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Commodore: A Company on the Edge

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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, eventually selling an estimated 22 million Commodore 64s. These halcyon days were tumultuous, however, owing to the expectations and unsparing tactics of founder Jack Tramiel. Engineers and managers share their experiences between 1976 and 1984 of the groundbreaking moments, soaring highs, and stunning employee turnover that came with being on top of the world in the early computer business.

Second Edition:
This book is a major reworking of the book titled, "On the Edge: the Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore." Now includes 15 additional interviews, dozens of period photographs, an accurate chronological presentation and more amazing first-hand stories than ever before.

About the Author:
Brian Bagnall is the author of several computer books for McGraw-Hill, Prentice-Hall PTR, and Syngress Publishing. His latest book is Maximum LEGO NXT and his previous books have been translated into Japanese and French. He is also a frequent contributor to Old-Computers.com, an online museum dedicated to preserving computer history.

548 pages, Hardcover

First published September 14, 2005

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About the author

Brian Bagnall

12 books15 followers
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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 62 reviews
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 7 books591 followers
December 2, 2007
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. But I believe that the reasons for their relative obscurity in the revolutionizing department are two-fold:

1) No one likes the leader. They sold something like 20 million C64s and dominated the market for 5 years or so (which in computer years is something like 27 bajillion years). Everyone hates the winner.

2) The guys creating the computers were dicks. From Tramiel to Peddle the engineers and mangers involved were not cool and had over inflated views of themselves. On more than one occasion someone describes themselves as a samurai and on other occasions they talk about how superior their brain cases were. At least Apple had Woz and while IBM was Borg, they at least were nameless and faceless automata.

So that's it. It's still a nice read, and highly recommended for those in love with computer folklore. Just don't expect to find many heroes.

Profile Image for Phil.
26 reviews
April 3, 2009
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 technology was so awesome then what happened? READ THE BOOK.

28 reviews
February 8, 2012
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 the C64 and release them. He brought the deal to Tramiel and Tramiel inexplicably said no. Result: Nintendo turned to Atari, who became their launch partner, and the games still came out for the C64 but now Commodore wasn't making any money.

You can learn about mistakes to avoid from this book. Other business history books I've read often somehow manage to muddle the story so that it's never clear; I have one about Carly Fiorina's time at HP (widely regarded as disastrous) that doesn't clearly explain what major decisions she made and why, and how they turned out wrong.

Note 1: There seem to be two editions of this book, and the first edition supposedly goes to 1994 (covering the Amiga story and leading up to the time Commodore went bankrupt), but the edition I have (the 2nd ed.) doesn't seem to go that far. It might be worth getting the first edition as well.

Note 2: I didn't realize it, but the 6502 was a ground-breaking invention because it was the first microprocessor that was fantastically cheap enough to be included in mass market consumer devices. Motorola and Intel had somewhat more-capable chips which sold for about six times as much. The tech lead for the Motorola 6800 team suggested to Motorola that they make a low-cost device, and Motorola said no. So the team quit, and moved to a new company MOS Technology, and made the 6502. MOS was able to get their defect rate low enough that the chip could be sold cheaply; they introduced it at an early West Coast Computer Faire, and there was a groundswell of demand. People were buying 6502s for like $20, out of a big jar; and the jar was a visual demonstration that MOS could manufacture the chip in volume, in order to make people feel comfortable about building it into their products. (In fact, only the chips on the top of the jar were good; the ones in the middle and bottom were ones that had failed testing.) The 6502 is, in some sense, the Model T Ford of microprocessors.
1 review
August 8, 2007
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 Commodore is told in "On the Edge", and it's a great story.

In fact, the story is, honestly, the only reason I keep reading. I love the old Commodore machines (especially the Amiga), and I love hearing the story from the perspective of those in the trenches. The book certainly does not disappoint in that regard: there are interviews with dozens of people who worked for Commodore throughout its turbulent history. The interviews are informative and to the point.

Unfortunately, the non-quote writing leaves quite a bit to be desired. The author does not follow standard English professional writing style. For example, he italicizes things that should not be in italics (for example, the University of Minnesota). He also seems to have been writing with a thesaurus next to him. Whenever he quotes someone, he finishes the sentence with a new synonym for "said": people in turn "exclaim", "recall", "muse", and a variety of other actions. It's not bad to use these words when the subtle shades of meaning actually fit what is being said, but someone does not, for example, exclaim "I started working at this company in 1979. It was a bit of a rainy day."

The biggest flaw, however, is that the author seems to occasionally forget to introduce important people. Someone will say something about another person in an interview, and that person magically becomes part of the narrative. It is up to the reader to determine, via context, what relationship that person had with Commodore. The author also forgets critical background information, leaving it as a stumbling block when it is referenced in quotes later in the text (for example, Jack Tramiel, a major player in Commodore's history, was a survivor of the Nazi death camps. This is not mentioned in the narrative, but someone does say "Jack worked in the camps." It's up to the reader to determine which camps).

So, I would say that, while I do recommend this book, it's not because of the writing. The story of Commodore is so good and so integral to the modern personal computer that anyone with an interest in computer history should read it. If you ignore the mediocre writing and the lamentable lapses in journalistic ability, it's a great story.
Profile Image for Michael.
30 reviews1 follower
May 12, 2011
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 quote from Chuck Peddle as proof."

"Here's a quote by an industry insider xxx, who says that the following thing happened. But it's wrong, and here's a quote from Chuck Peddle as proof."

The book reads more as an autobiography of Chuck than anything else. I can't get past the first 150 pages without having read a few hundred quotes from him, with only about a dozen quotes from other sources mixed in.

Also, the book takes the opportunity to bad-mouth Apple at every opportunity. The author really has some anger issues to work out.

Well, that, and the poor grammar and lack of editing. The wrong usage of the word "you're/your" and incorrect use of an apostrophe ("the two Steve's" used in a non-possessive context) within the first 60 pages detract from what might be valid points.

I wanted to like this book, to read something that offered a look at a company that wasn't Microsoft or Apple during those years. But the angry tone and bias of this book weaken what could have been an effective rewrite of history.
Profile Image for Christopher.
50 reviews14 followers
April 8, 2010

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 life on the edge, broke all the rules, and brought more affordable & advanced computers to more people than any other company of it's day.

This story comes complete, including the evil Wall Street banker, to kill the once-mighty company in the end.

Seriously, what self-respecting engineer could'a worked for a man who wears black turtlenecks with skinny arms... or a full-grown man who rides a scooter everywhere and wants to be called "The Woz"?

A great and entertaining book about mutually abrasive personalities locked in a single room. Think Jerry Springer with PhD's.
39 reviews
February 4, 2016
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 forceful editing.

It's an enjoyable read for Commodore groupies, but would probably be a slow slog for anyone else.
Profile Image for Don.
64 reviews4 followers
October 13, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Jeff Goldenberg.
41 reviews1 follower
February 18, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Stephany Wilkes.
Author 1 book32 followers
December 28, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Levent Pekcan.
159 reviews525 followers
May 9, 2015
Çok ama çok fazla bilgi içeren, muhteşem bir araştırma ürünü.
525 reviews9 followers
February 23, 2020
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 their time. But through mismanagement, it was squandered.

I’m a dyed in the wool Apple guy. So I acknowledge that I have a certain bent to the early computer history of Silicon Valley. But time has given me the ability to look outside & understand the crazy time that was the personal computer golden age when I was growing up.

So this will be a series of things I learned and didn’t know.

I had always thought of Commodore as an east coast company. I didn’t know there were extensive R&D offices in the Bay Area. There was an advanced technology group on Moorepark. They were doing a investigating a lot of far sighted ideas there (this would be similar to Apple’s ATG). Eventually this was shut down, as Jack had issues with it over time. Amiga was also local to the Bay Area, eventually doing their work in Los Gatos.

The father of the 6502 was also the father of the PET computer. Commodore owned MOS, so they had their own fab for custom chips. This explained how the C64/128 & Amiga could have a lot of custom silicon. For the C64, it helped get around the limits of the 6502, while in the Amiga it really pushed what a 68k based machine was capable of.

Speaking of the Amiga. It was a fully realized machine in 1985. 68k based like the Mac, but with more memory and a lot of sophisticated silicon. Multitasking from the outset, 4096 colors. The Mac Plus didn’t hit until 1986. Color, expandable Macs were not out until 1987. All for less. What hampered the machine was the OS. Lots of drama with the OS. Also lots of drama with the marketing of the Amiga. This kept Commodore from reaching their core market, ceding it to Atari. They had all of the pieces in place to dominate the personal computer market, but the brilliant Amiga engineers couldn’t fix the systemic issues within the rest of the company.

Jack, through to the C64, couldn’t care less about software. He was a calculator hardware guy. Software was an expense. Jobs saw software as key & shunned custom silicon (hence a slow Mac).

Jack had no long term vision, other than create [insert company name here] killers. The C64 was to be the Apple killer. Then he wanted to dominate the sub-$100 market, mainly to kill TI, as he had personal issues with them. Business is War was his ethos. It also kept the company from truly dominating. Jack didn’t understand computers, really. He simply wanted to brawl at the low end. He’d be his own worst enemy, squeezing margins. Plus suppliers (owing without paying was one of his signature moves). But to keep the business moving, it needs profits to pour back into more development.

Except that didn’t really happen. While the engineers had a lot of freedom, they were also subject to the whims of Jack. He made sure everything moved through him & he’d change directions to suit his mood. ie make an Apple killer in 3 months so he could show it at the next CES. The engineers pulled it off, though the machine was essentially a hack due to the serious time constraints. Yet it sold in huge numbers. I liked the story about the compatibility mode in the C128. The engineers had to put all of the bugs back into the system, as clever software developers had used the flaws for their own hacks.

So what could have been a series of truly dominating machines ended up being victim to egos at the top. Just when they were on top of the world, they would tear themselves down. What a waste of engineering talent and what they were able to do in such resource constrained environments. For me, in the end, the book was sad in that regard. The engineers poured so much of themselves into their machines, yet in the end, management ran the company into the ground.

One note about the writing itself. There was a lot of repetition & at times the narrative dragged. At times it felt the author wanted to dive into the technical parts of the machines, but then pulls away to analyze the personalities involved. It didn't flow. It did feel best when the engineers were describing their work and how they fixed the problems they encountered. It looks like this book was expanded into a set of 3, with more material. This is a good introduction for me to the hisotry.
Profile Image for Julian Dunn.
280 reviews15 followers
November 12, 2021
A self-published book of over 500 pages certainly gives a prospective reader pause: this combination tends to indicate excessively in-depth treatment of a niche subject area that surely could be improved with the services of a good editor. One must decide at the outset (or after reading a short section of the book) whether the appeal of the subject matter itself outweighs any of these flaws. For me, it did, because I am a nerd about computing history, but it's true that a tome like this is not generally readable by a layperson audience. It meanders, it duplicates material, its timeline is not as linear as one would imagine, and it is both strong and weak on detail in different areas. That said, it is no doubt as comprehensive an account of the rise and fall of Commodore Business Machines as we can hope to have -- inflected, as it is, with substantial survivor bias (Bagnall clearly lionizes many of the engineers, and hasn't interviewed any of the managers that those engineers disdained). Bagnall also falls into the trap of lionizing the engineer stereotype: the unwashed, anti-social geeks who worked 100+ hours, barely showered, and delivered amazing results under pressure. All this may be factually true, but much of it wouldn't have been necessary were it not for enormous management incompetence, starting with Jack Tramiel and his primary investor, Canadian playboy Irving Gould, and ending with later generations of imbeciles like Mehdi Ali. Any competent managers seem to have been driven out of the company sooner rather than later.

Commodore did deliver some incredible products under pressure, although the systems (Commodore 64, Commodore 128, Amiga, etc.) were not as well-architected as one might think based on their market success, which goes to show that a company must work together in its entirety to create sustainable innovation and growth. Accordingly, Bagnall's harsh criticisms of marketing as being a bunch of mostly lackluster idiots who delivered little value to the company do not hold much water, and in fact seem to parrot Jack Tramiel's view that engineers should be viewed as all-powerful kings. Bagnall misses an opportunity to be more critical of the systemic, cultural, and organizational issues that underpin Commodore's eventual failure, engaging rather in a glib and superficial analysis-by-anecdote of the effects of poor management, rather than the proximate causes. Again, one can't help but imagine these are issues that the withering gaze of a good editor would have rectified.

On the Edge is not as unreadable as I originally feared (after ingesting the first fifty pages); I was compelled to finish it. But it's certainly not for an average audience.
Profile Image for Fredrik.
186 reviews11 followers
November 17, 2018
Veldig usikker på om jeg skal gi denne en 3 eller 4. Den er nok mye mer relevant for de som er litt eldre enn meg, siden jeg aldri har tatt på en Commodore-maskin.

Men ganske morsomt å se hvordan datamaskinindustrien var i begynnelsen (og hvordan vellykkede firmaer ofte har svakt psykopatiske ledere)
1 review1 follower
November 23, 2018
Storie, aneddoti e retroscena raccontati da chi lavorò in Commodore tra fine anni 70' fino a metà anni 90'.. i progetti sognati, realizzati o vaporware, le strategie aziendali e di politica interna.
Un libro ben fatto che rende eterna ciò che era già leggenda: la storia della Commodore dalla polvere all'altar .. dall'uno all'altro mar.
Profile Image for Themistocles.
388 reviews14 followers
September 22, 2017
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!
Profile Image for Mark Ashworth.
9 reviews6 followers
October 15, 2017
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.
135 reviews
November 12, 2017
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.
43 reviews42 followers
August 12, 2019
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?
1 review
January 4, 2021
Good book that provided a great insight into Commodore and the start of the 8-bit computer age.
Profile Image for Marko.
44 reviews
January 31, 2014
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 level performance and price wise to anything on the market at the time. The sound chip, SID, was way better than anything else in anything affordable to normal consumers even though it was a rush-job (like most of the stuff done at Commodore during their peak). The result was a chip that has produced some of the most memorable game music ever and is used to this day.

I also didn't know Amiga wasn't actually a Commodore product at first but the way it was built was reminescant of the way Commodore built some of it's products (PET, VIC-20, C64): by going far beyond what anyone else had ever done. Amiga, at the time of it's release, was an amazing home computer offering unrivalled price and performance. It's too bad Commodore marketing messed the North American market completely and effectively killed the product there. European sales were not enough to keep Commodore afloat in the end. What made Commodore a success at first was the combined price cutting by Tramiel who always wanted to sell at far lower prices than the competition and the engineers who didn't like compromises and were brilliant at what they did. To make such important products required both.

But first and foremost this book is about people. The odd, the brilliant, the obsessed people that made Commodore what it was. From founder and CEO Jack Tramiel who was not a very nice person and ruined a lot of lives but after whose dismissal by majority shareholder Irving Gould Commodore went downhill fast and would have folded a lot earlier without Amiga to the brilliant engineers like Chuck Peddle who created the computer section of Commodore and was then destroyed by Tramiel and the engineers who created C64, Robert Russell and Bob Yannes and many others. These guys were motivated to the point of obsession, brilliant at what they did and some very eccentric, none more so than Bil Herd, a brilliant hardware guy and alcoholic. The stories of some of the antics they made are just brilliant, like how and why Herd punched a hole in the wall of his office.

For someone who spent way too much of his youth playing with the C64 this book is a goldmine of information. For instance, the reason why the 1541 floppy disk was so ridiculously slow is revealed. Commodore was a major factor in bringing computers to home. Much more so than IBM and Commodore easily out-sold companies like Apple during the critical years when the home-market was created (the first three true home computers were TRS-80, Commodore PET and Apple II and the Apple sold way less than the other two). So this book is also a valuable tale of how the computer arrived to our homes. Everyone might have an IBM PC clone now but in the 80's it looked for a while like the future might be in Commodore machines but for some shocking marketing decisions. The whole computer business seems to have changed from brilliant engineers doing brilliant, ground-breaking work to the business-driven model of today where products are changed just enough to make people want to buy it.

The only little thing I was left hoping for was some sort of timeline of the events listed in the book, including the things competition did that was mentioned in the book. Sometimes it was hard to follow the order of the events because things happened in parallel so you might be tossed back several years with a new chapter. Another thing is, of course, that since this book is largely the voice of the engineers that made this happen, the opinions might be a bit lop-sided but this really only bothered me on a few occasions.

For me some of the best gaming experiences ever were with C64 and it's the reason I now work in the computer industry even though I never did do much programming on it. But I, like countless others, were drawn into the computing industry by Commodore. So their legacy is still strong even though the company folded in 1994. This book brings back many memories and also makes you wonder have we lost something while gaining computers with computing powers completely unthinkable 25 years ago.

A company that created PET, VIC-20, C64 and Amiga (they made it a success by creating a cheaper version which made it affordable to many more than the original Amiga 1000) deserves it's history to be told. This book does it and brilliantly. A must-read for anyone who has ever owned one of Commodore's computers.
Profile Image for Paul Weinstein.
Author 2 books
June 25, 2021
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 of former Commodore personnel. Thus, the facts provided are first-person, anecdotal accounts, many years after the events took place. Overall, the author doesn’t question or challenge his sources directly.

This leads to the second issue; the author fails to take a critical look at the inside players. While questions of Jack Tramiel’s business style is abundant in the various stories told throughout the book, in the eyes of the author, Tramiel can do no wrong. Every questionable decision or action made by Tramiel is “genius”. Since Tramiel and crew could not have planted the seeds of their own destruction, the “baddie” of this story is financier and board member Irving Gould who handcuffs Tramiel’s access to funds. In this telling, the bad blood between Tramiel and Gould eventually lead to Tramiel’s departure and thus the beginning of the end of Commodore. That Tramiel fundamentally misunderstood how the computer market was different from the calculators his company previous produced and sold gets little attention.

Basically the author's desire to "correct the history" and re-establish Commodore as a household name boils down to two points. That Commodore was first and that they shipped the most units.

Supporting this first claim leads the author to play a bit fast and loose. By my count the author either directly claims or implies that Commodore was first with a personal computer, modem, to develop a layered OS (with dedicated kernel and user space code), GUI, digital camera and port of Unix for microcomputers. Yet many of these claims ignore similar work at other companies or that in some cases Commodore's work didn’t go beyond the development stage.

As for most shipped units, again, the author fails put Commodores in context with its competitors. On the most basic level, he fails to specify a common unit of measure/time period/model to measure against, leaving one to question each comparison in the first place.

Again, this leads to a serious lack of critical analysis of Commodore's rise and fall.

Don't get me wrong, Commodore was first in inventing aspects of the personal computer industry as we know it today. Their work should be remembered and studied. But this books fails to place Commodore in proper context of that history and why the company is no more.

In short, it’s the long game that matters. History is written by they winners. Something the author seems to have missed in trying to figure out why Apple, et. al. get all the credit for “inventing” the PC industry.
1 review
May 19, 2015
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, incompetence, and good engineering).

To be honest, a monkey could have written a book on this topic, and I would have liked it. Bagnall has done much better than a monkey, but overall I don't think the book was particularly well done. Here's why...

Poorly organized and written. The organization was semi-chronological, but it jumps around a lot. One chapter finishes with engineer X leaving the company, and in the next chapter he has not yet left. There were lots of redundancies. It was often imprecise and/or ambiguous. Many terms were used without definition. Names appeared out of the blue. And on and on. This book presumably did not have an editor (at least not a good one).

Not well researched. Bagnall did a lot of research, but the entire story is anecdotal. After reading the book I have no confidence in my understanding of the story of Commodore. It is possible that Bagnall's lens has only revealed a very biased slice of the story. Most of the material appears to come from interviews with former Commodore employees. The interviews are very interesting, but they come from a small number of (mostly) technical people. In fact, the first have of the 500-plus-page book consisted mostly of quotes from Chuck Peddle. It could just as easily been a book (the first half anyway) by Peddle. The words of the interviewees are taken as fact even when they could have easily been verified. Very little attempt is made to achieve any sort of balance.

Not technical. I'm a geek. I'd love to know about the details of building the many Commodore machine (and the 6502 MOS Technology processors). This book is not at all technical. It never goes beyond describing the RAM of a machine, and doesn't even achieve that level of detail in all cases. The comparisons of Commodore machines with competing products are based entirely on the statements of the interviewees. The author really missed a great opportunity.

Despite these shortcomings, I enjoyed reading the book due to the fascinating (and personally relevant) topic. Yet I would only recommend this book if you can tolerate the above shortcomings.
16 reviews1 follower
November 24, 2009
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 point a view from the very Apple and MS-centric stories you normally hear. Commodore definitely deserves our praise every time we use cheap PCs at home, as they were the progenitor of "computers for the masses." I was really entertained learning about the personalities that come up and developed the technology behind commodore and in the amazing amount of time they did it. Because I am the geek I am, I did easily identify with many of the people and I fondly remember using the technology they came up with.

From the business side: Its really illustrative of what someone with a vision can drive people towards. It also clearly illustrates how when the vision goes away how the waters get muddied quickly. There's also lessons to be learned in not screwing people you need to succeed and maintaining a good relationship with them.
264 reviews7 followers
June 21, 2015
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 into the PC market when the market did not even exist. Under his decidedly ruthless, autocratic leadership, the company prospered even as it made enemies of its natural allies, from suppliers to employees.

Very much looking forward to the sequel, Commodore: The Amiga Years, which covers the company's history after Tramiel was replaced by his board of directors.
Profile Image for Rob.
36 reviews8 followers
June 6, 2011
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 pioneers of personal computing. The actual writing and organization of the book leaves a lot to be desired (hence 4 stars and not 5), but thankfully the amazing story mainly tells itself through the interviews with former Commodore employees.
Profile Image for Chris.
49 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2017
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 innovative computer/technology companies and consistently ahead of the curve on power/features and price.

I won this in a raffle and my copy is signed by David Pleasance formerly of Commodore UK, amongst other people.
29 reviews
July 26, 2014
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 have a few more photographs, particularly of the computers themselves just as a reminder, but it's not a big deal.
Profile Image for Karl Kindt.
345 reviews6 followers
July 29, 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 right. If you loved your 64 and know what a Trash-80 is, you MUST read this book!
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