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Commodore: A Company on the Edge [Hardcover]

Brian Bagnall
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Dec 15 2010 0973864966 978-0973864960 Second Edition, Second edition
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 manufacturer to market its machines to the public, selling an estimated 22 million Commodore 64s. Those halcyon days were tumultuous, however, owing to the expectations and unsparing tactics of founder Jack Tramiel. Engineers and managers with the company between 1976 and 1994 share their memories of the groundbreaking moments, soaring business highs, and stunning employee turnover that came with being on top in the early days of the microcomputer industry. This updated second edition includes additional interviews and first-hand material from major Commodore figures like marketing guru Kit Spencer, chip designer Bill Mensch, and Commodore co-founder Manfred Kapp.

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Frequently Bought Together

Commodore: A Company on the Edge + The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga + Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System
Price For All Three: CDN$ 55.77

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About the Author

Brian Bagnall is the author of numerous computer titles, including Core LEGO Mindstorms, On the Edge, and Maximum LEGO NXT. He is also a frequent contributor to, an online museum dedicated to recording and preserving computer history. He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Second edition worth the "upgrade" Feb. 21 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read the first edition several years ago, then promptly lost it. I bought this not realizing it was a new edition and was pleasantly surprised to encounter new names and points-of-view. The idea to split the story into two (the other tome covering the post-Jack years") was an excellent editorial choice as Jack Tramiel's leaving Commodore really is the end of an era and a suitable way to close this book, the first in a two-volume set.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic in many ways but... where's my Amiga?? Jan. 23 2011
By Melante - Published on
I finally got my hands on this book after more than one year waiting. The book fulfilled my high expectations in many ways but left me with a somewhat bitter taste in the end. Why?
Well, beware that the expanded contents on the early Commodore days are there at a price: the Amiga is not covered at all and is left for a second volume coming (hopefully) in 2012!
If I knew this in advance I would have much preferred to search for the earlier edition: a bit less detail and interviews but, ultimately, more comprehensive in overall scope.

In the end, if you were a big Amiga fan, you may want to track down a first edition (or, of course, wait for the next book), otherwise this is a unique and extremely deep insight into everything else Commodore which spans also the early personal computer industry as a whole (and let me say it should be a must read for all Apple fan boys too ;-) ).
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific read: educational, fascinating and frequently hilarious July 18 2011
By GoonMoon - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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...
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Commodore is the real innovator in the pioneering home computer days Dec 19 2011
By D. Gaj - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an extensively researched work which is told in a very compelling fashion.

The book is primarily made up of quotes from Commodore employees, articles of the time, and other sources, which are woven together in a lucid chronological format. It was very interesting to find out the details and reasoning behind aspects of popular computers such as the VIC-20 and, especially the C64.

The technical details (chip manufacturing, software device drivers, etc) may be of more benefit to someone with a technical background, but anyone can enjoy all aspects of this book. As a software developer, I found much of the "behind the scenes" detail extremely rewarding.

It was also surprising to see how much Commodore did accomplish in such a dysfunctional environment, which began with the volatile founder and CEO, Jack Tramiel, at the top.

This book starts at the beginning of Commodore, which was created in 1958 in Toronto, Canada as a calculator company, and went public in 1962. It stops coverage in June 1984, shortly after the Plus/4 came out. There is an announcement in the back of the book, stating that a book titled "Commodore: The Amiga Years" will be arriving in 2012, which will likely pick up where this one left off.

Think "Chuck Peddle" - not "Steve Wozniak"...

I also found it very interesting to learn that Commodore was far more the innovator during the late 70s and early 80s than was Apple, or other personal computer companies of the day. Apple is a benefactor of receiving a lot of revisionist press from the likes of Robert X. Cringely (whose real name is Mark Stephens and was an employee of Apple) and others who like to perpetuate the myth of the two Steves being the most innovative during that era.

Here are just a few facts of that era...

- Chuck Peddle (Commodore engineer) created the 6502 microprocessor, which was used by Wozniak to create the Apple II (and used by scores of others in their computers, including Atari)
- The Commodore 64 is the best selling computer model of all time, as specified in the Guinness Book of World Records
- The Commodore VIC-20 was the first computer to sell a million units
- The Commodore PET was a fully functioning home computer, and came out far before the Apple II
- Byte magazine states "More than any other person, Chuck Peddle deserves to be called the founder of the personal computer industry"

Steve Wozniak built the Apple II by piecing together parts created by others. Chuck Peddle built his machines staring with raw sand.

Sadly, barely anyone knows the name of Chuck Peddle, although everyone can name the two Steves. Perhaps if Commodore were around today, this might be different.

With the current popularity of Apple, it's easy to be fooled by the Apple-focused coverage of that time. But, do yourself a favor and find out the truth of that era, by reading this book and others surrounding that time, such as the one about Xerox PARC (the company who created the original GUI which was lifted by Apple later).

All in all, this is the most well-written and thoroughly detailed book of any that I've read from this era. Brian Bagnall is truly gifted in the art of bringing those magical days of old to life once again. I look forward with great anticipation to his forthcoming book on the Amiga Years.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On The Edge! Nov. 13 2011
By Simon Wells - Published on
I read the original edition of this book several years ago and the content felt rushed in some areas and not detailed. This new edition has corrected that by leaps and bounds. Some people have commented that it lacks the Amiga years but that book is coming later. In fact the clear deliniation between the Jack Tramiel Commodore and the years that came after is the perfect separation point between the two tomes.

Reading the book gives a good insight into what it would have been like to walk the halls of Commodore in their most inovative years. The characters are more fleshed out than the original book and you can almost imagine being in the room with them.

Anyone who is a fan of Commodore and the home computer wars should give this book a read.

Now if someone would only write the same type of book for Atari (pre/Post Jack Tramiel) this Atari user would be in heaven!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Corporate History June 15 2011
By Blyvan - Published on
This is a very detailed description of the early home computer industry and the Commodore corporation from 1973 - 1984. As a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science, this book provided me with a lot of details that explain a lot of things about this period of time. For example, I now understand why the 6502 was named the 6502 instead of some other number.

My father had a Commodore 64 and is in a computer club. After reading this book, I easily talk to my father about his Commodore computer interest. In addition to that, it illustrates the sometimes chaotic environment of hardware and software development in a company.

A very informative and entertaining read.
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