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The Soul of a New Machine

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,729 Ratings  ·  309 Reviews
The computer revolution brought with it new methods of getting work done—just look at today's news for reports of hard-driven, highly-motivated young software and online commerce developers who sacrifice evenings and weekends to meet impossible deadlines. Tracy Kidder got a preview of this world in the late 1970s when he observed the engineers of Data General design and bu ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 1st 2000 by Back Bay Books (first published 1981)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
Dawn Lennon
Dec 24, 2013 Dawn Lennon rated it really liked it
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
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...
Ben Haley
Mar 12, 2010 Ben Haley rated it it was amazing
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
John B.
May 30, 2015 John B. rated it really liked it
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
Jul 11, 2011 Brian rated it really liked it
Shelves: nerd-stuff
(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
Jan 26, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it
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
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
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
Sep 25, 2011 Pjr rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, favourites
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
May 10, 2013 Zack rated it really liked it
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
Brendan Brohan
Jul 18, 2012 Brendan Brohan rated it really liked it
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 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
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
Russell Hunter
Jul 05, 2015 Russell Hunter rated it liked it
This book talks about the team that creates a new computer. The book is read a lot by MBA students. I can see where putting a team together to do software and hardware is hard work. There are many times when the unexpected comes up and you are late on projects. I thought it was interesting the dynamics of the different teams and how the managers of the teams dealt with people.
May 14, 2010 Tatiana rated it really liked it
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
Sep 05, 2008 Greg rated it it was amazing
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
May 22, 2016 Joe rated it it was amazing
This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is among my absolute favorites. It tells the real-life story of the development of a new computer, in the in-between time after computers had started to become relatively wide-spread, but before the explosion in popularity of personal computers. In telling the story, Kidder tells the story of a group of engineers, working on what they love.

The computer in this book is not the single-chip microprocessor of today; built out of many relatively simple chips, the end
Nov 17, 2015 Michel rated it really liked it
Een journalist die meer dan een jaar in de loopgraven zit, samen met de mensen die een nieuwe computer aan het maken zijn. Die de computer volgt van ontstaan tot oplevering, in een periode dat er nauwelijks sprake was van personal computers:eind de jaren 1970, toen IBM oppermachtig was en Data General de gevaarlijke en hippe New Kid on the Block was.

Maar nu zit Data General mogelijk zelf in de problemen: DEC's VAX is sneller en beter dan het beste dat Data General heeft. En dus beslissen ze om o
Mar 30, 2014 Simmoril rated it really liked it
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
Kobe Bryant
Jan 14, 2016 Kobe Bryant rated it it was ok
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
Mark Casey
Feb 18, 2016 Mark Casey rated it really liked it
I first read this in high school, and for whatever reason decided to read it again. The book stands the test of time very well.

The story of Tom West and his teams of young men racing to build a VAX 32 bit competitor is gripping and fun and full of insights about the nature of innovation. Tom West gave a huge amount of authority to two development groups (the MicroKids doing microcode and the Hardy Boys doing hardware design), who then worked in close quarters with each other under huge time pre
Oct 16, 2014 Joseph rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 26, 2015 Koen Crolla rated it it was ok
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
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.
Feb 01, 2016 Lino rated it really liked it
Shelves: programming
A writer followed the Eclipse team at Data General throughout the Eagle Project while they struggled to build a 32-bit backward compatible minicomputer. The book ended up winning a well deserved Pulitzer prize.

There are many good things about this book. People are introduced gradually and it feels the author successfully grasped the essence of each one involved in the project.

This is not a project management book - in fact the conditions in which the Eagle was built are simply atrocious. Instead
I bought The Soul of A New Machine as a Kindle Daily Deal, hoping to get some charmingly outdated details of the 1980s computer industry. I didn't really get that at all, but am happier for it. This book was a character driven look at how corporate culture can be used to foster creativity and teamwork, with both management and employees being given equal time in the character-sketch-spotlight. I hardly cared at all about the technical details of what went on at Data General, but was turning page ...more
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
Jun 30, 2015 Ken rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 20, 2015 Luke rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tech, history
This was recommended to me from the Amazon workplace article a few weeks back. Here is a great tale from 1980 of a tech company embracing the startup-competition-80hr-weeks method to push out a new computer under arbitrary deadlines, to hire smart kids and work them incessantly for the joy of getting to do something cool. All interwoven with a very detailed but hopefully readable account of how computers worked and were built at this mid-point in their history. I could relate to pretty much ever ...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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