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The Soul of A New Machine [Paperback]

Tracy Kidder
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 1 2000
Computers have changed since 1981, when Tracy Kidder memorably recorded the drama, comedy, and excitement of one companys efforts to bring a new microcomputer to market. What has not changed is the feverish pace of the high-tech industry, the go-for-broke approach to business that has caused so many computer companies to win big (or go belly up), and the cult of pursuing mind-bending technological innovations. The Soul of a New Machine is an essential chapter in the history of the machine that revolutionized the world in the twentieth century.

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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 sacrifice evenings and weekends to meet impossible deadlines. Tracy Kidder got a preview of this world in the late 1970s when he observed the engineers of Data General design and build a new 32-bit minicomputer in just one year. His thoughtful, prescient book, The Soul of a New Machine, tells stories of 35-year-old "veteran" engineers hiring recent college graduates and encouraging them to work harder and faster on complex and difficult projects, exploiting the youngsters' ignorance of normal scheduling processes while engendering a new kind of work ethic.

These days, we are used to the "total commitment" philosophy of managing technical creation, but Kidder was surprised and even a little alarmed at the obsessions and compulsions he found. From in-house political struggles to workers being permitted to tease management to marathon 24-hour work sessions, The Soul of a New Machine explores concepts that already seem familiar, even old-hat, less than 20 years later. Kidder plainly admires his subjects; while he admits to hopeless confusion about their work, he finds their dedication heroic. The reader wonders, though, what will become of it all, now and in the future. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize winner Kidder's 1981 volume was published when mini-supercomputers were still the stuff of science fiction. How the world has turned. Though technology has grown immeasurably since then, this volume still serves as an interesting history of the machine that conquered the world.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
My main criticism of this book is it failed to reach the soul. It's well written. The pen portraits of the people involved are good. The technical chatter is clear and concise. Only the total effort doesn't produce in my mind a moral of any kind. In fact at one stage the author practically points out building computers may be uneconomical. The driving force of those involved does not surface except to say many of the computer engineers have shown the common characteristic of engineering curiousity from a very early age. The soul of the machine at the end of the day is the technical ingenuity of the people working on it. This is shown several times in the book. I enjoyed these descriptions as some of the best in the book. I don't know how the author approached this project, whether as an intentional chronicler of a engineering project or as an accidentally up close fly-on-the-wall journal, yet clearly the thrust of the book is the building of the computer. I would like to know what questions the author asked himself before writing the book. The issues raised through the story ask for more analysis. I think the book is a snapshot of a bigger story waiting to be told.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lifeboat for Over Achievers July 7 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
After 25 years of software development, most of it on 'Impossible' projects, I find my 1981 printing to be one of my prized posessions. When you're so tired from months of 75 hour weeks it hurts to get up in the morning, and the project's still not done, its wonderfully reassuring to know that you are part of a relativly few persons who have breathed life into a whole new force in the history of human-kind. As a new generation of CS professionals joins our ranks its comforting to know that those who built the foundations of the industry will not be forgotten. And for the new crew, this book provides ample inspiration for all who wish to join the crusade. A great gift, particularly if signed by a project leader at the end of a long and difficult project! Buy the hardback if you can find it and pass it down as a family heirloom. If you can possibley get there, read this book at Lake Powell Arizona. If you don't come back inspired you're legally dead! Next to the good book, this one rulz!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Outstanding book. Required reading for an MBA course on Organizational Behavior at Haas School of Business, U.C. Berkeley. Shows the personalities, the culture and the organization that would not have worked in many circumstances but at this time, in this place, succeeded. Note that the experiment was not reproduce-able
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The book deals with the development of a new computer system, the Data General Eagle. It was being designed in parallel with the DEC VAX. Both companies were racing to see which would hit the market first. The author, a journalist working undercover as part of the development team paints a picture that can be superimposed over most "project teams" today, as he chronicals the ups and downs, the successes and failures, and the human emotions that affectted the development team during their years together. Highly reccommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
When "The Soul of a New Machine" first came out, it was of interest mainly to those with a inside interest in the computer industry - the hackers, engineers, programmers, and various functionaries who put together, sell, and work with computer hardware and software. It remains, for this audience, a classic work which defines for some a golden era of computer design and for others a stereotypical environment that they are glad no longer represents the state of the industry,

What is timeless about this work is what should make it of interest to sociologists, social psychologists, and all other observers of humanity - its vivid depiction of a case study in group dynamics, and the depths to which individuals under the right combination of self-drive and group reinforcement will sacrifice their time, their families, and even their health in pursuit of a common goal.

Truly a classic work, which is rare in its ease of reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book March 14 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are into Software Engineering, or that are studying CPUs at some point, I would recommend this book which immerses you into this 1980's universe in a way that makes you feel like you are building this computer with those people.
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5.0 out of 5 stars What gives any new machine a "soul"? Dec 27 2012
By Robert Morris HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
At this time of the year, I select a few books about diverse subjects and re-read them with the hope that new insights will occur that I missed previously. That is certainly true of this book (the second edition published in 1997 when I first read it) and James Gleick's Isaac Newton (2003). Dozens of other reviewers have already shared their reasons for thinking so highly of Tracy Kidder's account of Data General's efforts to create a new 32-bit superminicomputer. Here are three of mine.

First, I am grateful for being able to learn so much about Joseph Thomas "Tom" West III (1939-2011) and his contributions to the development of "the new machine." He led a project team (code-named "Eagle") that competed with another team (code-named "Fountainhead") within the Data General organization. Most of the drama in Kidder's narrative is created by the in-house competition to design a next-generation computer that could not only compete with but in fact win out in direct competition with a new 32-bit minicomputer brought to market by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). At least initially, West's group was generally viewed as a back-up {"second string") project team. However, over time....

Also, Kidder brilliantly develops a tension between two quite opposite mindsets. One is expressed by West: "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well" and "If you can do a quick-and-dirty job and it works, do it." Predictably, the engineers strongly disagreed and objected strenuously to being rushed to produce what they were certain would be an inferior product. They refused to cut corners, accept compromises, etc. West understood their concerns and in a perfect world would have accommodated them.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Creativity.
I read this book about twenty years ago or when ever it first appeared and have given copies to many people. I am still giving it away and am reading it again now. Read more
Published on May 17 2010 by John Moore
5.0 out of 5 stars Kidder adds warmth to any topic
I had just finished reading Kidder's "Hometown" about Northampton, MA (a former home of mine), when I decided to read "The Soul of a New Machine". Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2004 by NULL VOID
5.0 out of 5 stars We Don't do it for the Money
Soul of a New Machine is an excellent portrayal of a heroic team of young engineers. What defined the book for me was the sort of mad, beautiful work ethic that the team in the... Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2004 by Danger
5.0 out of 5 stars Machines make us human
Tracy Kidder is one of those people who can write comfortably about a variety of subjects. Whether it is school children or nursing home residents or, in this case, modern... Read more
Published on Dec 27 2003 by Avid Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars 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. Read more
Published on Nov. 6 2003 by Clint Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars 22 years later, still a great read for any IT professional
Hopefully, the recent release of Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains" will cause some people to go back and look at his impressive body of previous work. Read more
Published on Oct. 1 2003 by Andy Orrock
5.0 out of 5 stars This book shows the truth behind computer developement
Even though this book is about a product developed more than 20 years ago, and the technology used back then is clearly obselete, this book is one of the best I've ever read that... Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2003 by OFER H GILL
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Tells the tale of a bunch of developers who invested body and soul to the creation of Data General's new machine only to find out that the world views the finished product merely... Read more
Published on July 1 2003 by Leo Lim
4.0 out of 5 stars From the dawn of computer time
I read this book a few years back and i've just finished reading it again. It's a well told story of the birth of pre-PC microcomputers. Read more
Published on March 20 2003 by Søren Arnvig
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book i've ever read
This book is great ... i'm not the one who usually reads book in month but ... I read this masterpiece in 4 days ... well ... not goot for my math work ;). Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2003 by Ribo
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