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Accidental Empires

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,333 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Computer manufacturing is--after cars, energy production and illegal drugs--the largest industry in the world, and it's one of the last great success stories in American business. Accidental Empires is the trenchant, vastly readable history of that industry, focusing as much on the astoundingly odd personalities at its core--Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mitch Kapor, etc. and th ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 13th 1996 by HarperBusiness (first published January 1st 1992)
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Some of the reservations people have about Cringley's style are forgivable: if you haven't read around the subject of the PC revolution and researched the subjects for yourself, you'll think his attitude is to say the least disrespectful. When you appreciate just how weird some of these guys were/are and how arcane technology met classic American entrepreneurial spirit, you'll realize Cringley is actually being honest if not always generous.

As a fun companion to the historical record, it excels.
Jan 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
A friend gave me Bob Cringely’s Accidental Empires years ago. Finally got around to it.

Cringely is a gossip columnist for the tech industry, and even he realizes how ridiculous that sounds. It’s important context for Accidental Empires, a smart and interesting read. It’s a history of the microcomputer industry, roughly 1978-1996. It’s fascinating. It’s also more about the personalities than technology. He’s unafraid to call Steve Jobs “a sociopath” and Bill Gates a “megalomaniac”. And it’s not j
Murray Fife
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I just re-purchased it to re-read after I couldn’t find my original. Although Accidental Empires was written in 1996, and has to be read old-school style since it’s not available on the Kindle, this is a great history of how all of the major tech companies that are still around got their start.

It talks about Microsoft, Apple, and IBM and the birth of Windows, the Mac, and the modern PC during the wild west of the computer industry. Did you know that:
• Microsoft started off by buying DOS, and the
Nov 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's a truly pleasant experience to read this book, actually I should confess that I laughed A LOT in the reading. The book is hilarious.

Besides the fun part, I was inspired by this book too. This book went through the early history of Personal Computer industry, gave the vivid silhouettes of the people, the companies and Silicon Valley in this industry. Mr.Cringely examined why today's Information Technology industry is what it is now, and how it became like this.

The book provided the facts and
Toby Whaymand
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have had this book years, the pages are yellow and I've read it so many times, every time read this book I still find myself laughing out load. It because of Cringely's humour, the comedy factor that makes this book such an excellent education tool. This is my one of my favorite books
Deborah J Miles
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Deborah by: Open University
Shelves: non-fiction, to-blog
My version was printed in 1996. It was a set book for an Open University course which I was taking, and is Cringely's own account of how the personal computing industry started up. I was concerned that it would be stuffed with jargon and concepts beyond my understanding, but it wasn't. I found it informative, entertaining, and most importantly, it was easy to read. At times, I found myself laughing out loud- my favourite tale was about dust contaminating silicon wafers used by Intel to make thei ...more
Dimitrios Mistriotis
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book and huge influence.
Frank Palardy
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
Good, the basis for his show about nerds.
Jul 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
Seriously outdated, rampantly racist in too many parts.
Oct 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: software, tech, business
Accidental Empires by Robert Cringely, released in 1992, tells the story of an insider’s view of the rise of the personal computing era. The Rebooted edition was released online for free earlier this year. Find it here: (use the Next & Previous links at the top to change chapters). The individual stories are fascinating. Bill Gates always trying desperately to prove he could do anything (and in desperate need of a shower most of the time). Steve Jobs ...more
Dane Cobain
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When you read a book about computing, you can generally predict how good it's going to be based upon how recently the first edition was released. Things move so quickly in the computing world (thanks to Moore's Law) that by the time a book goes to print, it's often already obsolete.

Not so with Accidental Empires. The first edition of the book was released way back in 1992, and even though it was revised in 1996, that was still almost twenty years ago. Despite this, the book still makes for a fan
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone in the IT or comp sci industry
This book is mind-blowing! The history of the first several decades of the microcomputer revolution, told as history should be told: as a series of stories.

So many of the things mentioned in this book - inventions, founding of companies, rise and fall of people and fortunes - particularly in retrospect, are just amazing, particularly because of the personalities involved. We all recognize the names of the people (e.g., Gates, Jobs, Woz), and their products have becoming literally household names
Oct 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
More than a mere (view spoiler) ...more
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's very informative, and in my view, should be read along with The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. From a historical standpoint, it was right-on, and reflects the current state of the industry in the early and mid-1990s. However, some of the predictions were way off, such as predicting Steve Jobs as a failure. It also did not reflect IBM's transformation under Gerstner, though Robert X. Cringely addresses that in his new book, The Decline a ...more
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was born in 1987 in Ukraine. The first PC I have seen was IBM clone at mother's work around 1993. My first computer I got around 1998 and it was already Pentium with Windows 95 on board.

Now I work as software engineer.

During my teenage I was always wondered where are all other OS except Windows? Why only PCs are around? Why Apple Macintosh claims as professional and so expensive tool? Why IBM is not that big anymore? Why "Windows sucks"? How did it all start?

Had similar questions? Welcome to r
May 23, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was written in 1992, with two add-on chapters from 1996. It's sort of a classic in the genre of histories of Silicon Valley.

It's common to read stuff about pirates or knights or whatever and either think you were born too late, or that you can't believe how those primitives endured, or both. It's less common, I guess, to do that with a book about stuff that happened 20 years ago.

There are a number of good historical tidbits in here I'd never heard. The reason the book doesn't get more
Nov 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Difficult to rate because it's truly a period piece but overall it's fantastic. You get, not only, a glimpse into the rise of the tech companies that shape today (Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Intel, Sun, Etc) but there's a layer of gossip since the author (Cringely) happened to be a writer at the magazine InfoWorld at the time.

There are moments and predictions that hold through such as in the initial revision on how a GUI interface would become defacto and IBM mainframes would fall (consider: earlier
May 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
A pseudo-classic. I think it probably deserves that billing. I enjoyed it. I had moments of deja vu throughout, so I'm not sure if I had read it years ago -- man am I getting old, memories fading, mind turning to mush --, but it was a fun read nonetheless. I have read Cringely online for years, so there could have been some overlap with those articles and the book, too. Who knows. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to read the book with the benefit of hindsight; it is interesting to see how hi ...more
Robert Kennedy
Mar 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
The story presented trails off at 1992 (the publishing date) and it is surprising to see how little has been accomplished in the computer industry in almost 10 years. Cringely tries to walk a fine line between describing the personalities of the people involved and guessing their motivations. Too often he fails and the resulting invective just feels childish and trivial. Despite this, it was a fun read for someone who grew up during the birth of home computers. Familiar touchstones abounded and ...more
Jo Oehrlein
I've enjoyed the chapter by chapter re-read on

The book is obviously dated in that it makes comments on history leading to a "present" that was 20 years ago. Still, Cringely's got good insights into many of the companies that are still important in our world (Apple, Microsoft) and some that aren't so important anymore (IBM).

It's interesting to read about the development of hardware and software and the various alliances that are made, strengthened, weakened, and eventually broken.

Matt Mcglothlin
Jan 29, 2011 rated it liked it
It was more educational than well-written. I learned a lot about the personalities of early pioneers in the pc industry, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in particular. The book provides insight on decisions being made to this day in the world of Apple, Microsoft and Adobe. In particular Apple's disdain for Adobe Flash technology and Jobs' desire to own the technology rather than opening up his platforms.
May 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I really liked this book, especially after reading Black Swan and the likes, which describe the role of luck in success. The book is a great insider story about the early software and hardware ventures. It is a story of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and their peers. Apart from the last couple chapters where author offers advice on how to start new ventures and offers his view on the future of the software industry, I had a really good time reading.
Feb 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Although now dated, this is a great history of the personal computer. Cringely had an unique perceptive of this industry as history was happening. Cringely is a very interesting guy in his own right and utilizes that to good effect to the keep the subject from getting too dry.

As I said, it is dated and makes many references to the then present, but that shouldn't stop you from reading this book. You probably won't find a better or more interesting book on this subject.
Roger Merritt
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
A collection of short biographies of the people who created the personal computer from the 1970s through the 1980s. I especially liked it because I was watching what was going on at the time and the names were mostly familiar to me. Bill Gates is America's richest man because Gary Kildall decided he wanted to go flying rather than meet the representatives from IBM, who were looking for an operating system for their small computer.
Jul 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Nice history of what was going on in the tech industry when many companies were competing to get a piece of the personal computing revolution. The only issue for me with the book was that there seemed to be a lot of opinion interspersed as factual statements and the attitude of the writer seeped into the novel, detracting from the overall experience.
Jan 03, 2010 rated it liked it
It's a bit dated, but it's a fun to go back to the early/mid-90s and see the then current perspective as well as "what's next."

My favorite quote: "I'm not giving very good odds that Steve Jobs will be the leader of hte next generation of personal computing."

Ah well, can't call 'em all, Cringley.
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
awesome book about the early years of the PC (late 70s through mid 90s). There's a lot that I never know, didn't realize at the time, or had forgotten. Gives some good perspective on the current state of the industry

The book is getting pretty dated (e.g., Steve Jobs was still at NeXT when the book was written), but Cringley's currently working on some sort of rewrite/update or something
Jun 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Both incredibly informative and entertaining history of computers. I enjoy Cringely's humor, and how he is able to explain complex computer ideas in layman's terms. The only downside to this book was that it was written in 1992, right before the boom of the internet. I want a sequel to see how he chronicles the history of computers from 1992 to 2002 (or even 2008)!
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: high-tech
This is a book about the first wave of technology immigrants who became the first tech-billionairs in Silicon Valley. It is about the PC empires and the first giant software companies that fed the beast - Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Sun, Oracle ... The time before Yahoo, Facebook, Google and the current age. It is worth reading to see that things have not really changed all that much.
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a great history of the personal computer industry. I enjoyed the insider knowledge and anecdotes about the personalities involved in bringing these technologies out. Reading this today (on my tablet) is a great way to look back and see how we arrived at the convergence devices that we now carry with us everywhere.
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“In 1979, for example, Microsoft gave Boeing Commercial Airplane Co. the right to buy any Microsoft product for $50 per copy, until the end of time. Today most Microsoft applications sell in the $300 to $500 range, ten years from now they may cost thousands each.” 1 likes
“There are lots of people who aren't going to like this book, whether they are into morals or not. I figure there are three distinct groups of people who'll hate this thing.

Hate group number one consists of most of the people who are mentioned in the book.
Hate group number two consists of all the people who aren't mentioned in the book and are pissed at not being able to join hate group number one.

Hate group number three doesn't give a damn about the other two hate groups and will just hate the book because somewhere I write that object-oriented programming was invented in Norway in 1967, when they know it was invented in Bergen, Norway, on a rainy afternoon in late 1966. I never have been able to please these folks, who are mainly programmers and engineers, but I take some consolation in knowing that there are only a couple hundred thousand of them.

My guess is that most people won't hate this book, but if they do, I can take it. That's my job.”
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