Let me state plainly up front that I was a Commodore Kid: a happy owner of both a 64 and an Amiga. So there is a certain nostalgia kick I might have received while reading this book that other people might not get to the same degree. But I actually don't think it's particularly important to have been familiar with Commodore's products to appreciate this book. The first half of it serves more as a highly illuminating journey into those crazily fast-moving times in the second half of the 1970s, when the industry went from being a few companies selling mail-order, solder-it-yourself boards with a CPU and eight LEDs to a brave new world of self-contained home computers no more than five years later. No industry has ever become so important so quickly, and Chuck Peddle, MOS and Commodore were at the very heart of it.
Peddle is the figure who appears most frequently in the text, and the book at times takes on some of his irritation at the rewriting of history by Apple at the expense of Commodore. The chippiness is amusing at times, but, in truth, it's justified. I was there, even if as a kid, and I remember how hugely important Commodore were in those days. Apple were a relatively minor player with their expensive machines. The Macintosh was the first thing of any real significance they did, building on the Xerox PARC ideas and seeing (correctly) that GUIs were the way forward. But it was Commodore who brought home computing to the masses (along with Sinclair in the UK, a company whose significance I was happy to see this book acknowledge).
This is really terrific stuff if you want to get a good idea of how we got from there to here. Even the very Commodore-centric stuff speaks volumes about the way the commercial landscape was changing constantly in a general sense, and how a project that could seem a good idea when initiated could end up as a dud because the market had moved on in the meantime. There are some mindblowing "What if...?" moments where one can see how a chance moment or a seemingly-random decision can have an enormous knock-on effect when viewed in retrospect. (Particularly fascinating is the story of how VisiCalc became an Apple rather than a PET product by pure chance, and the ghastly moment where Bob Russell realizes that a tiny engineering blunder is going to ruin his disk drive plans and result in loading times 30 times longer than designed, and that nothing can be done about it.)
There are fascinating and enthralling vignettes as well: the story of William Shatner's association with Commodore (and how Commodore computers ended up with cameos in many of his movies), and a truly terrifying tangential recollection of the disastrous airplane flight that nearly killed several of Commodore's top people including founder Jack Tramiel.
There are a few criticisms I could make - in places the book feels like the editing was rushed and could do with a second pass - but it would be churlish to dwell on them. Giving the book five stars is a no-brainer for me, because I enjoyed every minute of it. And it felt really *important* to me that this story was being told. Although author Brian Bagnall must at some level be doing this for financial recompense, I sense that more than anything else this was a real labor of love for him. And it is one that I appreciate greatly: I'd like to say "thank you" for putting all the work in to tell such a rich and interesting story about some genuinely important but undersung heroes of the home computer revolution.
Oh, and I *really* want to read Volume 2 about the Amiga now...