Emily's Reviews > The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
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's review
Nov 11, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: very-long-ago, 2014, nonfiction, technology

"Things change fast in the computer business. A year is a hell of a long time. It's like a year in a dog's life," observes one of the characters in this profile of a team of engineers at Data General working to create a 32-bit minicomputer. I've re-skimmed this book a few times in the 231 dog/computer years since it came out, and even though the technology has grown in leaps and bounds and today's hoodie-wearers could be the sons of these young hotshots, the culture seems to be much the same. When I first read the book (in high school, in the early '90s) I was struck by the passion and dedication of the team; this time around I was a bit depressed by their sexism and workaholism. I only grabbed this again since I'm waiting for a new book to arrive in the mail, but I realized that my first exposure to quite a lot of computing concepts came from this book: paging, stack overflow, what a 32-bit architecture would be, etc. The book probably seems like more of a routine business profile than it did when it came out, because it was so successful its style was emulated by later writers. Even so, it's a freeze-frame glimpse into a moment of computer history that gets more exotic and interesting with time; you just need to read it with the right expectations.

P.S. The prologue is great--one of the most memorable grabs of your attention I can think of.

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