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The Soul of A New Machine

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  3,054 ratings  ·  265 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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Paul Ivanov
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
Dawn Lennon
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
Ben Haley
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
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...
(4.0) Snapshot in time in the history of computing

Retells the story of the development of the first 32-bit minicomputer offering from Data General (I'm not nerdy/old enough to really know about them). Much of it centers on the defiant attitude that the engineers took to build this computer even when it appeared that Data General was doing its best not to make it happen (relatively low pay, few resources, few engineers, crazy deadline). But they do (only about 50% over schedule), through allnight
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
John B.
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
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
Compelling contemporary fable that has aged remarkably well.

I read this at university, while doing my undergrad electrical engineering degree. Even as I was reading, the machine at the core Kidders narrative, Data General's Eclipse computer, was on its way to being (if not already) obsolete. But the descriptions of the engineers, their struggles, their triumphs, their obsession with building the machine with a mixture of elegance and kludge, are timeless. They could just as readily be used for a
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
Brendan Brohan
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
Alexander Case
May 17, 2010 Alexander Case rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
John E. Branch 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
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
Shiva Shetty
This book won the 1982 National Book Award for Non-fiction and a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. And it deserved these prizes.
The last time I read such a good book on interpersonal dynamics was The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam.
The book opens with a turf war between two computer design groups within Data General Corporation, a minicomputer vendor in the 1970s.
Although the book talks about building a computer in 1978, it stil is a really good primer on what organizational tur
Soul of A New Machine is another book that landed on my to-read list via Bryan Cantrill's talk at Surge 2013 ( It is the story of the creation of Data General's Eclipse MV/8000 computer, codenamed Eagle, from the perspective of the author, Tracy Kidder, who sat with and interviewed many of the engineers involved. Soul is a wonderful tale of a group of talented individuals coming together and focusing all of their energy on a common goal: building something larger tha ...more
I'd heard good things about this book, but I was honestly blown away by how well Kidder managed to capture the spirit of the engineer for less technical people. The engineers Kidder presents are people I went to school with and work with: occasionally immature, always simultaneously driven and lazy, oscillating between mania and manteia, and feeling what others might see as a ridiculous sense of ownership and professional pride toward their own work, work which is clearly merely commercial in na ...more
Koen Crolla
Books written by journalists in general and non-fiction Pulitzer winners in particular are—in my experience—universally garbage, but this was a specific recommendation, so I thought I'd give it a try. I shouldn't have.

The Soul of a New Machine describes the development process of Data General's Eclipse MV/8000, but Kidder has no particular insight into the industry or any specific aspect of hardware development. Like most journalists, he does have a tremendous capacity for taking deeply shitty p
Shiva Shetty
I bought a torn used copy of this book in some forgotten book store years ago. I liked the burp. Finally in feb this year I dived in. What a treat!

This old book won the 1982 National Book Award for Non-fiction and a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. And it fully deserved those prizes.

The last time I read such a good book on interpersonal dynamics was The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. That one is easily one of the twenty best books I ever read. EVER.

This book opens with a tur
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.
Dimi Doukas
Being a kid from early 80's who grew up with Commodore 64, this story about how a group of computer enthusiasts is like a flash back to the days when you learned assembler, opened the computer to do some tweaks, learned the insides of it and made your early reach out to the world with 'modems'. The book is very eye opening and also pictures the era where everything was possible and computers were still far from being consumerized . I read this book tens of times during the years loaning it from ...more
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.
I highly recommend this book. It chronicles a high paced skunks works team as they build and debug Eagle. Eagle was a computer that came out in 1980 under the name Eclipse MV/8000. It possibly saved Data General's reputation and company. Eagle has 14 circuit boards laced together causing months of complex trouble. From the book: some problems are easy to find but hard to fix; some problems are hard to find but easy to fix; some go both ways. They have seen and will continue to encounter permutat ...more
A fantastic read on so many levels. At this point, it's really a piece of history, a classic in its field. Especially because I found it so compelling--and how is the story of an engineering project compelling?? Of course, as usual, it's the people--who they are, how they interact with each other and the project, the politics.

On a personal level, I entered the field just a few years later, so it brought back many memories, both good and bad. And I also found it in many ways so disheartening--so
"Things change fast in the computer business. A year is a hell of a long time. It's like a year in a dog's life," observes one of the characters in this profile of a team of engineers at Data General working to create a 32-bit minicomputer. I've re-skimmed this book a few times in the 231 dog/computer years since it came out, and even though the technology has grown in leaps and bounds and today's hoodie-wearers could be the sons of these young hotshots, the culture seems to be much the same. Wh ...more
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
That this book won the Pulitzer is no surprise. It combines a deft hand at journalism with a subject that at the time was probably little known, though now, 30+ years later, it is very well known. It is chic now to be geek.

In the early 80s such was not the case. Data General, left the stage in 1999 when it was acquired by another company. But when it was making new computers, and the men assigned to make new computers, that was a time little grasped by the world.

Kidder is able to inform us of th
Vicky Pinpin-Feinstein
I seem to be reading Tracy Kidder's books backwards. By this, I mean that I read his most recent books first and his earlier ones later I just finished reading this important one that was published in 1981. The reason for this is because several years ago, I read my first Kidder book, Mountains Beyond Mountain:The Quest of Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, a book he wrote in 2003. I thought it was a wonderfully written book. After that fantastic reading experience, I looked for other ...more
Jeremy Preacher
I came at this book from an unusual perspective - I had more of an interest in Tom West as a person than the now-historical business side of things. It more or less did what I wanted it to do from that angle, although it's not actually a biography, but the book really shines in its capsule descriptions of all the members of the team.

I've worked in high-pressure tech industry jobs, and I'm sort of depressed to see that things were the same then as they are now - unrealistic deadlines, bullshit fr
A start to finish portrayal of the development of a cutting edge computer (in the 1980's, mind you). There were times when my eyes would glaze over reading this work. Kidder takes time to attempt to familiarize the reader with the technical dilemmas of the computer engineers in the book, and I tried to stick with him, but sometimes it was impossible for me to understand what was being discussed. Nevertheless, it was interesting to read about human nature in such an unfamiliar territory. The char ...more
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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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“Too much protocol.” 1 likes
“He liked the “casual” look of the basement of Westborough. “The jeans and so on.” Several talked about their “flexible hours.” “No one keeps track of the hours we work,” said Ken Holberger. He grinned. “That’s not altruism on Data General’s part. If anybody kept track, they’d have to pay us a hell of a lot more than they do.” Yet it is a fact, not entirely lost on management consultants, that some people would rather work twelve hours a day of their own choosing than eight that are prescribed. Provided, of course, that the work is interesting. That was the main thing.” 0 likes
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