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Paperback The Soul of a New Machine Book

ISBN: 0380599317

ISBN13: 9780380599318

The Soul of a New Machine

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. The computer revolution brought with it new methods of getting work done--just look at today's news for reports of hard-driven, highly-motivated young software and online commerce developers who...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A true journalistic classic. Buy it and Read it!

`The Soul of a New Machine' is a landmark journalistic book-length essay by then `Atlantic Monthly' writer, Tracy Kidder exploring the development of a new computer in those pre-microcomputer days of 1978. I am delighted to find this book issued as a `classic', as I have read it many times and have been meaning to do a review of it for some time. I cannot think of a better occasion than with the release of this new edition. When it was first published, the book was a narrative of what was then `modern' technology, where the central processing units (CPU) or `brains' of commercial minicomputers and mainframe computers were built up on large circuit boards from individual, specialized integrated circuit chips, with each chip integrating dozens or hundreds of discrete components. This compares to today's microcomputers where the entire CPU is placed on a single chip incorporating tens of thousands of discrete functions, all taking up no more room than the average credit card. Now, the book is more a history of how this technology was developed, and yet its picture of how people work in teams developing technological projects will probably never go out of date. The irony of this book is that the computer being developed by the team described in this book, a 32 bit Eclipse computer developed by the Data General corporation, a competitor to the larger and very successful Digital Computer Corporation (Digital), did not really achieve any major breakthrough in technology. While it was intended to compete with a new generation of Digital VAX machines, it ended up being just barely faster than VAX's in a few special tasks. In fact, in a conversation I once had with some Digital engineers, they said that when they went head to head with Data General in bidding for a computer sale, the only thing they had to do was bring out Kidder's book to demonstrate that the Data General box was yesterday's news. Data General may have had the last laugh, as ailing Digital was bought out by Compaq, which has since merged with H-P, further submerging the once great Digital presence in the commercial computer world. Meanwhile, Data General is still around, albeit not the presence it once had when the `minicomputer' was the great alternative to the IBM monoliths in the glass houses. That does not detract from the fact that this is still a terrific story. I have read it several times and still quote from it after nearly thirty years of reading from it the first time. My favorite image is of the engineer who quit the project to become a farmer, so that the smallest unit of time he had to deal with was the season. My second favorite quote (which may not be original to this book, although this is the first time I ran into it) is that the management style on the project was the mushroom theory. That is, `Keep them in the dark and feed them s**t'. As I see from Kidder's new introduction, this essay was a bigger accomplishment that it seemed originally, as Kidder was closer to

The Humanity of Engineers - Exposed!

Tracy Kidder takes a subject that would be incalculably boring to most readers, and creates a story with all the characteristics of fictional masterpiece. However, the most striking part of Kidder's story is the fact that it's true. In The Soul of a New Machine the reader is plunged into the chaotic world of Data General, a leading minicomputer company just before the turn of the 80's. As in the film Dances With Wolves, Kidder watches from a distance, and is soon assimilated into their circle, becoming able to live and speak among them; the engineers. His firsthand experience allows him to offer a well crafted look into the high pressure world of the computer industry and the men and women who make it tick. From the first words of the epilogue the reader is drawn into a story that he or she cannot completely grasp. Piece by piece the reader is allowed to realize that this is a story about a computer. As the mists begin to clear the reader finds the setting to be a basement lab at building 14A/B in the Data General compound in Westborough, Massachusetts. Here the tale unfolds as a company finds itself behind in the race with its arch rivals and in need of savior product line. To spice up the plot, internal competition has allowed two separate teams with different means for reaching the same end to enter into a fierce combat of engineering and technical mastery. Suddenly the reader is off on a race to build the better machine, faster. The birth of the 32 Bit Eclipse compatible unwinds throughout the pages of the book. From logic design to the product rollout as the Eclipse MV/8000, the reader is whisked through the rapid-fire world of computer engineering - through the eyes of those who experienced it. The lives of managers, engineers, programmers, and more of the same are brought to life. Instead of the typically nerdy or aloof stereotypes of engineers, the Eclipse team is presented as a cadre of human beings working on a common goal. Their struggles, fears, triumphs, embarrassments, and the entire gamut of human emotion is displayed as this core group of thirty odd men and women race to build the next great thing. Surprisingly, the story of something as technical as birthing a computer is made understandable and enjoyable. Instead of drowning in a sea of "engineering-ese," the reader is rafted down the rushing waters of human struggle. In an industry that has routinely been vilified as the thief of all that makes us human, Kidder has restored hope in the "little guys" who are fighting to stay afloat. The passion with which he presents this story is equaled only by the passion of those whom the story is about. As one finishes the final pages of the book, he will find himself unusually compelled to read the epilogue, and then disappointed at the thought of putting the book down. The Soul of a New Machine is truly a masterpiece in its own right. Ultimately, The Soul of a New Machine will find a captive audience in more than just co

Highly Recommended - Gripping, Exciting true story

I first read this book when I was in high school. I was captivated and enthralled by the story, and I can unabashedly state that it helped refine and accelerate my interest in computer science and engineering. Tracy Kidder captures a technical world and gives a clear picture at the tremendous challenges of building a state of the art computer system, that must be backwards compatible with legacy architecture, all while doing it in an easy to read manner (and a brilliant original perspective). It is a heroic, true life story. It was (and still is) one of my all-time favorite books.

Inspirational, gripping and entertaining - best book...

...I've read in a very long time! Some of the technologies may be a bit dated but the core issues remain the same and this book is a timeless treasure. Anyone of us who has ever worked hard and under a lot of pressure can relate to the characters (which I found very well described). It's a real page-turner and you won't be able to put it down until you are done - a real thriller! All the technological background is explained very well so even the non-computer savvy folks can easily follow this exciting story.

The best book I've ever read!

If they gave out awards for books, this one would have tons of them... (oops, it already does). But really, it is a masterpiece. I, as a computer engineer myself have read this book at least six times. It is a great book because it is so easy to follow and it shows you the inside perspective of a bygone era. Even those of the world who have little to no experience with computers can read this book without worrying about getting lost. It is a real look inside of the way computers were born.
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