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.
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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.
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-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.