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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on "computer culture" I've read.
I read this book a year ago when it first came out and loved it. I've re-read it just to enjoy Ellen Ullman's terrific writing. She is a GREAT writer.
Ellen Ullman uses her life in the fast lane to comment on parts of cyber-culture that we rarely talk about but ought to. It isn't political or technical. It's more social commentary.
Published on 10 Dec. 1998

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Badly flawed book has much good material
As a programmer, I liked the passages which described the anguish and meaning which are a well kkept secret in our line of work. But this is primarily a woman's book, and I am not a woman. Descriptions of Ms. Ullman's sexual preferences and exploits are, frankly, unwanted information as far as I am concerned, and make no mistake: These are the central issues of this...
Published on 8 Dec. 1997


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book on "computer culture" I've read., 10 Dec. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
I read this book a year ago when it first came out and loved it. I've re-read it just to enjoy Ellen Ullman's terrific writing. She is a GREAT writer.
Ellen Ullman uses her life in the fast lane to comment on parts of cyber-culture that we rarely talk about but ought to. It isn't political or technical. It's more social commentary.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Mandatory TechnoCulture Reading Ever, 27 May 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
My heart danced as I read this book. Although not jewish, bisexual, or female, and although not yet pushing forty myself, Ms. Ullman's work sang through the printed page: Yes! *This* is me! *This* is what I have never been able to convey to those in my life who are not technical people. Contrary to what seems to be the popular opinion, this book is not about sexuality, it is about the chasm between the social world and the abstract world of machine logic.
We, the programmers, cannot simultaneously interact according to the organic subtleties of human interaction and also according to the harsh clarity of the machine. In her sexuality and in her memories of her father, Ullman explores the moments of human contact.
If you are close to someone who programs computers, you should read Close to the Machine.
And that goes double, triple, if you are someone who programs computers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Buy this book now, 24 Nov. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
As I read this book I felt a keen sense of familiarity. I live this life as well, down to every detail but being Ellen Ullman. I've had the same experiences; the rush of programming on a great project, the hits and near misses on stock options, the empty cubicles, the rush of a new contract, the longing for the regularity of an old-fashioned company, etc. I also know first hand about the culture of the neighborhood she describes, since I too live in a loft down there, although I am married, male, and have a kid.
In fact, as I got my WSJ the other day, I saw hers stacked on top of mine. I have never met her, but because of the similarities in our lives as described in the excellent book, I do know that what she says is far far truer than any of the books that purport to tell everyone outside of the area about high tech here.

But the book resonates not because we're neighbors; her book is true, and well written. Two reasons enough to buy this book ASAP. Skip "Start-Up" and "Architects of the Web" (please). This is the real thing.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Important response to high-tech hyperbole., 19 Oct. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
Ellen Ullman provides a load of thoughful commentary on the nature of computer code and the professional class that writes it. Hers is a uniquely qualified voice in this realm, and she has a real talent for illustrating a highly arcane topic in ways that anyone can understand. From her observations about the environment in which software engineers operate and her descriptions of the effects it has on their personal and emotional lives emerges a troubling picture of an industry without roots, without long-term vision, without commitment. It is a lonely world of big money, scarce leisure time, high-powered connections and low-powered social lives. The perspective is middle-aged, the tone serious, the credentials of the author superb. This book is thoughfully written, nicely readable, highly useful to anyone who wants to acquire a broader context for understanding the impact of computing on daily life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brave author; interesting combination of history and present, 19 Feb. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
The descriptions of the seduction of computers were the first things I quoted to my engineer friends; each of us recognized at least one trait absolutely, cathartically.
Coupland can do that ( though not, I think, as well). Ullmann knocked me over with a sense of historical context analyzed with a nerd's eye - she's seen much of the 'new' before, and can recognize it, knows where it's likely to go. Pattern-matching works better when the matcher has more context to start with, and her life is a lot of context.
I suspect she could have made the book much more didactic and 'closed', but chose not to. I found it well worth rereading to pick up the parallels between the different stories she tells, and the cross-implications, but it's subtler than the current run of techno-prognostications.
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4.0 out of 5 stars faceless programmers come to life, 6 April 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
Women who have something sly and penetrating to say about a mid-level working life in the American systems society are a rarity.That's clearly why this clever book got thumbs up from the people who promote the value-added virtue of cyberspace.But," Close to the Machine " is also a valuable historical rarity. It sketches the journey of a mid-50s woman from a belief in American-style communism to a contemporary life servicing the wealth-creation businesses of venture capitalism.If you want to get a keen woman's take on an era in which trade unionism collapsed to be replaced by "outsourcing" and network computer systems that embrace everyone, read this book.The male version has yet to see the light of day.
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4.0 out of 5 stars good bits but doesn't cohere, 8 Dec. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
I bought this book on the strength of some excellent excerpts that appeared on the web (in Salon). These were insightful and entertaining meditiations on the life of a programmer, what it's like to get close to the reality of a developing system. However, the rest of the book turned out to be mostly chapters from the author's life and just weren't all that interesting, or when they were, did not go anywhere (her relationship with a young cypherpunk had a lot of possibilities, but both the relatiohship and the writing about it just sort of petered out). Worth reading, but somewhat of a letdown.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not so much cyberspace as personal space, but recommended., 25 Feb. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
Ellen Ullman's very personal story of her life as a bisexual woman
and as a woman in a field (still) dominated by men is a good read.
She writes about the love and fascination with computer technology
which many of us share, the loss of a rather distant parent,
which many of us have suffered, and the life of a somewhat lonely
person, which many of us are.
The technology is not overwhelming, the personal story is more than
a little too revealing, but it all works.
I highly recommend 'Close to the Machine'
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Meditation on Programming Versus Life, 14 Mar. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
Anyone who's ever tinkered with programming knows that the most difficult part is reducing the "real world" to machine-readable variables.
Ellen Ullman's wonderful book is a meditation on life, love, the human condition and how it's always messier than a good program. She wishes her life was more like a good COBOL routine.
It's entertaining and you'll learn a lot about subroutines and anarchocapitalism and "creating wealth" in these Microsoft greed years.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By a geek for the geeks, 7 Dec. 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents (Paperback)
This is a beautiful book, written by someone who not only understands how to work computers, but understands how the computer is working on her -- the seduction of the machine, the impact it has on her life, and the compromises she has to make around her choices.
The basic problem is that this book is probably completely incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't see computers in the same way. Ullman's commentary is all about the same subject: not about computers, but about people, and the kinds of people who are attracted and subverted by technology. If you're not a geek, you'll probably be mystified. If you are, you'll be riveted.
This is probably the same reason why I fall asleep reading the New Yorker, only in reverse.
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Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents
Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman (Paperback - 27 Oct. 1997)
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