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on February 27, 2003
You can see why the author was able to solve so many of the earliest computing problems: he can distill huge amounts of mind-numbing technical detail into a crisp, memorable point. Sure, he has the right credentials to write this professional autobiography: he helped build and design the first "personal" computer (in the early sixties!), the first ARPANET nodes, the first true multiprocessor, worked at Xerox PARC, and so on. And he covers history, technology, and personalities with a clear, self-effacing style.
But what will stick with me longest are his explanations of issues I had thought I understood: why "time-sharing" is dead and personal computers are alive, why synchronization and "real-time" computing are so hard, why programs are (still) so buggy. His explanations, forged from decades of deep and considered thought while creating those famous room-sized computers, manage to isolate and address the most important "why" questions without getting mired in the technical "what"... this is really a great way to know about how computers work and how they got to be the way they are.
I've been messing with computers for over thirty years, and I've never read anything better.
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on October 23, 2008
As one who was the recipient of the LINC groups move to St. Louis and knew many of the pioneers portrayed in Severo's book, no one could have told it better regarding the cultural battle between those needing interactive access without an intervening priesthood and the status quo.

If you want real insight into the fundamentals of the evolution of personal computers, this book is the place to start. The LINC has now been officially recognized as the first interactive personal computer.
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on August 27, 2015
I enjoy computer history books. But this was a dreary read.

First of all, it glossed over the important technical triumphs without neither details not insight. If you wanted to learn WHY a certain computer was interesting or unique or what challenges it faced while in development this is not your book.

The book is very long on the author's personal opinions and editorials on other people. He has a lot of opinions of others, and most of them aren't good.

The author seems like one of those people who was in the right place at the right time, but really was pretty clueless as to what was happening or going on. I don't know that he contributed much of anything to any of the projects (he really doesn't say) or even if he understood the nitty gritty of what he was working on. Its just not an insightful story.

The book is very self-serving for the author. It was not an interesting read for me.
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on November 3, 2009
Like many computer histories written by the engineers who were there at the birth of computing this book has it's share of editorial meandering and is probably in need of a few more passes by a good editor. Still if you can get through some of the non-sequitoral anecdotes about "the old days" this book has some fascinating information about what it was like to work on some projects that would eventually help usher in the modern computing era. This book is a lot less self absorbed than say, "The Race for the New Game Machine", but it still could stand to have a few pages edited down as I found myself skipping over sections to get back to the "interesting bits about early computer development"
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on March 29, 2013
Good history of computing in the earliest days
from a guy who was there, and did that. He
was at Lincoln Labs, and saw most of the early
development of computing. Well written, and
not just a technology story, A good read.
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on December 19, 2002
This is a charmingly written book, filled with interesting tales and providing a real "feel" for those wonderfully chaotic times.
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on January 13, 2009
This is the book to read when you grow tired of computer commerce and yearn to hear about the good old days of computer science, when engineers encountered the fundamental problems of automation and solved them... or didn't solve them, in some cases, but assembled bright crews of interesting thinkers to take a crack at it. This book gave me exactly what I wanted: a personal story of the personal computer before it was ready to hit the shelves.
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on March 7, 2011
I've read this three times in a year now. It's just so honest and fun. Where other books are a top down history, this is an awesome account which allows you to live the journey of the author and learn what it was really like to be in the computer industry of the 50's - 70's. Both on a technical and emotional level. I've learnt more about the historical excitement of computers from this book than any other. It makes you wish you could travel back in time and re-choose your life career!
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on October 21, 2014
This book is completely useless. The author witnessed so many interesting things and events but he is not able to provide any details about these things and events. The most dissapointing thing is that author does not even provide exact dates of those events. Not even a month, not even a year. The even of the first launch of ARPANET is described in one line, and does not even tell when this happened.

The event of visit of China does not have any dates or any techincal details. The books is completely filled with irrelevant information about author's travel to Chile and his trip to an aircraft carrier or to misslie launch site.

This book is just memoirs. It's not a "view from the trenches". There is nothing in it that tells us about Computing in Middle ages. I learned more about author's farther from this book than about development of TX-0 or LINC.
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on January 11, 2011
Severo Ornstein guides us through an interesting personal history of his development through the ranks of early computer programmers/scientists, presented as a roughly linear series of loosely-connected anecdotes. While I found these stories to be excellently written, and both interesting and very intimate, I felt that what the book offers in intimacy, it sacrifices in conventionality of voice and depth of detail.

While conventionality is not necessarily a quality an author should strive for, it is a quality that allows readers to focus on the content of the text. When an author insists upon flouting convention, the reader may lose the full ability to flow through the text seamlessly. While I quite appreciated the author's powerful command of the English language, I found his persistent attention to details like correctly accenting words whose accenting is commonly ignored, to be distracting at best. At worst, they gave the author's voice a bit of an arrogant tone.

The book also suffers from a lack of detail in most sections. In only a few circumstances, did I feel like I was treated to a detailed technical overview - in most places, the text served primarily as a series of high-level anecdotes about the various people, places, and activities that the author encountered as his career developed. While I appreciated the intimate tone and casual conversional style, I had hoped for a more substantial treatment of the technical aspects of the early history of computing.

Please do not mistake the above criticisms as an entirely negative review of the book. I finished the text feeling like the author was someone I would like, and that this book could have been something quite special with a more critical hand in the editing process. There is a strong impression created from the text that the author was determined to tell his story his own way - and I could easily imagine the manuscript being pulled from various major publishers when the subject of editing was broached. However, even with a strict editing influence, there is still the need for a deeper level of detail - which means more content, leading me to suspect that this will be the final condition of the book.

I would recommend this book to afficionados of computing history, as it contains an intimate treatment of a fascinating time in the industry. However, those looking for a more detailed coverage will not find that sort of history here.
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