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Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle Paperback – September 7, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Softwar is a biography of Larry Ellison and his company, Oracle. As such, it's simultaneously a portrait of a clever and driven man, a case study of a successful software development company, and a tableau of the commercial software industry from its beginnings, through the dot-com craze, and into the present era. Matthew Symonds, who began this project while working as the editor of the excellent technology section of the Economist, has done a great job with all three elements of his project, thanks in no small part to the tremendous access he was given and to his close collaboration with Ellison.

Collaboration is very nearly the right word, as Ellison reviewed Symonds' manuscript before publication and, while he did not alter it, he did make a large number of comments, which appear in the book as footnotes. As Symonds is a good journalist who attributes most of his material, Ellison is able to take issue immediately with statements other people make about him and his company. The overall effect is hypertextual, and represents an important new biographical technique that other writers should imitate. Softwar succeeds because Ellison has a fantastically interesting life, tremendous experience, and carefully considered opinions, and because Symonds communicates them with clarity and style. --David Wall

Topics covered: The life, times, acquaintances, tastes, toys, and opinions of Larry Ellison, the database entrepreneur and CEO of Oracle Corporation. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Matthew Symonds is currently political editor of The Economist, but before that was the magazine's technology and communications editor for nearly four years. He has also been a founding editorial director of The Independent and strategy director of BBC Worldwide Television. Symonds lives in London with his wife and three children.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743225058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743225052
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #669,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Nicholas Honko on December 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For years it seems like I've heard about Larry Ellison being the complete antithesis of Bill Gates while at the same time earning almost as much money. Knowing this about him and very little about Oracle, I decided it was time to look into it. "Softwar" appears to blend a few things that I find very desirable into one book.
First, its written by an independent observer-- Matthew Symonds of the Economist. While who can say whether this is truly an unbiased account, the vast majority of the book seems to portray Oracle in good light, but contains quips that allow the reader to see where all the Oracle detractors might have a point.
Second, Larry Ellison. When Symonds writes something or quotes someone (like Tom Siebel or other former employees) and Ellison disagrees, he gets to chime in and tell his side of the story through footnotes. After looking at so many books that just don't seem to have any proximity to Ellison, I chose this book mainly because you can get Ellison's rhetoric straight from the horses's mouth.
Third, if you read this book soon, the information will be more practical than books that seem to focus on interesting, but outdated info about a companies products or strategies. I personally knew nothing of Enterprise software or hardware other than hearing people complain about SAP. Now I at least have a semblence of knowledge about a field I'll probably end up at least working with.
If you want a book that puts Oracle in a good light while displaying its bad side at times and to hear mostly about Oracle with a brief biography of Ellison and how he commands the world's second largest software company, read it! PS I loved it.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a comprehensive, detailed collection of Larry Ellison anecdotes and quotes from people around him. Author Matthew Symonds occasionally interjects himself, but mostly lets his sources talk. Perhaps for fairness, he quotes many people who disagree with each other about important decisions at Oracle. Perhaps for journalistic objectivity, he generally refrains from judgment. This shows the reader every perspective, even if it doesn't define context, chronology or direction. You get all of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, though you may want a clearer box top picture. Some of the technology coverage will intrigue only tech industry buffs, but overall you will learn a great deal of interesting information about Ellison and Oracle. We also found that Ellison's character came most into focus when the book entered the world of yacht racing, his passion. The author also includes poignant, revealing anecdotes about Ellison's childhood and candid reports about his personal life. Larry Ellison was allowed to review the manuscript and his comments appear as counterbalancing footnotes on many pages. That guy, he always does things a new way - as you will see.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Full disclosure requires me to report, at the outset of this review, that I had the privilege to work for Larry Ellison and Oracle Corporation back in the mid to late 80's. During my time at Oracle, I enjoyed the unique opportunity to meet with Mr. Ellison on a couple of most memorable occasions. When I did, I always had the distinct feeling that I was in the presence of a genius. And indeed, I was.

In this unique, remarkable, and truly excellent book, Matthew Symonds captures, as well as a journalist could, what an amazing man Mr. Ellison is, and what an amazing company he founded and led to unbelievable success. Symonds also gives a truly special look inside the mind and character of the enigmatic founder of this software colossus.

Currently, I am working on a book on the Relational Model for Database. And I picked up this book by Symonds as part of my research. Having read "Softwar", I am well prepared to describe, with awe, the remarkable role that Mr. Larry Ellison played in making Dr. E.F. Codd's dream a reality. Indeed, as Codd provided the theoretical foundation for the Relational Model for Database, and fought valiantly for its acceptance, even unto his death, Ellison probably merits more credit than any particular human being for making the Relational Model a commercial reality, and success.

A common theme occurs throughout this wonderful book. The theme is that programmers, of which Larry Ellison is certainly one, are constantly playing the game of "I'm Smarter than You" whenever locked in technical debate. One of the reasons that Ellison is so disliked by many uninformed observers in the industry is that he nearly always won that game. And that sort of unparalleled excellence always seems to become the object of jealousy.

I strongly recommend this excellent book to any who would understand both Mr. Ellison and the history of his amazing company. God bless.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I always wanted to read this book, and now a decade later I finally get to it...

Good news
- There's some great reporting embedded in what is really a ~500 page PR piece for Ellison
- The Ray Lane story was worth the read
- Ellison at the emergence of the Internet and struggling (like others) to see the future is a great historical read

Bad news
- Giving the subject of your book permission to have a running commentary on the bottom of each page of your text, makes a mockery of the word journalist. (Doubly so because Ellison's commentary was unnecessary and extraneous. It added nothing to the story. It only proved how badly he compromised the author.)
- The book was in desperate need of an editor. It has periods of true reporting sandwiched in-between verbatim transcripts of Ellison position papers. Easily could have been 1/2 the size and twice as good.
- Tons of tactical details about: Ellison firing execs, defending Ron Wahl is spite of overwhelming evidence of incompetence, management by parachuting in, management only in crisis,etc. but none of this gets put into a coherent description of 1) who is Larry Ellison, 2) why given the permanent dysfunction of the company did it and he succeed. If there ever was a great example of "can't see the forest for the trees" reporting, this book is it.
- The whitewash of the Oracle contracting scandal with the State of California is a great example of when reporters become PR flacks of their subject. The author spent 3 years with Ellison and couldn't conclude "of course Oracle was pushing the edge?" A reporter would have asked if the "sales at any price" culture that almost killed the company in the 1990's had returned. A comprised flak rationalized it.
- Three years with Ellison and Oracle and no summing up of how this talented and flawed human being built the company
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