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The Soul Of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder

The Soul Of A New Machine (original 1981; edition 2000)

by Tracy Kidder

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2,022394,826 (4.02)34
Title:The Soul Of A New Machine
Authors:Tracy Kidder
Info:Back Bay Books (2000), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:technology, computer hardware

Work details

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder (1981)

Recently added byPhiloFox, private library, codicus, bookbat23, VickieG, stonecrops, heymrbass, MrAgingNova, DevinNicole, bardj26
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Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
An inside look at the development of an early 32-bit computer at Data General. The project, codenamed Eagle in the late 70s, is a sort of missing link of hardware & system design between the early titans of informatics/computation (Shannon, Von Neumann, Wiener) and our modern day software/hardware enterprises (e.g., Microsoft, Apple).

Kidder has a sharp eye for the interesting aspects of influence, organization, and team culture as he recounts the arc of Eagle's development through the eyes of key contributors. ( )
  stonecrops | Nov 26, 2018 |
A very nice story of how a small team of engineers works to create a new computer for Data General in the late 1970s. The computer is not particularly groundbreaking, a new 32-bit computer that is software-compatible with the old 16-bit model. But the story is remarkable for its insights into how the work got done. It explains the characters, their motivations, some technical details (at just the right detail)—and is filled with memorable and realistic anecdotes. It is well paced, well written and well organized, a very nice piece of sociology. ( )
  breic | Jun 18, 2018 |
After Pulitzer prize 1982. edition.
  AlanBudreau | Apr 3, 2018 |
How does this book manage its narrative from such subject matter? Technical computer processor design and the office lives of people working on a corporate project. Dense technical details are sometimes impenetrable and sometimes, somehow interesting. But I guess there have been other literary classics famously too immersed in the details of their setting.

What I see in this story are the people who were driven to create something noteworthy against the odds. The ambition to accomplish something in their lives. I would think that we are not accustomed to glorifying the daily grind, and we imagine true ambition must be in a romantic cause. But in this telling, I feel glory from the engineers in the cubicles and the labs who dig deeply and are motivated by their work, facing uncertainty and challenges.

Yes, this is about a now-defunct company and obsolete technology, but it's surprising how much about business and engineering and technology is so familiar, even though these are famously fast-changing fields. ( )
1 vote richjj | Nov 16, 2017 |
I really expected to love this book when it opened with an intriguing, excitingly written little anecdote. Unfortunately, what followed never reached the allegorical or dramatic heights of those first few pages.

The Soul of a New Machine is an account of the engineering of a minicomputer in the early 80s. It follows a smallish team, and along the way, attempts to explain the pertinent technology and make grander points about the industry and computers in general. It never quite aces any of these points. The team's story is just not that interesting; the technology isn't particularly illuminated (I struggled to understand it or even care, and I'm a computer professional); and the big picture is unfortunate because this particular book was written at a largely uninteresting time in the history of computers. Just a few years later, personal computers would cause a revolution that would make Data General's products and struggles seem about as epic as buying soda at the store. It's a bit like covering the mobile phone revolution by embedding with Sony Ericsson in 2006.

Kidder is a great writer; for the most part, he keeps this dry tale readable, and does his best to make it somewhat entertaining. But he can only do so much with a yawner of a subject. The quotes he's given ramble and fizz out ("From the start it was a very important project",
"We're building what I thought we could get away with"). A typical anecdote here is the engineering team asking to have business cards printed out, and their lieutenant coming out of the boss' office with a simple "no". Not exactly the stuff of folklore.

If only Kidder had instead been embedded with Apple, Microsoft, or Xerox. As it is, I'm not sure I'd recommend this book since the few bits of insight and the-more-things-change moments aren't worth the dull rest of it. ( )
1 vote mrgan | Oct 30, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
"The Soul of a New Machine is first of all a good story, but beyond the narrative, or rather woven into it, is the computer itself, described physically, mechanically and conceptually. The descriptive passages will not ''explain'' computers to the average reader (at least they did not significantly increase my own very superficial knowledge), but they give a feeling, a flavor, that adds to one's understanding - as broadly, or even poetically, defined."
this is from a retrospective review of the book, nearly twenty years after its publication.

December, 2000

"More than a simple catalog of events or stale corporate history, Soul lays bare the life of the modern engineer - the egghead toiling and tinkering in the basement, forsaking a social life for a technical one."
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All the way to the horizon in the last light, the sea was just degrees of gray, rolling and frothy on the surface.
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ISBN 0140062491 is for The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. Amazon has the title and author for the film "Norma Jean" by Ted Jordan, but the cover for Tracy Kidder's book.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316491977, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Computers have changed since 1981, when Tracy Kidder indelibly recorded the drama, comedy, and excitement of one company's efforts to bring a new microcomputer to market. What has changed little, however, is computer culture: the feverish pace of the high-tech industry, the mystique of programmers, 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. By tracing computer culture to its roots, by exploring the "soul" of the "machine" that has revolutionized the world, Kidder succeeds as no other writer has done in capturing the essential spirit of the computer age."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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