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Fire in the Valley: The Birth and Death of the Personal Computer

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,179 ratings  ·  56 reviews
In the early 1970s the personal computer was just a wild dream shared by a small group of computer enthusiasts in an area south of San Francisco now called Silicon Valley.

Working after-hours in basements and warehouses, computer pioneers Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple Computer, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Gary Kildall of Digital Research, and many others ignited a tech
Paperback, Third Edition, 424 pages
Published November 1st 2014 by Pragmatic Bookshelf (first published 1984)
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Jul 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: goodreads
(3.0) Was expecting it to be more entertaining

Okay, decent stab at a comprehensive history of the personal computer. Definitely achieves the breadth of that ambitious goal, so I give it credit there. I've been wanting to read this for a while, so still glad that I have.

I don't know quite what it was missing. Wasn't as good as Hackers, though certainly covered a lot of the same ground (at times, felt like I was rereading sections from Hackers, and kind of wonder if one of the two books borrowed f
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: retro, conviction
A year was a lifetime in those days.—Lee Felsenstein (SOL and Osborne 1 designer)

Since I lived in Michigan at the time most of these events took place, I was isolated from them. I had a TRS-80 Model I from 1980 through 1987. The Tandy computers were the top-sellers from the moment it came out in 1976 through at least 1980 and probably 1982. Since Tandy was not a west coast business, it figures little in these pages, however: the “valley” of the title is Silicon Valley, and the stars of this book
Apr 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biz-tech-books
Loved this book! I read it back when it was first published and during the time I was working at my first job after graduating from Cal...Apple. The mid-late 80's at Apple were the best of times (Mac intro, the "1984" commercial, huge profit margins, brilliant & creative colleagues, and wildly over the top parties) and the worst of times (Black Friday layoffs of '85, the rebellious black pirate flag hanging atop the Mac building (Steve's lair), the bitter and acrimonious dethroning and departure ...more
Joe Pickert
I really wish I could give this book a higher rating, but the fact that it took me 5 months to finish makes anything above 2 stars hard to justify. To be fair, Fire in the Valley offers some fascinating insights into the evolution and rapid explosion of the PC industry. But each time that it feels like the book is finally getting interesting, Freiberger abruptly changes focus and loses whatever narrative momentum he'd been building.

Another unfortunate limitation of this book is its age. At nearl
Murilo Queiroz
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computer-history
Yet another great book about the history of personal computers. Every time I start a new book on this subject I fear that it may sound repetitive, but until now all of them complemented each other in a very interesting way. This one has a deeper focus on innovation, the first microcomputer companies and operating systems.

I really liked the details about the history of MITS (producers of the pioneer microcomputer Altair 8080), IMSAI, the importance of magazines like Popular Electronics, Byte and
Mar 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
If you have time or interest to read only one book about the history of the personal computer, this is that book. I have read and reviewed many related titles; this is one of the few to to encapsulate both the PC's technical and entrepreneurial history. The building blocks: the first microprocessors in the early 1970’s, the release of the CP/M operating system in 1974, and the the Altair BASIC programming language and Altair 8800 in 1975. Swaine and Freiberger ask and effectively answer relevant ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fire in the Valley is one of the seminal books on the history of personal computing and still has value. Over time, most books on the subject have tended to focus on the chosen few who have become household names (especially Jobs and Gates), but at the time when this book was first written, it was not yet obvious who would be canonized in the long run. Thus, Fire in the Valley, describes the key contributions of dozens and dozens of individuals whose names have mostly been forgotten. The book re ...more
May 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An entirely captivating look at how the technology of the personal computer evolved from garage hobby project to household essential. I read the original 1984 version first and was left thirsting for more so tracked down this updated one. The only downside is that it is in desperate need of updating again because 10 years have passed since this edition. I would love to see a new version or a new book written on the further impact of the Internet, Social Networking, and how Silicon Valley recover ...more
Jan Ryswyck
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Amazing storytelling about the birth and rise of the personal computer. Required reading for anyone in the IT industry.Favorite quote from the book: "Let's not worry about conformity and tradition. Let's just do whatever works and let's have fun doing it." ...more
Alexander Case
The book significantly underestimates gaming's role in promoting the adoption of computing technologies. I'm to get more into this in depth with my video review. ...more
Greg Stearns
Apr 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent addition to the canon of computing history.

Written by 2 journalists from Infoworld and published in the early 80s, this book takes us from the bold gamble by a memory company hired to build a calculator that ended up being the first integrated microprocessor through all the ripples that buggy little chip made. Through the early calculator boom and bust of the 70s and the PC revolution until it was unseated by the mobile devices of the 2010s. This book covers the life of the PC in wa
John Harvard
Feb 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
A fast-paced narrative documenting the development of the PC industry, from the emergence of the Altair computer in the seventies to the arrival of the internet and AOL in the late nineties. The book is not technical and does not need any formal understanding of computers to be enjoyed. It is the story of the PC revolution and the personalities behind it.

The book spends a fair bit of time portraying key personalities who were behind the PC revolution and how they incrementally built on each othe
Dan Cohen

A decent account of the fascinating few years that saw the birth of the PC industry. I was impressed by the fact that the author kept a wide angle view and so did not neglect to write about the journals, fairs, clubs, retailers and other key elements of the scene, in addition to the obvious players (hardware and software vendors). Perhaps a little overly US-centric for my taste (although the title of the book means I can't say I wasn't warned). I might have found the book a little easier to foll
Mar 16, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pulls together well known, and many less-known, stories of the founders and companies that built the modern computer and internet world we now live.

It did surprise me how the book did not carry as much of the excitement and enthusiasm of the creators of these tech devices as would be expected. Even some of the well known exciting stories seemed a bit tepid. Nevertheless, it gets so much of the big stories in one place, and does excellent work in cataloguing the less-known stories that laid the f
John Hart
Jun 05, 2017 rated it liked it
The book contain some new info to me but the story line jumped around a bit. I listened to the audio book version and that is where everything fell apart for me. The narrator has absolutely no emotion in his voice.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read many books that covered the history of computers, with Steven Levy's Hackers being a favorite. This book had anecdotes of never seen before. It was an exciting read even knowing large portions of the history it covers. ...more
Michelle Padley Masson
an interesting account of how it all began.
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting contemporary account of the development of personal computers
Dan Rozanski
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite wasn't bad either (Pirates of Silicon Valley) ...more
Jennifer M.
Mar 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting to read just how much banditry and piracy really went into the formation of Silicone Valley. These guys were brilliant but were also really assholes.
Connor Van Ooyen
Dec 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Super interesting, just so dense
Apr 02, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It wasn't as interesting as I was anticipating :( A lot, a lot of technical details that weigh down the narrative. ...more
Jan 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a child of the 80s, and a learner of the 90s, I grew up in an exciting era in personal computing. I literally cut my teeth on a ZX Spectrum, and then after learning how that worked inside and out, as a family we eventually upgraded to an Escom IBM compatable PC. I started hacking BASIC programs when I was old enough to type and moved on to Pascal, Delphi and Visual Basic when I was in secondary up to Java, C# and more modern languages as time went on.

I've been in this industry a while. I know
Senthil Kumaran
This is one of the finest book written on the history of personal computers and computer revolution tracing back from 1960 to 1984. It traces it back to the hobbyist culture which shaped the industry. It talks about the attempts made my individuals who were interested in electronics, computers and who cared about this thing even before it was widely known to the general public. The history of machines and companies like IMSAI took me by surprise as even in the very early days, there was this com ...more
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As the short timeframe on reading this book might indicate, it was engaging.

I feel I haves better understanding of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as a result.

The myth of IBM going with Microsoft for their operating system, because Gary Kildal was to busy flying, gets debunked. The notion that Bill Gates was just able to buy another operating system, cheap, from someone else and slap it onto the IBM PC is also debunked. If you're looking for the proliferation or urban legends and myths,
Christophe Addinquy
Jan 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This an historical fresque about the story of the creation of the personal computer. It goes little beyond that, but it's essentially that. But more than history, this book is about people, about the little stories behind the history. Nearly all action is in the silicon valley, but not all of it.
This is where we learn surprising things about Bill Gates, where the relationship between the two Apple's Steve are clarified, where the importance of rather unknown characters are raised.
It's not a ligh
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A late 90s update to the 1984 history of the personal computer. The chapters up to the end of the original timeline I found a little confusing; telling the story by subject rather than strictly chronologically, combined with the number of names floating from company to company made it tough to keep track of cause and effect at times. And slight updates to early chapters were awkward and at times felt like typos. But the chapters taking it from the introduction of the Macintosh to the early Depar ...more
Neville Ridley-smith
Apr 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technical, owned
Incredibly detailed account of the various people and companies that started the PC revolution. It's almost too detailed. A lot of it I've already forgotten. Fortunately it's organised in a way that I could easily find out those details if I wanted to.

The organisation of the book has it's upsides and downsides. It constantly goes back and forth in time with each chapter. Each chapter takes it's appropriate topic and traces it through the appropriate time, so one chapter may cover 1975-1980, then
Tero Kuittinen
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably the best book about tech industry I have ever read. It's fascinating just how clueless major corporations were about the personal computer industry - and how the early computer firms cobbled together their products figuring things out as they went along. Also shocking how small the early R&D budgets and tight the development timelines for early video games were. So many classic hardware and software products were hastily slapped together with minimal time for polishing, let alone testin ...more
Bjoern Rochel
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
The majority of the book (80 %) is spend pre 1984. That was a bit unexpected to me, since I've seen 'Pirates of Silicon Valley' before which as far as I know is based on this book. The movie mostly focusses on Apple and Microsoft throughout the 80s, but those two companies are just a minor part of the book. Not a bummer though, I hadn't head the story of IMSAI, MITS, the Altair and all the other interesting developments of that time before. The last 15% then rush through the development of the l ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Changing book's description 2 22 May 25, 2016 02:43PM  

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Paul Freiberger, author of "When Can You Start?" is an award-winning writer. His work has been widely praised for its effectiveness and compassion. As President of Shimmering Careers, Paul helps individuals improve their careers with job interview preparation, resumes and job search.

Paul won The Los Angeles Times Book Award as co-author of "Fuzzy Logic" (Simon & Schuster, 1994) and he co-authored

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