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The Soul of a New Machine

Narrated by: Ben Sullivan
Length: 9 hrs and 3 mins
Categories: History, 20th Century
4.5 out of 5 stars (45 ratings)

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Summary

Computers have changed since 1981, when Tracy Kidder memorably recorded the drama, comedy, and excitement of one company's efforts to bring a new microcomputer to market. What has not changed is the feverish pace of the high-tech industry, the go-for-broke approach to business that has caused so many computer companies to win big (or go belly up), and the cult of pursuing mind-bending technological innovations. The Soul of a New Machine is an essential chapter in the history of the machine that revolutionized the world in the 20th century.

©2011 Tracy Kidder (P)2016 Hachette Audio

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

An interesting glimpse into a wonderful era...

Whilst I found the book a bit rambling at first, it does get going and builds into an interesting story. That said, it's definitely for the technically oriented reader, I loved the detail it went into with the debugging but my wife overheard some and could barely believe anyone would listen to this voluntarily!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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How it was

I read the original paperback book in 1981 at a time when I was launching a product where I was the TD and did a lot of the mechanical design. I was working with some really good engineers and software writers. I too was not doing it for the money but as a release for all the ideas that just poured out of me.
This book recalls times that were just like that. Looking back at the book, it describes people who were just like ones I was working with.
The book is good. It describes things that are so true.
It does not disappoint.

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  • gramma
  • 06-10-16

Tech History...

This book won the Pulitzer back in 1982 for nonfiction, but by modern standards it's fairly dry and frankly not that exciting. It is probably worth reading if you are into history of technology and computers, and I think there is a few lessons to be learned about the nature of technical projects, but it's not the most riveting.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Timothy Knox
  • 12-08-16

Reading this book changed my life

I read this book shortly after it was published, and have re-read it every few years since. In fact, it was the first Kindle book I purchased. So I was really excited to get it as an audiobook. Unfortunately, I was a little bit disappointed.

Let's start with the story itself: It is definitely a bit of a hagiography to the 32-bit Eclipse team at Data General. While the author tries to tell the story in an unbiased way, nowhere in the book is it mentioned that Tracy Kidder was college roommate's with Tom West, which is how he came to be writing that story. Still, all of that being said, Mr. Kidder does an excellent job of explaining the technical issues clearly to an educated layman. As a long time professional software developer myself, I must credit him for (for example) his terrific explanation of double-page faults. He definitely took the time to get the technical details simplified but correct. So from the point of view of content, the book is a good read, whether in dead tree form, Kindle ebook, or audiobook.

However, the audiobook performance leaves some things to be desired. For example, the reader has clearly never heard certain words pronounced correctly, and rather than looking them up, guessed, and guessed wrong. Two in particular are "adjutant" and "wan." When a reader mispronounces a word, it yanks me out of the flow, hard. So a note to readers: If you are doing either a technical non-fiction book, or a science-fiction/fantasy book, grab a dictionary, and look up any word you don't personally know and use on a daily basis. These kinds of books tend to use a lot more uncommon English words, and the listeners tend to know those words and use them, themselves. So hearing the reader get it wrong really spoils the listen.

Second, the reader really didn't do any voice characterisations. I know that it's harder when these are real people, not characters. But many of the people have their voices described well enough that a good reader could get close enough to how they should sound. Instead, the reader just read it. And barring the vocabulary problems mentioned above, he did an okay job. But okay isn't what I've come to expect from audiobooks here. I've heard a number of books where, after listening, I thought, "This is what those characters sound like." This read could almost have been done by a decent TTS system. So paying good money for a mediocre reading smarts.

Any road, if you are old enough to remember the mini-computer and personal computer revolutions, this book will be quite nostalgic. And if you are too young to remember, you might find this an interesting insight into the industry. Honestly, the working environment at Data General on the 32-bit Eclipse project will seem very familiar to anyone who has worked in a startup, or for a high-tech company that is still run like a startup (I'm looking at you, Amazon). So I would recommend it over all, but bear in my objections and you'll hear a great story, well written, if only averagely well read.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Sac
  • 08-07-18

A must read if you are an Engineer

If you're an engineer, you really will get to know how how much of an impact you can make in the end.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 27-07-18

Entertaining listen

This was a really interesting book to listen to. It's old, but didn't feel irrelevant. The author did a great job of taking something very technical (the design of a new micro computer) and weaving it into a story.
I enjoyed getting a view into the world of computer hardware.
The narrator did a great job and kept me interested and held my attention.

If you're at all interested in technology or computers, this should be on your reading list.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Delberta
  • 13-01-17

Fascinating!

A few years old now, it is still absorbing and intriguing to follow the triumphs and travails of creating a new computer!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Bill Hurley
  • 05-07-16

The best!

Read this book back in the mid-80's. Completely changed my view of part of of the world I was heading into as a software developer. Great to hear it instead of just read it! Thanks Audible for getting this title !

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • mtunks
  • 21-10-19

surprising

surprisingly a special book about a subject that isn't exciting. who would of thought a book about making a computer would be so good.

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  • A Reader
  • 23-04-19

A big trip down memory lane

I worked at one of the other big computer companies at the time the book was originally released. I read it back then and it was a modern telling of what was really going on back then. The technology described in the book is ancient history now, but it isn't a book about technology. It's a book about the people who designed and built the machine. The book could have been about building almost anything.

My only complaint about the audiobook is that the narrator should have spend more time learning how to pronounce some of the specific terms used in the book. For example, kludge isn't pronounced like sludge. It's pronounced klooge, like the work scrooge. Also, DEC is "deck". Not D-E-C. Admittedly a minor annoyance and only people who worked in the industry at the time would care.

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  • Jonathan C. Masters
  • 27-03-19

Wonderful - and still accurate today

This is an amazing read, and still accurate today. I work with many silicon design teams and have stories just like these to share even from the past few years. The technology has changed, but the fundamentals are the same.

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  • Kate
  • 03-03-19

Dry and cannot pronounce industry jargon

So first the good: even though the detail in this book is 35-40 years old, it is still somewhat interesting. Anyone who has ever worked for a software or hardware company will immediately recognize the challenges, the politics, and the personalities at play. You also need to take into context the date of release - this book most likely demystified how computers work to the masses. It was probably very revolutionary, hence the award.
The bad: take away the context of the 1982 release date and I’m baffled why this won the Pulitzer. It is very long, monotonous, and dry. It does not strike me as well written. The author seemed to have a hero complex with the character of West. There is a West at every tech company. They aren’t unique, or even that interesting. They manage to be just slightly above average in a very public way where senior management in a company feel that they are indispensable contributors and then we are all stuck with their more obnoxious/abrasive character traits. It’s hard to imagine someone writing a book today about a tech giant and have a middle manager as uninteresting as a West dominating the book.
The ugly: the performance made this book a slog to listen to. I would have liked more infliction. And for the love of Pete - spend 5 minutes on google before recording this. “Kludge” does not rhyme with “judge” - it is pronounced “klooge”. It was nails on a chalkboard.