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The Soul Of A New Machine 1st Paperback Edition Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 173 customer reviews
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize winner Kidder's 1981 volume was published when mini-supercomputers were still the stuff of science fiction. How the world has turned. Though technology has grown immeasurably since then, this volume still serves as an interesting history of the machine that conquered the world.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Paperback Edition edition (June 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00008RWB6
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,809,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Marold HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
`The Soul of a New Machine' is a landmark journalistic book-length essay by then `Atlantic Monthly' writer, Tracy Kidder exploring the development of a new computer in those pre-microcomputer days of 1978. I am delighted to find this book issued as a `classic', as I have read it many times and have been meaning to do a review of it for some time. I cannot think of a better occasion than with the release of this new edition.

When it was first published, the book was a narrative of what was then `modern' technology, where the central processing units (CPU) or `brains' of commercial minicomputers and mainframe computers were built up on large circuit boards from individual, specialized integrated circuit chips, with each chip integrating dozens or hundreds of discrete components. This compares to today's microcomputers where the entire CPU is placed on a single chip incorporating tens of thousands of discrete functions, all taking up no more room than the average credit card. Now, the book is more a history of how this technology was developed, and yet its picture of how people work in teams developing technological projects will probably never go out of date.

The irony of this book is that the computer being developed by the team described in this book, a 32 bit Eclipse computer developed by the Data General corporation, a competitor to the larger and very successful Digital Computer Corporation (Digital), did not really achieve any major breakthrough in technology. While it was intended to compete with a new generation of Digital VAX machines, it ended up being just barely faster than VAX's in a few special tasks.
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Format: Hardcover
Soul of a New Machine is an excellent portrayal of a heroic team of young engineers. What defined the book for me was the sort of mad, beautiful work ethic that the team in the story had. This is the best way I can describe it:
When you're young and you get interested in something, you get _passionate_ about it. Maybe it's because you don't know the importance of money and responsibility yet, but you really get into a sport, or hobby, or any other interest, and you do that hobby or play that sport, you write stories or fix cars, making whatever sacrifices you need to just so you can do this thing you love, not because you want to make money at it, or gain respect or admiration, but because it gives you priceless rewards and satisfaction. And it's a purest love you can have. When you grow up, you get disillusioned, from paying bills and other responsibilities. You lose the spark. You start doubting your interest in what you used to love, be it the mechanic who used to love cars but has grown jaded, or the teacher on a low income who has to deal with unruly students and demanding parents.
The Soul of a New Machine is a throwback to that youthful perhaps almost a bit naive passion. It's about the antithesis of the 9-5, where if the pay is horrible, you couldn't care less, you still work overtime. This pure struggle, the essence of a profession, is what makes the book so great. It's the most archetypal element of a career or profession, the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that only something you put your soul and your sweat and blood into, can give you. In that basement in Data General, this beautiful dream became real in the form of the Eagle minicomputer. If you've felt the kind of spark that drove those young men before, this book will remind you. And if you haven't, maybe this book will kindle a new passion in what you do.
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Format: Hardcover
I first read this book when I was in high school. I was captivated and enthralled by the story, and I can unabashedly state that it helped refine and accelerate my interest in computer science and engineering.
Tracy Kidder captures a technical world and gives a clear picture at the tremendous challenges of building a state of the art computer system, that must be backwards compatible with legacy architecture, all while doing it in an easy to read manner (and a brilliant original perspective).
It is a heroic, true life story. It was (and still is) one of my all-time favorite books.
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Format: Kindle Edition
In The Soul of a New Machine, Kidder accompanies a team of young
engineers tasked with building a new computer for Data General. The
project is led by a curt manager with a methodology he calls mushroom
management (keep them in a damp, dark place, and feed them shit) that
would be impossible to instate in any sensible company these days. The
project is of highest significance for the company, and everything is
due yesterday, everyone working in a frantic pace to get the computer
out the door before their rivals within the same company beat them to
it. The pressure and the intense pace of work is tangible all through
the book; especially in the chapters on the debugging of the computer,
one gets a very solid sense of how difficult it should be to fix
horribly complicated hardware bugs under such intense pressure.

Soul of a New Machine hails from a time when the separate parts of a
computer were actually built and tested by hand; a time when the CPU
and the ALU resided on separate boards, a computer was debugged using
oscilloscopes, and when finished, occupied three cabinets. For people
of later generations who grew up with computers that came simply
within a shiny black box, the story of these engineers provides a nice
perspective of where the computer industry came from, and how the
computer market could have developed in many other directions.

The bigger question Kidder is after is what drives young, talented
people to spend most of their waking hours on a new computer. The
engineers he follows all have successful academic studies behind them,
and are technically inclined, having broken and fixed electrical
devices since their childhood.
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