You are here: Kaedrin > Stuff > Books > The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine
by Tracy Kidder

Overall: 9
Readability: 7
Intelligence: 9

This book follows the true story of the Data General Corporation's feverish efforts to create a new computer to compete with the 32 bit VAX. The way is rocky, and there are many failures and successes, but those who worked on this computer were dedicated, competitive and inventive. This isn't exactly edge of your seat reading, but it is fascinating material. Kidder puts a storyteller's spin on technology that seems almost poetic, yet he does not leave out any of the complex technical details. As a computer engineer, I was particularly fascinated with this book. I found myself immersed in this novel, as if reading tales of a fantasy world like Middle Earth. Other novels of its kind, like The Perfect Storm and The Hot Zone (both of which are excellent), lack the narrative drive and natural progression of The Soul of a New Machine. Even the characterization of the books main players, particularly Tom West, was excellently done. The most interesting characters, however, proved to be Coke and Gollum, the prototypes of the new computer. The devotion of the engineers who worked on Coke and Gollum was unparalleled; almost insane. The engineers who "signed up" to work on this computer basically devoted their entire life to get it working. This sort of total commitment is alarming, and it is all too common an occurrance in today's society. In the end, I felt sad for the engineers, but I also felt their sense of accomplishment and pride in what they created. I also saw why computers have so many bugs in them. An eye opening look into the early computer industry from all angles. The book is a bit dated as computers go (this is circa 1980 here), but still very relevant.

Links: Buy it here!

Page 194 - The first step in fixing something is getting it to break.
Page 279 - Tom West: "That's the bear trap, your greatest vice. Your job. You can justify just about any behaviour with it. Maybe thats why you do it, so you don't have to deal with all those other problems"

Copyright © 1999 - 2005 by Mark Ciocco.
No part of this page may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission.