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On the Edge: the Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore Hardcover – September 14, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 548 pages
  • Publisher: Variant Press; First Edition edition (September 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0973864907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0973864908
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #554,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[F]ascinating and improbably hilarious."  J. Edward Keyes, Philadelphia City Paper

From the Back Cover

Between 1976 and 1994, Commodore had astounding success in the nascent personal computer business. Amid the chaos and infighting, Commodore was able to achieve some remarkable industry firsts. They were the first major company to show a personal computer, even before Apple and Radio Shack. They sold a million computers before anyone else. No single computer has sold more than the Commodore 64. The first true multimedia computer, the Amiga, came from Commodore. Yet with all these milestones, Commodore receives almost no credit as a pioneer.

Commodore was one of the only companies with the ability to make silicon, and the results were obvious. They had more creativity, more color, and more character than the competition. While Apple and IBM charged exorbitant prices, Commodore was able to reach the masses with affordable computers while remaining profitable. The Commodore 64 cut a path of destruction through the early industry, knocking Tandy, Texas Instruments, Sinclair, and Atari out of the computer business and badly hurting Apple and even IBM. While other companies received more press, Commodore sold more computers.

Yet Commodore never reached a comfortable position. They were always on the verge of blinding success or abysmal failure. Commodore’s volatile founder, Jack Tramiel, lived on the edge, and he made sure his employees lived there too.

On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore tells the story through over 44 hours of interviews with former engineers and managers:
-Chuck Peddle, the digital God who created a revolution with the 6502 chip and designed the PET computer.
-Al Charpentier, the chain smoking architect of Commodore’s revolutionary graphics chips.
-Bob Yannes, the frustrated musician and synthesizer aficionado who designed the Commodore 64 and the SID sound chip.
-Bil Herd, the unruly engineer who created the maligned Plus/4 and later sought redemption with the C128.
-The Amiga engineers, who created the first true multimedia system even before the word multimedia existed.
-Irving Gould, financier and majority shareholder who rescued Commodore in the sixties, then allowed it to wither.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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This book is written in an entertaining fashion and the personal stories are great!
Amazon Customer
On the Edge is a excellent history of products like the MOS Technologies 6502 processor, the PET, the VIC-20 and the Commodore 64.
Calum Tsang
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the personal computer.
Paul Blood

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By David B. Haynie on May 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Although I was personally involved (and mentioned in the book), even as insider I didn't know the whole story of Commodore. I think Brian did a fantastic job of telling this story, so often left out of the personal computer histories that are, as one might imagine, only told by the winners. It's easy to get the story of Steve Wozniak building the Apple I in a garage, and he did some brilliant things.. but consider, when Chuck Peddle started building a computer, he didn't start with chips, he started with "sand".

Brian's coverage of my era at Commodore (the last 11.5 years) was spot on, and he did a good job of tracking down the people involved. And illustrating that things like this, Engineering, are creative endeavors; as such, the specific people involve matter, and matter big.

While clearly of interest to Commodore and Amiga fans, I think this is essential reading for anyone interested in the whole story of the dawn of the personal computer revolution.

The final few pages get a little poetic; the real end was a rather protracted mess. The "logical" end was essentially when Brian describes it, the layoffs shortly before the "after hours" bankruptcy declaration on April 30, 1994... I made a video about that (Google "Deathbed Vigil", tragically not available through Amazon) which was my attempt to tell the story of why it ended, and maybe who we were in Engineering in those days. 13 years later, I'm glad that's out there, but I think the story of our successes are the ones I'd like to remember... the best reason to look back is to help you look forward with a better eye.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By D. Hodgson on February 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm almost in tears reading this book in all its 561 pages of Commodore-Amiga glory. Now if only there was another one like it covering Radio Shack, all would be well! It's truly stunning the way the paths of Amiga, Apple, Atari, Commodore, IBM, Digital Research, Microsoft, MOS Technology, Motorola and yes, Radio Shack, intertwined in this rich stew of opportunism, arrogance, incompetence and employee stealing. Go ahead, read this one along with Andy Hertzfeld's "Revolution in The Valley" and reflect for a moment on the amount of revisionist mythmaking machinery that has grown up around the House that Cringely Built. Unlike many other books, Bagnall doesn't skimp on the technical details here either - the story of MOS Technology and the 6502 is almost deserving of its own book!

-Dallas Hodgson, Deluxe Paint (AGA series) co-developer
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Lantana Al TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I can't believe how much I enjoyed this book and I don't usually like to read. I grew up on Commodore, had a VIC-20, C64, C128, and a couple of Amigas. It was really hard to put this book down. Great information. It brought back a lot of memories. I forgot about the Commodore 16 and even Amiga 600 and 1200!

Also, read this book to know why the 1541 drive was so slow or why your VIC-20 may have been purposely made defective. And why did they have to stop selling Amigas for months because an engineer put a message in the ROM.

This is also a great business book and would make a good study in a college business class. There's a lot of wisdom in the book when it comes to decisions made right and decisions screwed up. Commodore management could have made some much better decisions, instead there seems to have been a lot of incompetence. They lost a lot of good engineers because of it.

My only criticism is that I wish there were more photos of the people, hardware, and places talked about - especially at the beginning of the book. The end of the book has more photos.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Kit Spencer on March 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
AS one of the people personally involved at Commodore and "the birth of The Microcomputer Industry" I was very impressed at the level of detail that Brian Bagnall has been able to get into this book and with also with his level of accuracy. As a Commodore insider I naturally found the book a fascinating read but also believe it is interesting to anyone who would like to know more about the birth of the microcomputer industry. It gets certain revisionist thinking on the role of the early micro pioneers into a good perspective. To anyone who had an early Commodore Computer (and 20 million had a Commodore 64) it will also give some interesting insights into some of the features that went into those early micros and why. It is also an interesting human business history of what can go right and wrong in a fast moving company.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Theresa Welsh on November 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brian Bagnall has packed incredible detailed information in this book which spans the history of Commodore from the early days of transitioning from calculators to microcomputers to the glory days of the Commodore 64 and all the way into 1994 when the company went bust. It's almost too much for those of us interested in the early, often forgotten days, before the IBM PC.

Commodore, during the Chuck Peddle era, was a force that brought many people into personal computing. Speaking of Peddle, it's clear that the author got extensive interviews with the man who created the 6502 processor AND created the Commodore PET microcomputer. I found the stories about just how they made those early chips, doing a physical layout of the whole thing, to be fascinating. I had a chance to hear a talk by Chuck Peddle in which he told some of the same stories that are in this book, about how loads of the early chips simply did not work. In 1975, a 30% chip yield (the number that actually worked) was considered good. When Peddle was with MOS Technology, he and his attractive wife Shirley presided over a barrel of chips at the Wescon show in San Francisco (actually in a hotel suite, where people were directed from the show). Having a barrel of chips made it look like they could produce them in quantity. The dirty little secret was that only the ones at the top of the barrel actually worked!

The year 1977 was a turning point for personal computing, with three important microcomputers appearing on the market (Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore PET), giving computer enthusiasts a choice beside building their own from a kit.
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