Two Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporters take on--and fumble- -the fascinating tale of how an archetypal nerd built a multibillion-dollar enterprise that sets the standards for PC/work- station software. In Accidental Empires (1991), Robert X. Cringely tells more in brief about William Henry Gates III (cofounder of Microsoft) and his game plan than the authors manage to do in an entire book. Wallace and Erickson do make a competent job of chronicling the dramatic rise of a quirky Harvard dropout whose technical/commercial genius coexists uneasily with an impatient, demanding, and ultracompetitive personality. They follow Gates from privileged youth at a Seattle prep school through his creation (at 19) with Paul Allen of the first computer language for PCs and beyond, to the establishment of Microsoft, which eventually made them billionaires. Along the way, the single-minded Gates, now 36, helped develop the computer operating system DOS, forged a since- ruptured alliance with IBM, and evidently became willing to do whatever it takes to keep Microsoft atop the programming heap. Among other consequences of his intimidating management style are lost friendships--and a potentially ruinous lawsuit, in which Apple seeks billions in damages for copyright infringement. But by focusing on Gates's less admirable idiosyncrasies and on anecdotal trivia, the authors miss much of the point of his empire-building ends and means. Nor, absent wider-angle perspectives on the fragmented software industry, do they convey with any real impact how Gates intends to parlay essentially mediocre technology into a perdurably dominant market position. While the authors supply many of the pieces missing from the public record, they don't quite have the whole story. A full account of Gates and his empire probably awaits someone like Cringely, with a firmer grasp on where PCs are taking the Global Village.