Saturday keynote speaker, giving a talk on his work at Project Gutenberg. I didn't know very much about it, but I recognized the name. There were Project Gutenberg discs floating around the conference so I snagged one and had a look.
I don't really remember anything specific from the talk, but I remember it was inspiring. It was called "Using eBooks to Break Down the Bars of Ignorance and Illiteracy". There's audio of the talk online, and I think I need to hear it again.
The next day was the last day of the conference, and as was usual Jello Biafra was the getting far less attention than the other keynote speakers. They'd closed off the back part of the main hall, a hall which had been filled to capacity and then some for Michael, and some of us were tossing around beach balls. I pounded one particularly hard and hit some guy in the back of the head with it. When he turned around I recognized Michael. I don't think he was too happy with me in that moment.
With the eloquence that only a twenty year old can muster, I stuck my hand out and said "I love your work. It's fucking absurd." That's about the highest compliment I can give a person, and I'm glad to see that Shaw quote in the obituary. It says what I was awkwardly trying to express.
The tension drained out of the situation, and he shook my hand before turning back to his companion and returning to his conversation. I went back to playing with beach balls.
I admire what Michael built, and I admire how he did it. Project Gutenberg was slow but steady, and will continue past his death. I can only aspire to leaving that kind of a legacy.
Goodbye Michael. I loved your work. It's fucking absurd.
"Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people."
I really like this quote. I discovered Gutenberg looking for something to read on the train pre-ebooks days. I really got sick of having to take books so I wanted a way to get books onto my PalmIII.  Searching around for anything in text format I stumbled onto Gutenberg. How do you get the text into the palm in a readable format? Using open source software like Plkr.  If you ran Linux the morning routine would go something like this:
* manually select Gutenburg novels to read & add to plkr.
* plkr client would crawl various web sites I read, compress the pages & sync with the pilot.
* read on the train.
I'd make this morning/evening habit. I benefited from Harts vision for many years.
"My father read an assortment of these made
available to him by Cambridge University in
England for several months in a glass room
constructed for the purpose. To the best
of my knowledge he read ALL those available.
. .in great detail. . .and determined from
the various changes, that Shakespeare most
likely did not write in nearly as many of
a variety of errors we credit him for, even
though he was in/famous for signing his name
with several different spellings." 
Hart was certainly well read. You can open random classics like Macbeth & find his comments like this one in the forward of Macbeth.
Besides using correct syntax for 1903, the language of the original is incomparably more alive.
This can't be Hart's doing. A man who devoted his life to preserving original texts (including this quote itself in http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/26107/pg26107.txt) would never have had the bad taste to botch it like this. I suppose if whoever did had bothered to quote the title, he would have renamed it People and Superpeople.
Excerpt from interview:
RP: Do you get a salary from the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation,
which was founded, I believe, in 2000?
MH: No. We don't attract enough funding for that.
RP: So what do you live on today?
MH: It's been two years since my last pay check, but if you save all your salary when
you do get one, $100,000 will go 10 years with no salary, at $10,000 a year.
Interesting that he lived so cheaply in order to work on something he loved.
I suppose many would consider this both indecorous and perverse, but I really am curious about the cause of death in cases such as these. It is usually omitted in cases of suicide or some particularly nuanced, possibly embarrassing disease.
I don't care about specifics, I am just disturbed when all reports tiptoe around the cause of death as if it just "spontaneously" happened to a man who was merely 64.
It sounds from some of his recent public writings like he may have been struggling with a terminal disease, but not being an associate of his, I have no way of knowing that.
It is not unhealthy or insensitive (which is what "morbid" means) to know cause of death.
Knowing cause of death has value for public discussion about policy, health, and medicine. Even if it's something like suicide or AIDS, we'll know that we should be paying more attention to preventing those.
IMDB and Wikipedia always list cause of death when it's known. Are they morbid too?
The obituary writer is free to write it any way he wants, but you seem to be arguing that it's wrong to include the cause of death. The reason we're reading this particular obituary at all is because we want to know more about the person. How is a list of surviving relatives, his home town, or age any more relevant or important to mention than cause of death?
Michael Stern Hart was born in Tacoma, Washington on March 8, 1947. He died on September 6, 2011 in his home in Urbana, Illinois, at the age of 64. His is survived by his mother, Alice, and brother, Bennett. Michael was an Eagle Scout (Urbana Troop 6 and Explorer Post 12), and served in the Army in Korea during the Vietnam era.
Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. 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 eBooks. 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 to be Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years.
Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.
Hart also predicted the enhancement of automatic translation, which would provide all of the world's literature in over a hundred languages. While this goal has not yet been reached, by the time of his death Project Gutenberg hosted eBooks in 60 different languages, and was frequently highlighted as one of the best Internet-based resources.
A lifetime intellectual, Hart was inspired by his parents, both professors at the University of Illinois, to seek truth and to question authority. One of his favorite recent quotes, credited to George Bernard Shaw, is characteristic of his approach to life:
"Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable
people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress,
therefore, depends on unreasonable people."
Michael prided himself on being unreasonable, and only in the later years of life did he mellow sufficiently to occasionally refrain from debate. Yet, his passion for life, and all the things in it, never abated.
Frugal to a fault, Michael glided through life with many possessions and friends, but very few expenses. He used home remedies rather than seeing doctors. He fixed his own house and car. He built many computers, stereos, and other gear, often from discarded components.
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.
In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven't thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we're all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job." He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children:
"Learning is its own reward. Nothing I can
say is better than that."
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.
This obituary is granted to the public domain by its author, Dr. Gregory B. Newby.
I saw a wonderful talk at HOPE 6 concerning Project Gutenberg, and can only assume it was Michael Hart speaking. It made me donate on the spot.
As a staunch supporter of paper books I don't often read eBooks, but I can completely understand and appreciate what an immense resource they are to those less fortunate (and picky about their medium!) than I am. Rest in Peace, Mr. Hart. Your legacy will live for years and years to come.
I remember going to a dual-talk in Amsterdam of Michael Hart and Richard Stallman. I went to see Stallman, I returned energized by Hart's vision. He was a convincing visionary person that dedicated is life to the good of all people.