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Idea Man: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft [Hardcover]

Paul Allen
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 April 2011

"The entire conversation took five minutes. When it was over, Bill and I looked at each other. It was one thing to talk about writing a language for a microprocessor and another to get the job done. . . . If we'd been older or known better, Bill and I might have been put off by the task in front of us. But we were young and green enough to believe that we just might pull it off."

Paul Allen, best known as the cofounder of Microsoft, has left his mark on numerous fields, from aviation and science to rock 'n' roll, professional sports, and philanthropy. His passions and curiosity have transformed the way we live. In 2007 and again in 2008, Time named him one of the hundred most influential people in the world.

It all started on a snowy day in December 1974, when he was twenty-one years old. After buying the new issue of Popular Electronics in Harvard Square, Allen ran to show it to his best friend from Seattle, Bill Gates, then a Harvard undergrad. The magazine's cover story featured the Altair 8800, the first true personal computer; Allen knew that he and Gates had the skills to code a programming language for it. When Gates agreed to collaborate on BASIC for the Altair, one of the most influential partnerships of the digital era was up and running.

While much has been written about Microsoft's early years, Allen has never before told the story from his point of view. Nor has he previously talked about the details of his complex relationship with Gates or his behind-closed-doors perspective on how a struggling start-up became the most powerful technology company in the world. Idea Man is the candid and long-awaited memoir of an intensely private person, a tale of triumphant highs and terrifying lows.

After becoming seriously ill with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1982, Allen began scaling back his involvement with Microsoft. He recovered and started using his fortune-and his ideas-for a life of adventure and discovery, from the first privately funded spacecraft (SpaceShipOne) to a landmark breakthrough in neuroscience (the Allen Brain Atlas). His eclectic ventures all begin with the same simple question: What should exist? Idea Man is an astonishing true story of ideas made real.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Printing edition (28 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241953707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241953709
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 348,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The virtual world he imagined is now as real as concrete . . . the very fabric of a twenty-first century that he and a tiny club of others literally invented. Shy, humble, brilliant . . . Paul Allen's intellect and generosity of spirit are there on every page. (Bono )

Paul's natural curiosity will always guide him into uncharted waters. Whether it's a newfangled device called the personal computer; exploring the bottom of the sea or deep space; music, movies, and museums; or perhaps his most significant adventure so far-the human brain-two things are certain: It won't be the same afterward, and it will be an extraordinary journey. (Peter Gabriel )

Paul is a true adventurer in every sense of the word and, as a friend, he is both loyal and generous of spirit. His ideas have helped shape the world we live in, and witnessing the way his mind works is like watching a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo: you have no idea how he does it, but it blows your mind. (Dave Stewart )

This son of Oklahoma, by way of Seattle, electrocuted a classmate, soldered his skin, gassed the family pet, purposely crashed systems, dove in Dumpsters for coffee-stained printouts, and went on to create the engine that changed the world. (Dan Ackroyd )

About the Author

Paul Allen is the billionaire technologist and philanthropist who cofounded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He is the chairman of Vulcan Inc. and founder of the Allen Institute for Brain Science. He also owns the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers, and is co-owner of the Seattle Sounders pro soccer team. He lives on Mercer Island, Washington.

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Paul
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are a number of fascinating stories that Paul Allen could have told. He could write a whole book on the acquisition, development and delivery of MS/DOS to IBM and then to other PC makers. Paul Allen devotes only a couple of pages to this topic - indeed just enough to support his claim that it was his idea to use Tom Patterson's 86-DOS after Jack Sams, an IBM employee suggested to Microsoft that they supply an OS. It seems that at the beginning, neither Sams, Gates nor Allen really appreciated the value of owning and controlling the operating system.

Allen also claims to be the idea man behind MS Windows having seen the original Xerox Star computer with its GUI bitmapped display at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. The development of MS Windows, the rivalry with Apple, the development of the MAC and then the MS Windows versions of Word and Excel would be another fascinating story. All we are told is that Allen was instrumental in the hiring of Charles Simonyi from Xerox - their expert in WYSIWYG word processor.

There is a great deal of detail about the 8 billion invested in Cable networks that Allen wrote off, but the reader is still left wondering how and why this all happened. Even for Allen $8B is quite a big chunk of cash.

I was originally going to give this book 3 stars, because it could, indeed should, have been an absolutely compelling read and it isn't. Nevertheless, Allen does relate snippets of the history of the Personal Computer Industry that are interesting enough to justify 5 stars at a pinch.

Note to Publisher: The table of contents in my edition says the index appears on page 347. There is no page 347 and there is no index which is a pity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lend me Ten Pounds and I'll Buy You a Drink 18 Aug 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Paul Allen. Nice bloke, really. Maybe a bit of an accidental billionaire, but it's hard to grudge him the cash. He pretty much changed the world, after all, even if he was, as he admits, merely standing and building on the shoulders of giants. Money isn't everything though, and this is another of those life stories where the music of Neil Sedaka plays in the background as a soundtrack: "I miss the hungry years, we never had a dime...."
I think you'll have to be a bit of a geek to be really gripped by the first half of this book as Allen and Gates struggle to code Microsoft to the top. The key watersheds in the history of the company are written about slightly dispassionately and you are given a flavour of the necessary ruthlessness that permeated the computer industry and obviously still does. Stuck for a good idea? Then go and steal one of your competitors'. (The current patent wars in technology are an indicator that copying is not a form of flattery.) Allen writes almost reluctantly, I felt, about his partner in crime, Bill Gates, and the picture painted isn't one that adds much warmth to one of the world's richest men. Allen, being the nice guy he seems to be, holds back about how he felt Gates stiffed him, dissed him and finally ignored him as Microsoft steamed towards world domination. The final assessment of Microsoft losing out to Apple, Google and the rest seem tinged with an element of glee. But it was Allen's baby too, so the affection is still there.
Halfway through the book and Allen is through with Microsoft, which somewhat surprised me. Was that it? Now as rich as Croesus, what should Allen do with his burgeoning cash pile? He likes basketball, so why not buy a team? And a football team. Build them a half billion dollar stadium on top, to play in.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read 12 Jun 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read this book last year and thought it was a really interesting account of his life.
Would defiantly recommend it as not only does it talk about his time at Microsoft it also talks about his life after, what he has invested in and what he does now with his wealth.

Interesting read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pathfinders in the early Computer Wilderness 21 Sep 2011
Those were the Days! A very interesting (and True) Piece of History. I have seen those Guys, heard them and worked and wrestled with their Products. One will never again experience the same thrill and enormous entrepreneurial tasks we then had to solve without Money (the Banks looked upon us as idiots the first Years). This Book simply describes how Demanding and Hard and Mad and sometimes Sad the Digital Morning looked like.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mix of the fascinating and indulgent 26 Aug 2011
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Most people will probably read this book because they are interested in the early years of Microsoft, and that is certainly well covered in the book. It's a warts-and-all account which is not entirely flattering for Bill Gates. This section of the book was fascinating, and if you're involved in the IT industry you should probably buy and read the book just for this.

However, the book also documents Allen's time after Microsoft, when he has lived the billionaire's lifestyle - travelling to far-away places, buying a super-yacht and sports teams (pity he hasn't yet bought Man United off the Glaziers...), setting up a museum and playing guitar with the rock stars. But he's also also recovered twice from cancer, and he's contributed strongly to the human genome project. I nearly didn't bother with this section of the book, and I glad that I did because some of it is worthwhile and fascinating, though other parts are a little more than nauseating - or maybe I'm just jealous of such opulent wealth.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read
I've been in software almost as long as Microsoft has.

The book is in two parts, the early years, Microsoft history leading up to the break with Microsoft, and his... Read more
Published 2 months ago by philipcj
4.0 out of 5 stars Good start, boring middle, ok end
I got this book after reading Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography. This doesn't live up to that, but it's still good to read. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Te4t0n
3.0 out of 5 stars Good on early years
Excellent history of early Microsoft years, especially MITS era. The rest is 'meh', mildly interesting but not too much substance...
Published 17 months ago by T. RING
5.0 out of 5 stars Important view on IT history
I knew Microsoft was an important foundation of the tech industry. This book helps complete the picture and highlights Allen's significant contribution. Well worth a read
Published 17 months ago by Olaf Ransome
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit short on his time at Microsoft
I looked forward to this book since it was announced. Microsoft is a company that has had a tremendous impact on almost everybody's life, so I was fascinated about finding out some... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Hoku Ojin
3.0 out of 5 stars Fails to stick the course
It starts really well for two reasons, gripping background to the early history of Microsoft and written by an excellent ghost writer who can really make you turn pages. Read more
Published on 17 May 2011 by Dr Bob
3.0 out of 5 stars Curiously unsatisfying
This book is worth reading but not as compelling is it could have been.

Probably the most interesting thing is the insight it gives into Bill Gates and his management... Read more
Published on 15 May 2011 by Mr. Paul R. Stearne
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideas and Tensions
Ideas are certainly a defining characteristic of the book. Paul Allen's profound ideas in many realms had literally a transformative impact on our lives. Read more
Published on 8 May 2011 by Serghiou Const
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