A friend "innocently" pointed me to this Ars Technica article on e-books, in the full knowledge that it would destroy the rest of my day. He knew that I could not leave some article, which seemed to pretend that the e-book started when the writer joined Palm Media in 2002, alone without reply. The article is more a 5 page rant from a frustrated e-book publisher, rather than a balanced perspective on the history (and challenges) of the e-book.
The Voyager Company developed an e-book format (called Expanded Books) in the early 1990's. I read Jurasic Park by Michael Crichton on my Powerbook in 1991. It had no DRM and a superb user interface which did not get in the way of the reader. It came compressed on a floppy disk, which installed on a Macintosh and ran on top of Apple's Hypercard.
Firmware Design (our company) published an oral history project on CD in 1993 using the Voyager Expanded Book Toolkit. Long Time Olden Time was an oral history of Aboriginal experiences in the Northern Territory, collected by Peter and Jay Read. Originally published as a book and separate audiotapes, it could be read on screen with its synchronised audio track.
Bob Stein, co-founder of the Voyager Company, is a professional maniac, who deserves (but probably isn't interested in) a lot credit for the first practical e-book. His connections with the Book Publishing Industry convinced Publishers to experiment. He is now the founder and a director of The Institute for the Future of the Book.