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The Soul of A New Machine Paperback – Jun 1 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (June 1 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316491976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316491976
  • ASIN: 0316491977
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.9 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 299 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #19,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Amazon

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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donal Fenlon on Aug. 23 1998
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 By A Customer on July 7 1998
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 on Aug. 5 1997
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on Aug. 8 1997
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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Format: Paperback
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". While "Hometown" clearly shows Kidder's maturity as a writer, "The Soul of a New Machine", written roughly 15 years before, demonstrates Kidder's characteristic warmth and eye for detail. "The Soul of a New Machine" is a wonderful book and an archaeological gem for computer history enthusiasts.
I found this book to be riveting (I finished it in a day and a half), and though I am not qualified to comment on the accuracy of Kidder's use of ECE terminology, it most certainly passed my limited geek muster. Kidder presents complex technical information adroitly, creating analogies understandable to the lay person. At the end of the book, I emerged feeling as if I personally knew the characters, and I found myself rooting for the success of the Eclipse Group. Overall, I loved this book. A hacker classic.
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Format: Hardcover
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 story had. This is the best way I can describe it:
When you're young and you get interested in something, you get _passionate_ about it. Maybe it's because you don't know the importance of money and responsibility yet, but you really get into a sport, or hobby, or any other interest, and you do that hobby or play that sport, you write stories or fix cars, making whatever sacrifices you need to just so you can do this thing you love, not because you want to make money at it, or gain respect or admiration, but because it gives you priceless rewards and satisfaction. And it's a purest love you can have. When you grow up, you get disillusioned, from paying bills and other responsibilities. You lose the spark. You start doubting your interest in what you used to love, be it the mechanic who used to love cars but has grown jaded, or the teacher on a low income who has to deal with unruly students and demanding parents.
The Soul of a New Machine is a throwback to that youthful perhaps almost a bit naive passion. It's about the antithesis of the 9-5, where if the pay is horrible, you couldn't care less, you still work overtime. This pure struggle, the essence of a profession, is what makes the book so great. It's the most archetypal element of a career or profession, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that only something you put your soul and your sweat and blood into, can give you. In that basement in Data General, this beautiful dream became real in the form of the Eagle minicomputer. If you've felt the kind of spark that drove those young men before, this book will remind you. And if you haven't, maybe this book will kindle a new passion in what you do.
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