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Fire in the Valley: The Making of The Personal Computer (Second Edition) Paperback – November 29, 2000
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In the early 1970s, while Silicon Valley was designing the latest generation of digital wristwatches and pocket calculators, a ragtag group of college dropouts, hippies, and electronics hobbyists were busy creating the future in their garages. What they built was the personal computer, but what they were aiming for was something much more ambitious: a revolution. Fire in the Valley is the story of their efforts, and in particular, the contributions of an informal think tank called the Homebrew Computer Club. Its technically gifted community, comprising sci-fi aficionados and Berkeley counterculturists, believed computers could usher in an age of human empowerment, perhaps even a utopia.
The club's most famous member is Steve Jobs of Apple, whose story is told here, as is Bill Gates's, who was strongly influenced by Homebrew. What sets Fire in the Valley apart from the many other books about early days at Apple and Microsoft, though, is its focus on the brilliant engineers and coders who built the foundation that would eventually support those two companies. They included ex-Berkley Barb editor and hardware designer Lee Felsenstein, who was adamant about using computers for populist ends; Adam Osborne, who took PCs to the next level by making them portable; hacker legend John "Captain Crunch" Draper, who used telephony for his own mischievous purposes; and activist Ted Nelson, the Thom Paine of the computer revolution.
The cast of characters is sometimes tough to keep track of, and authors Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine have wisely included a graphic timeline in the first pages of the book that readers will find useful. It stretches from 1800 to 1999, encompassing events that have occurred since Fire in the Valley's original 1984 publication. This second edition includes new chapters and photographs to document the last 15 years, but they serve as more of an epilogue than a new act in this drama. The Homebrew Club's mark on personal computing history is cemented, and Fire in the Valley is an engaging account of it, one that should inspire readers everywhere. --Demian McLean
A book not to be missed, just plain good reading about the drama of the Kids next door turning their dreams into millions. -- The New York Times
Swain and Freiberger capture the communal spirit, the brilliance and blundering, the assortment of naivete, noble purpose and greed, and the inevitable transformation of all this into a major industry. Must Reading -- Byte
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One would surely enjoy reading it especially as you gather a lot of information about the history of computers and be surprised that there are many untold stories about it particularly people who made vast contributions to the development of personal computers and the internet.
The only negative I could say about it is the book needs to be updated since this was published back in 2000 and many changes have already taken place since that time.It would be great to have the third edition published as we get updated about the stories that includes the second coming of Apple and the advent of social media.
I tore through that edition, savoring every page, and absolutely LOVED IT. While the chapters are short, the book reads like an easy-to-digest "action novel". While other complain of a lack of depth, I say that this book is more of a compendium, a fireside chat that just gets you an overview of this huge story and its colorful characters. In that, "Fire in the Valley" succeeds.
I then lost that book in a flood in my IL basement, and regretted it deeply.
I found the 2nd edition and bought that about 15 years later. While 2nd editions usually build upon the original story and expand on it, FitV's 2nd edition left out certain key characters and their unique marks on the PC business. The one I missed the most was that of the recently deceased Jack Tramiel of Atari/Commodore, and the story of how he crashed through the VIC-20's introduction at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show.
Jack knew the Japanese manufacturers would be there, and that the Japanese were methodical innovators. They typically did "Kaizen", stepwise, incremental improvements to products. Jack also knew that if he was able to show a disruptive technology product, which the VIC-20's sprite based color video would be, the Japanese would analyze what happened for at least 6 months, giving Jack and Commodore a market all to themselves.
He related the Japanese psyche to running into a hungry grizzly bear while hiking in the forest. If you fight him, he kills and eats you. If you run, he's faster than you, with the same ending. If you quickly take off and throw down your backpack in front of him, he gets confused. He then begins to sniff and investigate this strange thing at his feet, giving you the chance to run away scott-free.
That story stayed with me ever since.
So, I bought the first edition of FitV, thinking I would have my Tramiel story once again. I was wrong.
It's not the seller's fault. Apparently there were incremental changes to the book's content throughout the multiple printings of the 1st edition. That Tramiel story apparently went in and later got edited out...where and when I do not know. I sure do miss having it. If anyone else out there has a later printing of the 1st edition that has it, please leave a review with the info of what printing number they have.
In any case, if you haven't read either the 1st or 2nd edtions, you're in for a treat. You'll like the content and pace.
It's a great book for bathroom reading, too, just like an issue of Reader's Digest. Each chapter is long enough for a single "sitting", and is complete within itself...no fooling...about 10 minutes. (Ever wonder why RD was the size it was, and why the articles were the length they were? Your grandmother's bathroom was onto something smart. Only problem...FitV doesn't fit on top of the flush tank cover as easily as an issue of RD.)
The authors jump back and forth in time somewhat disconcertingly, describing 1975 then 1984 then 1990 then 1975 again without warning. I can understand why the authors did this -- with a cast of hundreds it's easier to follow one storyline at a time -- but it takes some reflection as you're reading to place events in their proper sequence again.
The fluid storytelling, fascinating cast and the short, self-contained chapters make for a compulsively-readable text, even at 465 pages.