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Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything

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The creation of the Mac in 1984 catapulted America into the digital millennium, captured a fanatic cult audience, and transformed the computer industry into an unprecedented mix of technology, economics, and show business. Now veteran technology writer and Newsweek senior editor Steven Levy zooms in on the great machine and the fortunes of the unique company responsible for its evolution. Loaded with anecdote and insight, and peppered with sharp commentary, Insanely Great is the definitive book on the most important computer ever made. It is a must-have for anyone curious about how we got to the interactive age.

336 pages, Paperback

First published July 5, 1993

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About the author

Steven Levy

43 books628 followers
Steven Levy is editor at large at Wired, and author of eight books, including the new Facebook: the Inside Story, the definitive history of that controversial company. His previous works include the legendary computer history Hackers, Artificial Life, the Unicorn 's Secret, In the Plex (the story of Google, chose as Amazon and Audible's best business book of 2011), and Crypto, which won the Frankfurt E-book Award for the best non-fiction book of 2001. He was previously the chief technology correspondent for Newsweek. He lives in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews
Profile Image for Joshua.
Author 2 books30 followers
December 10, 2017
I fell under the spell of Steve Jobs after finishing Walter Isaacson's biography of him, and fortunately I'm slowly stepping out of the glow of the "reality distortion field." What hasn't changed since my reading of Isaacson's biography however, is an admiration and fascination with the personal computer movement and the way it crafted a rhetoric of computers as a means of changing the world. As such I've been looking for books which explore the Apple Phenomena and Steven Levys book does just that.

Now obviously the reader of this book will walk away with the realization that Levy is a bit biased. It doesn't help that he was a writer for MacWorld magazine. Despite his connection, Insanely Great is a wonderfully written book that manages in each chapter to instill the reader with a sense of how dramatic a change the Mackintosh computer actually was. Even if the reader is computer-illiterate, Levy writes in a way so that so that terms like bit-mapping, point-click-interface, PARC, or even Graphical-User-Interface(sometimes referred to as GUI or "Gooey") no longer seem like unreadable jargon. The reader is able to appreciate the developments of the engineering feats which allowed the Mackintosh to become the computer that changed the world.

Levy's book isn't without faults, because honestly the last two chapters didn't keep the same pace that the early sections did. Nevertheless Levy is able to follow the development of the computer and the people who made it to try and understand exactly how the computer altered the cultural landscape.

Computers have changed virtually every level of our society, and their future impact is changing everyday. Some might disagree with the thesis that the Mackintosh changed the computer industry, but by the end of the book they will hopefully agree or respect Levy's claim that the Mackintosh left a dent in the universe that we're still feeling today.
Profile Image for Aku.
35 reviews
February 2, 2014
A good overview of how the Macintosh came to be and of the people who made it happen.

Steven Levy is a writer who seems to divide opinions. I liked his earlier book Hackers a *lot*, and this book continues with the same style, although this time solely focused on Apple and Macintosh. This time a couple of his stylistic devices rubbed me the wrong way, though — he seems to have a real penchant for obscure words with perfectly good common alternatives. This style of writing can come across as pretentious, especially when combined with the fact that Levy is definitely a user and not a hacker himself.

The Kindle edition of this book is a terrible OCR job filled with all kinds of errors from encoding issues to persistent stray punctuation marks and weird substitutions.

All that aside, the book is definitely primary source material when it comes to how the Macintosh was born. Well worth the read for everyone interested in the most important personal computer of the 80's, and arguably, of all time.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,546 reviews93 followers
December 20, 2018
Apple Computers had already made its mark before 1984, by pioneering personal computers long before IBM entered the consumer market. In January 1984, it hoped to make a larger one -- to make a dent in history. So it did...just not quite the way its creators intended. Insanely Great chronicles the history and influence of the Macintosh computer, which became the company's chief product before its wildfire consumer products of the 2000s. Originally written in Apple's lost years when it hemorrhaged talent and could not find a stable hand at the rudder, it includes an afterward on the recent turn of Jobs. It's a history that doubles as a labor of love, because it has a biographical thread concerning Levy himself -- a man grudgingly seduced by computers. who was so enamored with the promise of the Macintosh that he bought on on release.

Although Jobs would later shanghai the project, the Macintosh originated in the person of Jef Raskin, who wanted to create an extremely cheap but versatile computer, an electronic Swiss Army Knife, that would be easy for first time users to pick up, with an intuitive interface. While it wouldn't boast any specs worth mentioning, it would have simple tools that ordinary people would find useful, like a word processor. Raskin wanted to push this computer into the familiar realm of home appliances: when computers became like phones and calculators, he thought, then they would have arrived. After working with the Lisa project, Apple's first attempt at creating a machine with a GUI which proved to be an extremely expensive dud, Steve Jobs drifted into the Macintosh room and was seized by its potential. Jobs would take over the team and make the Mac far beefier than Raskin ever intended, eventually, and his obsession with perfecting every detail meant that for all its expanded capacity, the Mac was under-powered for much of its basic operations. Maintaining a glowing screen full of images, and drawing each bit of text effectively as an image, was asking a lot of 128K memory. And it wasn't going to be like an Apple II, either; users couldn't just open up the hood and add to the Mac's hardware. (The Mac team snuck around on the side and allowed for the ability to do a little memory expansion, since they knew -- Jobs not withstanding -- the Mac was going to need more as soon as consumers started playing with it.)

Perhaps the Mac was a little too user-friendly. Although those who tried it loved the operating system, many looked past it. It wasn't a serious machine; it looked like a toy. Apple II and IBM machines which still ran the DOS system may have required getting used to typing in computer commands, but they had a well-established library of software, including the business applications people were mostly relying on computers for. Mac was still developing its own, with the help of Microsoft. Microsoft would use its experience with Macintosh's graphical user interface to develop Windows, though this was not a simple care of Microsoft taking Apple's idea: the pioneers there were Xerox, and several GUI systems were in development in the mid 1980s. Although the little Macintosh would take over the company -- via Jobs, who diverted more resources into it away from the Apple II line, which also had the GUI by now -- and still lives in Apple in name (its current computers are much more like the Macintosh than the moddable Apple II, and have the same working-out-of-the-box approach), Levy admits that its greatest success was achieved by leading to Windows, which took a commanding lead over OSes to the point that prior to Chromebooks, it had an effective monopoly.

Although Insanely Great is sometimes more of a tribute than a serious history, I enjoyed the look at history it offers, both into the Lisa and Macintosh project, and the bit of biography: given that Levy is definitely a tech enthusaist, I was astonished to learn that he had once been anti-computers, and only when he was asked to do Hackers was he won over. He shared Job's hatred and distrust of IBM, and for him seduction by the Macintosh was his entry into the world of computers. Therein lies his affection, for the little machine. which literally changed his life.

For a more balanced perspective, I would recommend this video in which an Apple fan argues that the Macintosh was a mistake, and that Jobs hobbled the performance of Apple II's GUI model (GS) to promote the technically inferior yet more expensive Macintosh instead. It's 8 minutes. For a look at the "other side", there's also a video on YouTube of someone unboxing a new 1984 IBM-AT. That one is much longer, but I was surprised at the amount of software setup required just to get it started, and it helped me appreciate the "turn on.....ready" approach of the Mac.
Profile Image for Stan James.
221 reviews4 followers
December 24, 2020
Steven Levy's book chronicling the development of the Macintosh is not just a historical record of the development of that seminal personal computer, it's a historical record in itself. Originally published in 1994, with an afterword for the revised edition added in 2000, it captures Apple at three distinct periods in its history, all of them coming before the development of the iPhone and Apple's eventual rise as the world's most successful consumer electronics company:

* The early 1980s when the company went through its first growth spurt, buoyed by the success of the Apple II. This is where the bulk of the book takes place, as it covers the genesis of the Macintosh through to its debut in 1984.
* The early 1990s. The Mac is established and successful, albeit not the world-changing device many of its developers had hoped for. Apple itself is in a precarious position, embroiled in boardroom drama, a bloated product line and the existential threat of the growing PC market.
* The late 1990s. In which the story comes full circle, in a way, with Steve Jobs returning to Apple and unveiling the iMac, the first major release that would help guide Apple back to profitability and long term success.

The first third of the book lays out the history leading up to the development of the Macintosh, centering largely on Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). One of the scientists working there was Alan Kay, whose hypothetical "Dynabook" would embody many of the design elements we take for granted in modern personal computers. The scientists at PARC would go on to create machines that used mice and windows, but the company was never able or particularly interested in turning their research into commercial products, frustrating many of them who wanted to push forward the boundaries of computers.

From here, Levy--who actually visited with these scientists during this time in the early 1970s--moves on to the newly-minted Apple Computer, which was expanding to dozens of employees on the success of the Apple II. The Apple II was a capable but primitive machine and most acknowledged it would not be the future of Apple. A serendipitous trip to PARC by a team from Apple to take a look at what the scientists there were working on would lay the groundwork for what ultimately became the Macintosh.

It's here that Levy moves onto a two-pronged approach, covering the development of the technology, along with the personality clashes along the way, many of which were due to Jobs' combination of perfectionism and antagonistic management style.

Apple actually developed the Lisa first, a Mac-like computer doomed to fail mainly due to its exorbitant price (some things never change). Another team worked on a more accessible computer and while Jef Raskin led the Macintosh project initially, Jobs imposed himself and eventually took over.

Levy does a good job in letting the principal characters tell the story through their own words, fleshing out detail when needed, without imposing his authorial voice (though he is an unabashed Mac fan). Oddly, Levy's tone stands out most when he is simply talking, often in a condescending way, about the technology itself. He is clearly interested more in what the technology can do and not the nerd factor.

The fun here is in seeing how the Macintosh team struggled and (mostly) overcame so many obstacles as they put together the original 128K Mac. Levy does a very good job in dispelling the notion that Apple simply copied what they saw at PARC. The Apple engineers actually expanded the PARC research in significant ways and put all the technology into a device that could be used by anyone. The Macintosh was not the first computer with windows, a mouse and a graphical interface, but it was the first available to the masses and the first to do many things we take for granted now.

It's especially illuminating now, some 36 years after the debut of the Macintosh, to see how it all came together and how the original device really shaped the personal computer industry--and still does, as witnessed by the introduction of Apple's in-house M1 chips that will power all Macs going forward.

One minor complaint about the book--it is filled with numerous grammatical glitches, possibly due to a bad scan (it effectively predates the e-book era). There's also some sloppy, if amusing typos, such as a note on how "Hypercard was included for free with every Macintosh starting in 1977" (impressive as the Macintosh did not debut until 1984).

Overall, this is an informative and at times fascinating look back at the birth and clumsy adolescence of the personal computer, and how one, the Macintosh, dared to push forward, thanks to an incredibly dedicated and talented team of designers and engineers. Recommended--and not just for nerds!
Profile Image for Dann Zinke.
140 reviews2 followers
May 7, 2023
A fun whirl of nostalgia, and an interesting lens into the computing world of the early nineties. I attended a school with a computer lab full of Macintosh Classics and later Color Classics (with At Ease installed!), and I cut my teeth on those. Later our computer lab was full of LC550s, then iMacs, then eMacs, then eventually they rolled out (heh heh) a mobile computer cart full of iBooks. As the school yearbook editor, I worked with InDesign CS on PowerMac G5 and G4 Quicksilver machines.

One of the points the book makes is that the Mac took computing into era where a WYSIWYG interface was normal, and such an interface was a slap in the face to users of "real" computers who got stuff done with programming languages and command lines. I certainly felt this tension as a middle schooler who programmed in BASIC on my personal i486 machine, but used the school Macs to produce fancy class presentations (complete in color with clip-art graphics).

I joined the ranks of Mac owners circa 2002, when I got my own beige box that I booted up mainly to play Starcraft on. I've had a steady stream of Macs since, but of course, by 2006 or so it was no longer "quirky" to be a Mac owner. And now, with cloud computing and applications, it matters even less.

This book sits at in interesting point in history where it is ten years removed from the introduction of the Mac, and yet the Mac is still what defined what Apple was about, as they moved into the 90s where they produced one (IMO overpriced) beige computer box after another. Not until the iPod, iMac and iBook (and the jaw-dropping iMac G4, which I never had and still want) did Apple generate such buzz again. But in 1994, Steve Jobs was off doing other things, already having made enough money, "so much that he probably couldn't give it all away in his lifetime," and Apple was still selling to the education market and the hundreds of thousands of Apple faithful.

Another thing that this book does well is show how the computing world could have been different. For example, what if the Canon Cat had taken off instead of the Mac? I watched a YouTube video of someone demoing one, and it was a frightful time imagining that machine's user interface gaining popularity. There were other options vying for market share, but the Mac (and of course, Windows) managed to keep them at bay.

As for writing style, Levy keeps the prose moving, but he always wants you to remember that he has a non-conformist, liberal arts background, and sometimes uses big words when he could have used little ones. That habit gets obnoxious by the end of the book.
Profile Image for Michael.
265 reviews13 followers
March 29, 2018
This book is still an entertaining and informative listen (or read) even with the passage of a quarter century, which in tech years is a very, very long time. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, as much of what's covered here marks a sort of personal timeline and I assume many others who are now in their own fifth decade will have the same reaction. The Mac appeared when I was in college, and it was the first computer I worked on. Appreciated the updated chapters at the end of the Audio book, including one written after Steve Jobs' death.
Profile Image for Antonia.
Author 6 books31 followers
June 20, 2014
The ebook is a reissue of an older book, originally published in 1994. The author has added a couple of appendices, one of which is his essay, "In Memory of Steve Jobs, 1955 - 2011," and the other a lengthy interview with Steve Jobs that took place shortly before the Macintosh launch (1984).

I enjoyed this review of the Mac's development, the fervor and frenzy and commitment. I've been a Mac user since 1991, but had forgotten a lot of the details — e.g., names of display features, software, etc., and how slow everything was — copying a disk! — by today's standards. I also really enjoyed the portrait of Steve Jobs that emerges, his "chutzpah and hubris" as Levy puts it. What a force! Insanely great, himself. I also like Levy's writing quite a lot, though I spotted quite a few typos or words left out or just mistakes in word choice and, once or twice, factual information. I'm planning to read his book about Google.

I read this on the Kindle Paperwhite. Some punctuation and words with accent marks did not display correctly — e.g., GassA©e. (Can't even tell what it's supposed to be.)
Profile Image for Tammam Aloudat.
370 reviews25 followers
November 26, 2014
Reading a new (old) book I picked from Phoenix used bookstore in Amsterdam near my apartment.
The book is called “Insanely Grea: the life and times of Macintosh, the computer that changed everything”. I am reading now about the incredibly intelligent visionaries of the sixties and seventies who visualized what a computer could be and do. Things that are today part of our everyday vocabulary like desktop, windows, mouse, informations ape and others were leaps of imagination beyond belief.

Then come the home brew computer club hackers and make all that a reality. This book was written in 1994 so there is no way the writer, Steven Levy, would have been able to anticipate the iPod, iPhone, iPad or any other of the newer developments. He describe Steve Jobs in a way you can see the budding man who was extremely amazing then and you can see how he will grow into the Steve Jobs we knew in recent years. The same vision and the same balsy approach to innovation and business.
Profile Image for Phil Simon.
Author 24 books97 followers
March 19, 2012
An excellent look at the rise and challenges of the Macintosh. To me, this book was a bit of a trip down memory lane. I remember some of the very applications that Levy describes. I remember the frustrations of first using a personal computer, but didn't know the backstory behind the development of the Mac. Rife with interesting parables from key players like Atkinson and Woz, this is a really interesting book that ages surprisingly well.
Profile Image for John.
107 reviews
January 25, 2013
This was decent, although 20 years old. I like Steven Levy and this was read by him, which made it better. The afterword and other updates to the audiobook after Jobs death as well as a very recent roundtable discussion among some of the key players were nice additions to this edition. It was fun to go back in time to remember how many things we take for granted were really innovative back then.
Profile Image for Erik.
16 reviews
March 17, 2012
Even though I've heard this story at least 100 times now, the author was still able to make it interesting and added a couple little tidbits that I hadn't heard before.

I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the creation of the Macintosh without all of the technical jargon.
790 reviews6 followers
July 26, 2011
Excellent book. Enjoyed it. (This review was created in July 2011, long after I read the book.)
Profile Image for Matt.
40 reviews
January 28, 2023

Imagine sitting down in 1961 to write the definitive history of rock'n'roll. You trace its bluesy and folksy roots, you reconstruct the exciting breakout of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. The young death of Buddy Holly is a tragedy, but also a natural punctuation mark. That's a full arc, right?

And then the Beatles happen.

That's kind of the dilemma faced by Steven Levy's Insanely Great, a book about the development of the Macintosh computer. A book about a ground-breaking, innovative, defiant product... eight years before the iPod and fourteen before the iPhone. With the benefit of hindsight we can see clearly now that the story of new Apple products remolding an entire generation had not yet even begun to be told in 1993. So is it even worth our while, thirty years and counting later, to go back in time and read a book like this?

Well, subject to the caveat that it takes at least a little niche curiosity, I'm going to say yes - definitely!

You just need to have a knack for the history of technology, or enjoy a good yarn about ambitious projects and product development in the modern officeplace. Or you just like reading about contemporary history in general. If none of those things appeal to you then, yeah, there's little reason to read this book today.

But otherwise, to leave an eminently readable, tightly constructed peek into The Road So Far on the table would be a minor travesty, regardless of the fact that the "one or more PC in every household" era has now come and gone. I found it wistful and enlivening to step back into that era today - it's surprisingly quaint, even more civilized at times, in comparison to today's post-smartphone era.

But traveling back in time to the Macintosh-aided proliferation of household PCs isn't just about nostalgia. It's about problem solving: a test of the boundaries at which creative vision meets practical reality.

Author Steven Levy had previously made his big splash with Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. That was back in the '80s, when the duo of Jobs and Woz was mostly known for taking the world by storm with the Apple II. I've yet to read Hackers, but understand it to be one of the earliest cases of book-sized pop culture journalism, in that Rolling Stone Magazine in-the-trenches narrative style, taking computer geeks seriously.

Levy, as he is quick to humbly concede in this book, was never a tech guy by vocation. But the degree to which he got down to the ground with the tech nerds for Hackers, and stayed plugged-in, must have served him well. Insanely Great is filled with firsthand insight. Much of it was research Levy conducted in the early '90s once the Macintosh had become a household name, but some emerged directly from the author's personal experience as an eyewitness throughout the '80s.

The one notable exception in this book, and it's not at all a surprising one, is the lack of a consistent direct line to Steve Jobs. Jobs himself looms and hovers through much of Insanely Great, sometimes hands-on, oftentimes mystical - and controversial. But almost always from a distance. Jobs was in "exile" when this book came out; the history of his return to Apple and oversight of the iPod and iPhone was yet unwritten. His untimely death would, I'm sure, have been even more shocking to see in a crystal ball in 1993.

So by and large, Insanely Great is not a book about Steve Jobs. Personally, I liked that; the Macintosh history that emerges is a real patchwork quilt of product developers, hardware and software engineers, and user interface visionaries. Several of these names were well-known to me going in; many were not, but should have been and will now.

Insanely Great, in a lot of ways, is a personality-driven book. That's what makes it readable and relevant today, even to the non-tech layman. Levy establishes the challenge that needs solving, airdrops the problem solver(s), and records the fireworks. Individually these anecdotes are interesting; threaded together, they take us in organic fashion by the hand through a journey that starts with an MIT scientist's 1945 essay on information technology and culminates in millions of early-'90s consumers welcoming a personal computer into their homes because it was fun and playful to power on.

And this is why Insanely Great also still holds value as a "middle piece" of scaffolding today. Levy's tour through the precise engineering of the Macintosh operating system user interface - the menu bars, mouse clicks, and window controls - will seem quite familiar in principle even today. The developers who toiled throughout the gestation of the Macintosh put a lot of emphasis on "gameifying" the hardware and software alike in order to make it palatable to the broadest spectrum of consumers. You can absolutely recognize this same approach in the history of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad; it's part and parcel of Apple's rise and re-rise as both as a corporate and cultural symbol. And it's a story that's bigger than Steve Jobs alone.

A book like this tends to live or die on the strength of its ability to translate technical concepts for the layman. I'm not necessarily well-positioned to judge this objectively; I started learning the ins and outs of the Mac OS around the same I started riding a bike. The book's first name-dropping of the undercelebrated HyperCard was probably the apex of my wide-eyed readerly excitement.

But, speaking as neutrally as I can manage, it certainly seems accessible enough. If you weren't a '90s System 7 kid like I was you might not always find Insanely Great thrilling in hindsight. But there's still more than enough bold visions, neat ideas, and officeplace politics for a true rollercoaster ride. And while the ubiquity of the household PC may now embody an era past, there's still plenty in this past that serves as prologue for today - and tomorrow.
Profile Image for Øystein Nygård.
Author 2 books2 followers
January 18, 2018
The history of THE most important computer of all time, by a person very close to the action but also with the distance from it to tell the story with all it´s aspects. Great book for those looking to get to know the innovations that defines almost all user interfaces that we see today; from windows and mac-computers, to the android and iphone smartphones.
The only thing that I would have wanted was an updated version also including the lines drawn all the way to the UI´s of today - that would have made it perfect. I hope Steven Levy gets around to write that part of the story as well.

Very much recommend reading this book.
Profile Image for Michael.
265 reviews13 followers
March 28, 2018
This book is still an entertaining and informative listen (or read) even with the passage of a quarter century, which in tech years is a very, very long time. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, as much of what's covered here marks a sort of personal timeline and I assume many others who are now in their own fifth decade will have the same reaction. The Mac appeared when I was in college, and it was the first computer I worked on. Appreciated the updated chapters at the end of the Audio book, including one written after Steve Jobs' death.
Profile Image for Mike.
77 reviews
March 6, 2023
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of technology and the rise of personal computing. Levy's engaging writing style and thorough research provide a detailed and informative account of the creation and development of the Macintosh computer, which revolutionized the tech industry and changed the way we interact with computers. The book offers valuable insights into the personalities, innovations, and culture that shaped the Macintosh and Apple as a company.
Profile Image for Glen Engel-Cox.
Author 4 books51 followers
June 13, 2018
I bought my first computer, a Macintosh, in 1984. I had wanted a computer for years, watching friends with envy at their Commodore 64s, Radio Shack Color Computers, and wonderful Apple IIs. When the Macintosh was introduced in 1984, I had to have it. It was the computer built “for the rest of us.” Never mind that I could have had everything I needed in a computer–word processing program, a few games–for $1,400 less, as soon as I sat down in front of the Macintosh, my life changed. The Macintosh, and the entire graphical user interface concept, was truly “insanely great,” as Steven Levy quotes Steve Jobs, former chairman of Apple Computers. In his new book, Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything, Levy reveals how and why the Macintosh had such an impact on the world.

Although the Macintosh debuted in 1984, the seeds of its design had been planted as early as 1945. In a post-war statement, Vannevar Bush, then the director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, wrote an essay in which he contended that the next step of technology should be the way we collect and process information. Having seen the early use of computers in the war, Bush realized the awesome potential of high-speed information management, but also knew that progress would have to be made in the interface if ever information management could be useful. Levy follows the chain that links Bush to Alan Kay, who proposed the Dynabook, a forerunner of today’s PDA technology, to the developers at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center who developed the first graphical user interface (GUI). Nearby, a small team of dedicated programmers were working on the low-cost hardware that became teamed with the new GUI concept that became the Macintosh.

Much has been written about the originality of the GUI concept, and more than one lawsuit has been fought over it. Levy attempts to go beyond the simple desktop metaphor and explain why it was the particular Macintosh implementation of the concept that changed the way people viewed computers. Xerox’s researchers were quite happy just to discover “how” to do things; it was Jef Raskin, Steve Jobs, Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfield, and the rest of the Macintosh team that were driven to give GUI to the people. The concept alone didn’t change the world of computing–it was the concept, in a reasonably priced computer, with a “killer application” that showed just how intuitive the concept could be that made things happen. Early Macintosh adoptees like myself thought it was the “What You See is What You Get” word processing and graphic programs that would make everyone see the light. It took Aldus’ PageMaker to break the publishing barrier for the “rest of us” to wake up to the possibilities.

The Macintosh implementation had (and has) its problems, which Levy does not gloss over. The initial Macintosh, that computer that I bought in 1984, was released underpowered (128k RAM), without enough storage space (it only had a single floppy drive capable of holding 400k), and crippled in expandability (it was a “closed” system without expansion slots). Apple knew this upon its release, but “real programmers ship,” as Jobs is quoted saying, and the Macintosh had to be out the door in 1984. Apple quickly followed the 128k Macintosh with an upgrade to 512k and a 800k disk drive, then with new models including a Macintosh with slots.

The author, Steven Levy, is perhaps best known in the field for his first book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Levy’s position as an industry journalist kept him in the midst of the impact of the Macintosh, with access to Jobs, John Sculley, Jean Louis Gasse, Bill Gates, Aldus’ president Paul Brainerd, and almost every member of the Macintosh development team. This chronicle of the development of the Macintosh is part history, part evaluation of the hits and misses, the politics and relationships, of all these people. Every implementation of the GUI interface as seen in the Macintosh was deeply argued, as was its cost, hardware, and “look.” Levy shows you that a product such as Macintosh, which is usually attributed to a few people, is actually the culmination of the development team, and also their forerunners, including the Xerox team, and their competitors, most notably Microsoft and IBM.

Today, the GUI concept is ever present. My original Macintosh (which I fondly call the MacAntique), after being upgraded once, has been passed to my niece and nephew (who, to be entirely truthful, play more with their father’s Mac II than with the antique), and I replaced it four years ago with an IBM-PC clone that runs today’s most popular GUI, Microsoft Windows (the defection was a result of economics–I couldn’t afford a new Macintosh). The last command-line holdout, UNIX, is battering down the hatches in defense against the migration of the GUI in the form of the WWW, Java, and its ilk. The Macintosh revolution is twelve, and shows no signs of dying anytime soon. For those who want to understand the early shots–computerdom’s equivalent’s of the Boston Tea Party and the shot that was heard round the world–Levy’s book is a good primer.
Profile Image for Nick.
Author 2 books39 followers
August 25, 2018
“Like almost every operation performed on the Mac, it was much harder to describe than perform.”
Levy posits that the Mac’s success was owed to desktop publishing thanks to a 3rd party developed app called PageMaker that empowered writers to do what they could otherwise never afford to. “It would become clear that the toy was a tool.”
Profile Image for Juan Diego.
12 reviews
January 12, 2022
Buen repaso sobre por qué fue importante el proyecto de la primera Mac. Sirve para entender también qué estaba haciendo la industria en ese momento. Dicen que las fuentes están un poco viciadas y que no está del todo contrastado, pero Levy entrevista directamente a los protagonistas. Tiene mucho valor eso.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,119 reviews27 followers
July 2, 2017
Not a particularly impressive one of these technological Silicon Valley deep dive profiles, and they're all usually pretty fawning and low information-content. It wasn't unpleasant to read, but I wouldn't really recommend it.
Profile Image for Ignacio.
59 reviews4 followers
November 12, 2019
I would've loved reading this in the 90s. Nowadays I already know most of it from other more up-to-date sources (Revolution in the Valley by Andy Herzfeld, Dealers of Lightning by Michael A. Hiltzik and What the Dormouse Said by John Markoff), but Levy's writing is the best bar none.
Profile Image for Charlie Harrington.
170 reviews13 followers
September 11, 2021
The tale of a weird little computer built by artists for artists and also everyone else. A perfect time capsule of the Mac in the early 90s, written on the cusp of Windows 95, AOL, and Jobs’s triumphant return to Apple but unable to see them. Real artists ship.
Profile Image for John Hart.
58 reviews1 follower
January 5, 2018
A computer history for a fantastical world where Microsoft and Bill Gates didn't exist.
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31 reviews11 followers
January 29, 2018
Nowhere near as comprehensive as I expected, and filled with minor errors and inconsistencies. Still, there were a couple of anecdotes that I hadn't heard previously, and it was a pleasant read.
Profile Image for Austin.
175 reviews11 followers
September 29, 2018
Dated now, but still a definitive historical record of the early days of Apple. Well written, as Levy’s work usually is, and eminently readable. Worth reading.
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70 reviews
July 17, 2020
Having read the more recent Walter Isaacson Jobs biography, this seemed to have quite some overlap.
36 reviews
March 14, 2022
Not so great at all. Rather barely OK. There are better Jobs, Woz and Apple books.
29 reviews1 follower
March 4, 2017
A quick read and thought I had read it but probably only read about it.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 54 reviews

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