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The Soul of A New Machine

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  4,152 Ratings  ·  344 Reviews
Computers have changed since 1981, when Tracy Kidder memorably recorded the drama, comedy, and excitement of one companys efforts to bring a new microcomputer to market. What has not changed is the feverish pace of the high-tech industry, the go-for-broke approach to business that has caused so many computer companies to win big (or go belly up), and the cult of pursuing m ...more
ebook, 297 pages
Published August 23rd 2011 by Back Bay Books (first published 1981)
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(showing 1-30)
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Paul Ivanov
Nov 12, 2015 Paul Ivanov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe this is not required reading for a computer architecture course!

In my high school Biology, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine was assigned to be read over the winter vacation. It was a bit of a stretch, but did make the class a bit more interesting. As I read Kidder describe the toil undertaken in creating this new computer - working under the pressure on the brink of insanity to find those incessant bugs - I thought this the perfect companion for the CS154B Computer Architecture clas
...more
Dawn Lennon
Dec 24, 2013 Dawn Lennon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
As a shameless Tracy Kidder fan, I found this book quite extraordinary. Written in 1981, it chronicles the building of a 32-bit microcomputer at Data General. This was a time when the competitive environment for computer advancement was heating up to a furious pace. Today, these times read like ancient history, exceptt for the fact that it was the dawning of an age.

Tracy Kidder, a journalist, not a computer engineer, took on the task of capturing the new computer building process when it was par
...more
Ben Haley
Mar 12, 2010 Ben Haley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Soul of A New Machine is an engineers soap opera following a rag-tag team of neophytes driven by their own Captain Ahab to build a revolutionary 32-bit computer for the now-defunct Data General in the late 1970s. Tracey Kiddler, the author, was given a rare opportunity as a journalist to follow the team's progress from within and his story shows an insiders knowledge. He breaks down the complex technical nature of the task through a series of straightforward analogies and by doing so enables ...more
Jim
It is a testament to Tracy Kidder's skills as a writer that I found a book of ancient computer engineering to be a compelling read. The story of Data General's development of a 32-bit minicomputer was somehow rendered like an adventure story through a wild landscape filled with thrills and dangers and eventual reward.

I read this book as background reading for a trilogy of books I'm reviewing and so pleasant to find such enjoyment in my research.

Oh, and the book also won the Pulitzer Prize...
John B.
May 30, 2015 John B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the early 1980's when this book was first published, the author had to communicate the complexity and labors experienced by a group of engineers as they developed the next big thing for a second rate company. Most of those who read this book today have a level of computer literacy that may be beyond what the author's computer literacy was when he wrote the book. Consequently there are sections where the author takes great care to convey computer concepts and operations to a reader who has nev ...more
Alexander Case
May 17, 2010 Alexander Case rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of computer history, and people who like profiles of people.
Shelves: computer-history
About 6 years ago, a sort of scandal rocked the gaming industry related to a blog post by a woman known as "EASpouse". The blog post criticized EA's labor practices at the time, which required employees to work massive amounts of unpaid overtime, as they were salaried employees. By massive, I mean about 12-16 hour days, 6 days a week, regularly. This was a big deal among gamers, because very few of us had ever had the opportunity to peek behind the curtain like this. It was likely that most of u ...more
Stephen
Jan 26, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hold on to your hats, kids! We're taking a trip back to the late 70s, where there were more than 2 or 3 types of computer to choose between, but they cost half a million dollars and were the size of refrigerators. This book relates the development of a new computer at Data General, a highly successful manufacturer of the time, though forgotten today.

This is really one of those plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose things. While it is so much of its era - maybe the bronze age of the computer
...more
Zack
May 10, 2013 Zack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
Synopsis: A team of engineers races to complete the design of a new minicomputer.

Thoughts: A word of introduction: this book is from 1981, and in 1981 a "minicomputer" was something akin in size to a couple of refrigerators; what we now think of as a PC was called a "microcomputer." While Kidder valiantly tries to explain the engineering challenges that the Data General team undertakes in building the "Eagle" MV/8000, the technical detail made my eyes glaze over. Kidder spends more time describi
...more
Tijl Vandersteene
Feb 09, 2016 Tijl Vandersteene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anderstalig
Was het niet van de titel, die me deed denken aan futuristische sci-fi à la Ghost in the Shell en The Melancholy of Mechagirl, of van de boekomslag met zilverblinkende letters (en van de prijs, 2de-hands voor slechts 0.50) dan had ik dit boek nooit gelezen, zelfs niet op aanraden van een boekenvriendin of -vriend. So it goes.
Het boek bestaat uit het feitelijke verslag van de ontwikkeling van een 32-bit pc (de Eclipse MV/8000) door een team ingenieurs, managers en programmeurs begin jaren 80. K
...more
Claire S
Read this book in that early 80's period, when I was pre-CSci at the U.. played a non-insignificant role in my deciding to switch careers. Not because I wasn't willing to work hard, but because the picture he painted was of very-realistic sounding imbalance. Long-term, structural imbalance and unwellness. And I knew myself well enough to know that that work environment wouldn't be in my best interest.

I have - in accounting - worked long hours sometimes, as many as 60 hour weeks repeatedly; some
...more
Brendan Brohan
Jul 18, 2012 Brendan Brohan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to believe that it's coming up for 35 years since the events in this book took place. It was a different time. A time when the frontiers in computer hardware were open and worth fighting for; when margins in hardware were, by present day standards, stratospheric, and when computer professionals/nerds/geeks were cheap and in it for the challenge. This is the true story of a small team of people with a common goal - to give birth to a new computer that will save a company. The different chara ...more
John Jr.
Some comments in lieu of a review:

Anyone interested in the characters presented in this remarkable, Pulitzer-winning book by Tracy Kidder should consider reading a follow-up published by Wired in 2000

Some more recent readers appear to have found the book "dated" in one way or another, a historical relic of the late 1970s. Granted, the products of computer technology have vastly changed. But the processes by which computer technology is developed may not have changed so much, if at all, and in a
...more
Greg
Sep 05, 2008 Greg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tracy Kidder put together a wonderfully rich and in-depth look at the inner workings of a team of designers working on a new minicomputer. With scarce resources, minimal corporate support, and little but what they could scrounge and their own intellectual prowess and determination, the team succeeded against all odds. And with Kidder's able help, we are right there with them. We see the manipulations, the generation of fierce commitment in the experienced and newbie alike, and the almost fanatic ...more
Tatiana
May 14, 2010 Tatiana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this back when it was current, and I was programming at the time on a Data General MV6000, so it was really fascinating to me how that series was made. I enjoyed the book immensely, and found it a fun read, a page turner. It was nice that Tracy seemed to learn enough about the whole process, the technology and the project, that he really understood what was going on. I think a lot of journalist types wouldn't have managed that. They would have made a lot of vague statements in their books ...more
Kaushik Iyer
Sep 10, 2015 Kaushik Iyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
This was a fantastic read. Tracy Kidder captures a period in computing history that I'd only ever vaguely heard about. The race to build (or in this case retrofit) the first 32-bit microcomputers!
This a fundamentally human exploration of how to inspire and lead people to tilt at windmills. You see how technical credibility is earned, and how teams come to inhabit a realm of their own as they approach launch.
Lots of crazy debugging stories, some fantastic character sketches make a book that is we
...more
Kevin
Mar 23, 2015 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As someone else commented, paraphrased: "This should be required reading for any computer architecture course."

A fascinating insight into the work it took to launch an entirely new computer back in the days of hand-soldering and oscilloscopes, as well as a pseudo-biography of the strange and charismatic leader of this particular team, Tom West.
Michael Dubakov
Oct 13, 2016 Michael Dubakov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Somehow not so easy read. Not sure why. However, if you liked Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, you will like this book as well. The real story of Data General Eclipse MV/8000 computer design. Very detailed, deep and passionate.
Abdullah AlOthman
كتاب جدا رائع! أنصح كل من له اهتمام بالكمبيوترات أو مقبل على تخرج بقراءته.

الكتاب يروي قصة فريق مهندسين يعمل على تصميم جيل جديد من أجهزة الحاسب. كمية من الكفاح والكرف تحفزك (أو تنهكك.. على حسب النفسية) وأنت تقرأ عنها.
Ken
Jun 30, 2015 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this many years ago and many books ago. But it made a big impression on my younger self about the quest for something bigger than yourself. You don't do something for money or glory, you do it for the deep internal feeling of accomplishment.
Finlay
Aug 08, 2013 Finlay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting to read about the history of the industry, but also depressing to see all the same bullshit (schedule-chicken, resource battles, etc) that hasn't changed in 30 years.
Kobe Bryant
Its pretty funny how much of this book Halt and Catch Fire ripped off. Season 2 was pretty good though there was too much drama
Rob
Nov 26, 2016 Rob rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Some familiar nerd types building a computer in the late 70s.
Peter Goodman
Dec 16, 2016 Peter Goodman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

“The Soul of a New Machine,” by Tracy Kidder (Atlantic Monthly, 1981). A book about computers from before the dawn of the PC age. And it still works, even if we are so far beyond the idea of big, desk- or –room-filling machines that required special skills to use at all. Kidder spends a year with the workers at Data General in Westborough, MA., as they dig deep to envision, design and build a new computer that is slightly more advanced than previous models. He develops the personalities of the m
...more
Bhashit Parikh
Great storytelling. Although, not as gripping as Showstopper!
CharlieSz
Another re-read just because. Time has not been kind to the tech discussions. As for the rest of it, I've now lived through a similar corporate environment. So, interesting as a re-read, but not as compelling as the first time through.
Dev Sodagar
Nov 06, 2016 Dev Sodagar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look into the early tech scene and the organizational structures that have shaped the techworld since.
Cody
Jan 01, 2017 Cody rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology
The Soul of a New Machine originally came out in text in 1981; I got the audiobook version, which was recorded in 2016.

The trials and tribulations of building a computer are something I never thought about before. But just like anything that involves using a computer, we all have to figure out how to do what we want to do, or abandon the process altogether. The engineers behind the computers built at Data General had to understand electricity in ways general computer users never think about. The
...more
K. Isom
Sep 27, 2016 K. Isom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Rating guide: 1 = waste of time, 2 = meh, 3 = good book, 4 = great book, 5 = great book and had an impact on my life)

I'd picked up this book a while ago (along with a number of other books, like Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software, The Pentium Chronicles: The People, Passion, and Politics Behind Intel's Landmark Chips, and Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology) but that was right as I stopped reading tech-rela
...more
Helmut
Nov 01, 2014 Helmut rated it really liked it
Teuer erkaufte Viertelstunde im Rampenlicht der Geschichte
Ich war nach ungefähr 50% des Buchs kurz davor, es wegzuwerfen und eine vernichtende Rezension zu schreiben. Zuviel stieß mir sauer auf, der verherrlichte Arbeitsdruck, die falsche Führungskultur, der oft seitenlang dröge Schreibstil. Doch ich hätte das letzte Drittel verpasst, das wohlgeplant, so scheint es mir im Rückblick, aus dem hässlichen Bild der Arbeit bei Data General unter Tom West, eine Lobpreisung der Teamarbeit macht.

Die Unte
...more
Arun
Oct 11, 2016 Arun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book on how a Project is executed at an IT company. More than anything it taught me what and how a PM should manage a project, what are the priorities and how to manage the resources. There was a wonderful note on how a processor executes an instruction. Good read for IT professionals.
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Tracy Kidder is an American author and Vietnam War veteran. Kidder may be best known, especially within the computing community, for his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Soul of a New Machine, an account of the development of Data General's Eclipse/MV minicomputer. The book typifies his distinctive style of research. He began following the project at its inception and, in addition to interviews, spent c ...more
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“In the early days, computers inspired widespread awe and the popular press dubbed them giant brains. In fact, the computer’s power resembled that of a bulldozer; it did not harness subtlety, though subtlety went into its design.” 1 likes
“When you burn out, you lose enthusiasm. I always loved computers. All of a sudden I just didn’t care. It was, all of a sudden, a job.” 1 likes
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