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on 18 August 2012
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. He could have become the ultimate sports mogul, but he's involved in every other project and distraction that comes his way. While Donald Trump wrote The Art of the Deal, Allen works hard on what seems to be the Fart of the Deal, and gamely recounts some of the exceedingly smelly and disastrous investments he made during the Internet years. One bad deal alone cost him $8 billion, while he admits in print that selling too quickly out of AOL cost him $40 billion. It must have been hard writing that sentence.
Allen lives in a different financial stratosphere to everyone except about a handful of individuals on the planet. He splurges cash everywhere. He sees his childhood cinema going to the dogs, so he just buys it and does it up. He liked Hendrix as a youth, so he basically buys everything from guitars to underpants that the man owned and then builds a museum to house them in. He builds a rocket to the moon. After a while, you really begin to think that Gates' philanthropy is an infinitely better deal. Eventually, and maybe inevitably, we get to his charitable work, but he skims over it really, in the same way he does with his battles with his health. The book leaves you with the feeling that Allen knows the clock is ticking and that he has so much to do. His wealth affords him boundless opportunities but, if you haven't got your health....
This was a very readable autobiography, a book of two halves maybe, but it always kept my interest.
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on 11 May 2011
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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on 26 August 2011
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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on 10 June 2014
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 remaining life since Microsoft.

I bought the book partly because I'm interested in software, partly in other peoples life stories.

I wasn't disappointed. I learned a lot on the history side because everybody has heard of bill gates, less so of Paul. Very interesting to hear his angle!
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on 7 September 2013
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. the start of the book for 50-80 pages is quiet interesting all about the early days in computing and Microsoft. But then it also covers all of Paul's activities after Microsoft which i wasn't too happy with as it was all just him selling himself.. You didn't see much about his failures or regrets etc.. but the end of the book got back to computing and end ok.
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on 18 November 2012
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 things about how it works and what drives them. Paul Allen seems to have very little knowledge of what happened in Redmond after leaving the firm, so while I gained some insight into the early days, there really wasn't much about it after he left. Instead we get a lot about Paul Allen's charitable work, while important and certainly beneficial to those receiving largesse from him, it does bring down the reading experience. He has also been through some mildly malevolent medical scares, so if you are into billionaire sob stories you might even consider a fifth star.
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on 25 November 2015
A definate read to understand how Microsoft got to be what it is and the stresses and strains of getting their.
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on 20 March 2013
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
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on 3 June 2015
Excellent read. Paul Allen is clearly a unique breed of person who has not let wealth obscure his drive to improve himself and his chosen areas. A real 'what if' thinker.
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on 12 December 2016
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