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On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  601 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Filled with first-hand accounts of ambition, greed, and inspired engineering, this history of the personal computer revolution takes readers inside the cutthroat world of Commodore. Before Apple, IBM, or Dell, Commodore was the first computer maker to market its machines to the public, selling an estimated 22 million Commodore 64s. These halcyon days were tumultuous, howev
Hardcover, 548 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Variant Press (first published September 14th 2005)
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Nov 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Herb
I liked this book quite a bit, but I have always had a soft spot for tech-story books, even the fantasy of the Apple story. The C64 was my first computer at around 9 and I loved it with all my heart. I wrote my college entry essays on it when my peecee broke and was accepted to all of them (errr.... both). The interesting thing to note is that Commodore gets very little credit for revolutionizing the PC industry even though it can be said that they did more for it than Apple and IBM combined. Bu ...more
Apr 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is great. Seriously. 5 stars.

My first computer was a Commodore 64 and we also had an Amiga, so I'm probably biased. There is a lot of revising of history that eliminates Commodore from the personal computer landscape and makes everything be about PC vs. Apple. In the early and mid 80s, Commodore had a lot going for it. The Commodore 64 was the first personal computer to sell 1 million units. The Amiga was light years ahead of everything else when it came out in 1985.

If their technolo
Feb 01, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of not just Commodore, but the founding of MOS Technology which created the 6502 microprocessor.

This is a better business book than most I've read, because the author is unafraid to make clear judgement calls. When Jack Tramiel did something smart, the author says so. When someone does something dumb, he says so to. For instance, their marketing guy Tomczyk spent a long time negotiating a deal with Nintendo to have Commodore be the American company to port Nintendo's games to t
May 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
The introduction to the book sets the tone, when the author laments how most of the other computer histories in books and movies get it wrong, giving too much credit to other companies like Apple for the success of the personal computing revolution. That's a valid point. But As I've started to read the first hundred pages or so, a pattern emerged. The following occurs so many times, we can call the book formulaic:

"Book xxx says that the following thing happened. But it's wrong, and here's a quot
Jan 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing

If I was an engineer back then, I'd happily sacrifice my life as a Commodore Warrior for "Jack-Attack" Tramiel.

Don't believe the revisionist history! Apple is, and always has been, the original evil-empire. They led a revolution? THEY LED NOTHING!!!

Read about how Commodore engineer Chuck Peddle used to school "The Woz" and "Fake Steve" in how real computers were made. Read about a company that lived l
Rob King
Aug 08, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Computer history geeks
Commodore built some of the landmark computers early in the history of the personal computer. They made the first fully integrated personal computer, the first computer to sell more than a million units, and the best-selling single model of computer ever (the Commodore 64). They were also responsible for the first multimedia computer, the Amiga, and were a mainstay of the digital arts world for over a decade.

So how did they manage to screw it all up? They could have owned the world. The story of
Kevin Wortman
Feb 03, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a thorough account of Commodore through all its computer-producing years. As a former C64 programmer and enthusiast, the accounts of the key personalities and behind-the-scenes corporate drama are fascinating.

Unfortunately, many long passages, especially in the earlier chapters, are verbatim quotes from Chuck Peddle presented without commentary or any countervailing perspective. The text has numerous typos, repeats phrases, and drags in places. The book would have benefited from more for
Oct 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computer-science
aaaahhh...geeky nostalgia goodness! i went the route of Apple II back in the day, only hands-on exposure the competition (commodore, atari) was at K-Mart. dunno why. Apple II led to the Mac, which was extremely hard to program for (aak, Hypercard)! and was still niche. wonder what life would be like if i grew up hacking away at a commodore or atari machine. would have led to PCs rather than Macs.

anywho, good times those late 70s early to mid 80s. the technology we take for granted today.
Jeff Goldenberg
Sep 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computers
A really fascinating and seemingly authentic look at not only the rise and fall of the biggest computer company of all-time, but also of the entire industry upto the mid nineties. Highly recommended reading for those of you who think Apple and the Jobs Messiah are the most important thing to happen to computers.
Stephany Wilkes
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
About to re-read this and realized I'd never rated it. Will edit this later but, as a very fortunate child whose DoD-employed grandfather introduced her to the Commodore 64 (hence setting me on the track to a tech career I love, and have always, loved), I highly recommend this. Warning: This recommendation may contain a touch of nostalgia. ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, business
Now that I’m much older, I’ve been interested in the corporate history of early personal computer companies. Apple is one. IBM another, along with Microsoft. But then there is Atari & Commodore. Like in many arenas, it is a matter of luck and skill that leads to success. Apple has a lot of luck. They were able to survive when others did not through the shakeouts of the 1980’s & 1990’s. Commodore, the subject of the book here, contained a number of people that were developing ideas way ahead of t ...more
Paul Weinstein
I really wanted to enjoy this book since most material on the early years of the personal computer industry rarely look beyond the presently well-established companies of Apple, Microsoft, Intel and the like. However, the author has a real chip on his shoulder about this very thing and it becomes a distraction in the first paragraphs of this book, leading to a number of basic issues with his telling of the history of Commodore.

First, the author’s primary research begins and ends with a handful o
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computers, history
One of the best computer history books out there. Bagnall does a fantastic job in producing a book that is not only great in terms of retro computing, but also manages to be a great business book. Hats off!
Mark Ashworth
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I appreciated the depth of the technical details that went into this book, making it easier to understand why certain business decisions were made and how technology development is managed and integrated (or not) with marketing.
Eion Williamson
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As a child of the 80's nothing was more popular in this time than the Commodore64, iconic product of its time. Fantastic read, as like other corporations in history (i.e. Nokia, Atari) interesting to read how they got it so wrong. ...more
Pascal Finette
May 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
Interesting story, sadly suffers from poor writing style.
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wish I'd never given this book away, as it's not in print and, I think, has been split into two larger books I can't afford :(

Amazing story. Jack Tramiel is... a boss?
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Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good book for reading and learning history and computers... It was thrilling sometimes...
Mike Moore
Jan 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Good book that provided a great insight into Commodore and the start of the 8-bit computer age.
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
A brilliant book that pretty much makes other books about Commodore redundant. This book is so comprehensive that it's hard to think of what might be missing. This is a book about a very peculiar company and some brilliant people doing brilliant stuff. Commodore did some brilliant stuff, like the sound and video chips on the Commodore 64. I hadn't even realised that the CPU of C64 was actually the same as in VIC-20, C64 just had those chips and more memory, but it was on a totally different leve ...more
E Lewis
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Why? It was a great trip down memory lane. I never had a Commodore, but I grew up (both literally and technically) during the hay day of the Commodore 64. It was great to get a better sense for how Commodore products fit in with classics like the Apple I, TRS-80 Model I, Apple II, TI-94, Atari 400, Atari 800, etc. (I just wish the TRS-80 Color Computer got a little play; that was my machine). In addition, the story of Commodore is an interesting one (lots of greed, in ...more
Feb 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Some of the reviews I read of this book lead me to believe it would be more focused on the business side than the technology side. I was presently surprised that I felt it was 70% or greater about the technology. Having had a C=128 and using the heck out of it and having admired Amigas and their uses (but never having owned one,) my look at this book may be a bit biased.

From the technology side: for those who think they know how the personal computer space started, this book provides a different
E. Kahn
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fascinating book about the rise of Commodore as one of the major (arguably the dominant) company in the early era of personal computing. The book takes a pretty negative view of company management on the one hand, while underlining how close they were to achieving total domination on the other, which I thought was a bit contradictory. In my view, the most interesting part to the general public will be insight into the decidedly weird and wild CEO Jack Tramiel, the man who shepherded the company ...more
May 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology, history
This book is an essential remedy to the current revisionist history that would have you believe Apple Computer Inc. is the only innovative computer company that mattered back then. This history of Commodore is so much more fascinating than you might think; the personalities, clashes, and little-known facts kept me turning the pages. As a Commodore fan, I always wondered, "what went wrong?" -- and this book answers that, revealing the internal politics and decision making of one of the true pione ...more
Feb 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, signed, own
Somewhat heavy, but meticulously researched, history of Commodore from the takeover of MOS Technology (and the birth of the computer industry) to Jack Tramiel's departure.

Given what happened, it's amazing that Commodore were the success they were (or even that they managed to release any computers at all), and the details have garnered much more respect from me for the engineers who created the 6502 and C64. I am immensely sad that Commodore were wound up, as they were one of the great innovativ
James Alston
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nostalgic micro users
A terrifically detailed book about Commodore in its early years of making home micros - PET, VIC20, Commodore 64 and others up to 1984 (so not the Amiga which is covered in the sequel). A lot of effort has gone into interviewing the people involved at the time and what could have been a tough subject to cover is a very readable 500+ pages. I bought it as a nostalgic trip back 30 years as a PET user and a C64 owner in the 80's, and it fulfilled my expectations and more. It would have been nice to ...more
Karl Kindt
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
If you owned and loved a Commodore PET, VIC-20, C64, or Amiga, you have to read this book. That is all there is to it. It is the only comprehensive technical and business history of the company. The writing could be somewhat better. The author repeats himself and occasionally tells things in a strange not-quite-chronological order, but that's okay because you can tell he did his homework--many interviews with various people give multiple sides to the stories and he gets all the technical details ...more
May 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Everything you ever wanted to know about Commodore but didn't know to ask, from their early domination of the personal computer market (including Apple, who nearly sold out to them) to their disintegration in the 1990s. Incredibly detailed. Fascinating to me because my family owned a host of computers including the C64. My main caveat is that the book is horribly, horribly edited and that it badly needs an index. ...more
Bruno Nadeau
Jun 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
If you feel like geeking out, On the Edge is captivating from beginning to end. Commodore produced the technology that was part of my first contact with computers, which explains part of my attraction to the book. Although the writing could be improved to make reading this brick a smoother experience, the quantity of information pasted in from interview material is phenomenal. Fun read, which made me boot my C64 one more time.
Nov 15, 2011 rated it did not like it
Rob King's review below does a good job outlining the issues in the writing. I thought I was really a poor reader for a while, thinking "Wait, who is this guy now? Did I miss his intro?" but I quickly realized that the author simply didn't introduce them at all. The incorrect punctuation and italics, as well as the spelling errors, really detracted from the reading for me. It's a shame - the material is stellar but I still ended up putting the book down halfway through. ...more
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Brian Bagnall is the author of numerous computer titles, including the Commodore Series.

Librarian's note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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