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The Soul of a New Machine (Modern Library) Hardcover – 1 Sep 1998


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Inc; New edition edition (1 Sept. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679602615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679602613
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 455,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Amazon 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 men and women developing software and online commerce 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 us stories of 35-year-old "veteran" engineers hiring new college graduates and encouraging them to work harder and faster on complex and difficult projects, exploiting the youngsters' ignorance of normal scheduling yet 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 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

Review

"It has the ring of truth....For readers who would like to know what it takes to make a computer, how computers are organized, and who the people are who put them together, I strongly recommend The Soul of a New Machine. I do not know anything quite like it".

-- Jeremy Bernstein, New York Review of Books --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By geoff dendle on 18 Dec. 2002
Format: Paperback
I first read this wonderful book almost twenty years ago and have re-read it a number of times since then. Yes, it is about computers but it is much more about people, life and in particular their interplay in teamworking. I have recommended it to colleagues as one of the most useful books about the workplace as well as being a riveting read - it is a thriller !!
One of my favourite reads - it really is that good.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris TOP 100 REVIEWER on 27 Dec. 2012
Format: Hardcover
At this time of the year, I select a few books about diverse subjects and re-read them with the hope that new insights will occur that I missed previously. That is certainly true of this book (the second edition published in 1997 when I first read it) and James Gleick's Isaac Newton (2003). Dozens of other reviewers have already shared their reasons for thinking so highly of Tracy Kidder's account of Data General's efforts to create a new 32-bit superminicomputer. Here are three of mine.

First, I am grateful for being able to learn so much about Joseph Thomas "Tom" West III (1939-2011) and his contributions to the development of "the new machine." He led a project team (code-named "Eagle") that competed with another team (code-named "Fountainhead") within the Data General organization. Most of the drama in Kidder's narrative is created by the in-house competition to design a next-generation computer that could not only compete with but in fact win out in direct competition with a new 32-bit minicomputer brought to market by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). At least initially, West's group was generally viewed as a back-up {"second string") project team. However, over time....

Also, Kidder brilliantly develops a tension between two quite opposite mindsets. One is expressed by West: "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well" and "If you can do a quick-and-dirty job and it works, do it." Predictably, the engineers strongly disagreed and objected strenuously to being rushed to produce what they were certain would be an inferior product. They refused to cut corners, accept compromises, etc. West understood their concerns and in a perfect world would have accommodated them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Jan. 2000
Format: Hardcover
Although Kidder writes about a team assembled over 20 years ago to design a piece of hardware, the observations he makes about the characters within the Eclipse Group are still valid for anyone involved in computer engineering on either the hardware and software side today, particularly those of us working in R&D-driven startups.
The technical details are presented in a style that might occasionally annoy hardcore techies, but the journalism -- and that's what's important about this book -- is incisive and insightful. The anecdotes and characters all ring true. This really is the first folk epic of computing.
One of the many pleasures of re-reading this superb book every few years is looking at the characters - archetypes almost - and seeing how they map onto one's current workplace. Without moving from my chair, I can point at our Steve Wallach, our Carl Alsing and our Josh Rosen. I work for our Dave Peck. I can point at the door of our Tom West's office. Me? Somewhere between Ken Holberger and Ed Rasala.
A book for all engineering obsessives and for those who have to work with and manage them.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. Keene-elliott on 15 April 2007
Format: Paperback
I read this when it first came out in paperback more than 20 years ago (I think the paperback version was in 1982). It was at a time when I was starting to get *really* interested in computers (I was in 3rd year at secondary school!). The turf war between the two groups within Data General, the dedication of the design team, the passion felt by the team for their design... all helped to convince me that I wanted to get into computing.

This book was the first book I ever bought from Amazon UK (in 2000), and the second book I ever purchased online (the first book was from Amazon US in 1999 because I got a voucher for money off!) - when I was looking for a treat for myself, I couldn't think of anything better.

It may be 25 years old and the world of computing may have changed beyond all recognition, but the struggles of the team designing Project Eagle (which became the Eclipse MV/8000, which I used at college and University!) is recognisable to anyone who works in the field, and most people outside of the field would also recognise the dedication of the team!

Definitely recommended!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read this book about 20 years ago and it changed my life - seriously. From then on in I knew I wanted to work in the computer industry. I'd not read it since, and was a little nervous of re-reading it. There was no need. Its as exciting and alarming as ever. There are very few good books on the IT industry. This is one of them. Go read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 May 2001
Format: Paperback
Computers may have moved on a lot since the time of Data General, DEC, etc, but the content is really timeless. It should be made compulsory reading for all budding computer engineers and project managers. It is also a good nostalgia kick for those who have been in the business a bit longer. I too was once a midnight programmer.
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