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5.0 out of 5 stars Machines make us human, Dec 27 2003
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This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
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 engineers and creators, he manages to give us a glimpse of their essence. He manages to delve and reveal their very soul.
I read this book some time ago and marvelled at how it remained in my thoughts for some time afterward. The hopes, the dreams, the interaction, the sheer act of pure thought - these are all captured in brilliant prose right before our eyes. And in spite of all the problems, barriers, egos and behind-the-door dealings, we see a corporate project progress and understand (finally) that all such endeavors are, in the end, human ones.
Men and women stretching the bounds of technology is what has always defined our race. We are the technological animal, the creature that uses other materials to enhance our life. Great story - great book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Humanity of Engineers - Exposed!, Nov. 6 2003
By 
Clint Collins (Tulsa, OK United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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 computer enthusiasts. This book will appeal to a wider audience interested in studying the human side of industry. Accordingly, it does not bog down in the technical details, but instead presents them through the eyes of a journalist, whose specialty is writing and not engineering. Some more conservative readers might find themselves offended at the uncensored vulgarity of some of the protagonists, but will most likely still be drawn in by their humanity. Tracy Kidder has opened up the world of the engineer to the outside world, and the outside world will be fascinated.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 22 years later, still a great read for any IT professional, Oct. 1 2003
By 
This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
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. Most notably, there's this early eighties effort about Data General's attempts to design and bring a new minicomputer to market in less than a year.
No better book has ever been written about the process of birthing an IT product and running the project to get it done. 'Soul' was written before Project Management became recognized as a discipline. Even so, there's never been a better project manager than Tom West, the head of the team depicted in 'Soul' and the very heart of the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book shows the truth behind computer developement, Sept. 17 2003
By 
OFER H GILL (Springfield, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
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 describes the truth behind computer developement, and as a computer scientist for over a decade, I've read quite a few.
This book gets 5 stars because... Most of the environment Tracy describes regarding computer developement in this book STILL APPLIES today (the exception being that nowadays, with computer components much cheaper and produced in much greater amounts, people don't have to struggle as much for shared time on few terminals and test machines).
Examples mentioned in the book that still apply today in computers include:
- Tight deadlines that are seemingly never met and frequently pushed forwards (in computer science, you never know how long a programming project takes until you're actually finished with it, and it always takes at least 3x longer than you initially thought).
- Unpredictable computer errors that crawl in at every other moment, and being forced to accept the fact that your product will never be perfect. ("Quick and Dirty" is the rule, not the exception in the computer industry...)
- The programmers' and engineers' overtime out of love for their product at the cost of their personal lives (and sleep time).
- The company politics and the importance of keeping beauraucratic and administrative issues out of the way of developers so that they get some REAL WORK done. (Tom West, manipulator of Data General's politics, is the most significant example of this mentioned in the book.)

- The miscommunications between developement and marketing, and how this can leads to important discoveries being forgotten or ignored. (Note: Data General isn't the only company to have suffered from this in history. This is believed to be what put Commodore out of business!)
Furthermore, Tracy is very good at communicating these issues and more in a manner that any average Joe can understand. Plus, his portrayal of each developer, and their perspective they provide into the Eagle machine, left me fooled into believing I personally knew these people in real life!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, July 1 2003
By 
Leo Lim (Collierville, TN USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
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 as a commodity with a price tag. Indeed, the soul of the new machine got lost in transit from the lab to the marketing department.
All credit to the author for coming up with a treatise understandable both to the computer engineer as well as the man on the street.
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4.0 out of 5 stars From the dawn of computer time, March 20 2003
By 
Søren Arnvig (Jyllinge, Denmark) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
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. The effort of the engineers and "microkids", who struggled to make the first "Eagle", told with intense care and attention to detail. If you ever wondered how a computer is made from idea to production, this is the book to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best book i've ever read, Jan. 15 2003
By 
Ribo (Berlin, Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
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 ;). I'm 15 and i'm going to do something in that buisiness, and to know how it was 20 years ago is really interresting ...
masterpiece - really
and i got an authograph from Wallach ;) ... my dad met him im 89 :D
have fun
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5.0 out of 5 stars Best book i've ever read, Jan. 15 2003
By 
Ribo (Berlin, Germany) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
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 ;). I'm 15 and i'm going to do something in that buisiness, and to know how it was 20 years ago is really interresting ...
masterpiece - really
and i got an authograph from Wallach ;) ... my dad met him im 89 :D
have fun
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5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended - Gripping, Exciting true story, Oct. 19 2001
By 
J. Turner (Minnesota United States) - See all my reviews
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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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Oct. 18 2001
This review is from: The Soul of A New Machine (Paperback)
The Soul of a New Machine is an interesting book. It is written in a story like fashion that allows for easy reading. It does not contain material that is difficult to understand.
The author does a good job in revealing real life situations that designers, programmers, and management might encounter while building new computers. Many situations involve challenges such as time, others involve ethics. With respect to ethics, it is clear that the characters representing programmers and designers understand that they have certain obligations to their employer: to accept responsiblity for jobs they agree to do; to respect confidentiality entrusted to them; and to present fair and objective viewpoints regarding their projects. It is also clear that the characters representing project managment understand that they have certain obligations to upper managment and to their customers: the products have to be on time and must be reliable. The project management characters seem to lack any sense of ethics when it comes to their employees. They hire recent college graduates with no experience; they mislead them from the date of hire; they overwork them; and they undercompensate them.
In short, Kidder does not go into great detail about technical details involved in building computers. Instead, he focuses on the souls - the individuals - that create the complicated machines.
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The Soul of A New Machine
The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder (Paperback - June 1 2000)
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