The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder: A Review

By posted at 8:17 am on February 8, 2006 1

coverThe “Machine” in the title of Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book from 1982 is a minicomputer, but for anyone reading it now, it might as well be a time machine. The Soul of a New Machine takes the reader back 27 years, but in terms of the technology that is central to the book, it feels like we’re going back eons. Kidder’s book, once a riveting look into a fast-growing and mysterious industry, now reads as history. Kidder’s subject is a team of engineers at a now gone company called Data General (it was bought out in 1999). Under the brash instruction of their leader, Tom West, the engineers set out to design a computer even though the head honchos at Data General have put their support and resources behind another group. West’s Eagle group – made up of young, brilliant engineers – comes out on top. Though this book is quite dated now, I enjoyed it for a couple of reasons. Computer technology is so commonplace now that it is a part of our landscape, both essential and taken for granted. It was interesting to look back to a time before we had computers on our desks and in our pockets, when computers were as mysterious and awe inspiring as putting a man on the moon. The book was also compelling as a collection of character studies and a treatise on business theory. Kidder does a good job of putting the reader in the basement of the office building where this computer was born. If you’re interested, an excerpt from the book is available.

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One Response to “The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder: A Review”

  1. Patrick
    at 3:32 pm on June 25, 2012

    I used to use this as a text in a technology class I taught back in the early 90’s. Where, I asked students, were the women? (There is a secretary who fetches coffee for the boys). And, more importantly, would women engineers have steered the resultant design in a different direction?

    Silence was the usual response.

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