THE SOUL OF A NEW MACHINE by Tracy Kidder

THE SOUL OF A NEW MACHINE

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The design and building of a new, state-of-the-art, 32-bit minicomputer hardly seems the stuff of a gripping book--unless you've read the likes of, say, John McPhee. Kidder, who also transcends the technical, follows a team of Data General Corporation engineers through the year-long turmoil whereby one of the nation's most aggressive computer companies gets a new machine ""out the door."" En route, he says a great deal about America's computer industry; the engineering profession; and how fairly normal people cope with the intense pressure of pushing through an indescribably complex intellectual task--""far beyond what any one person can do""--under extraordinary time pressure. In mid-1978, Data General--a go-go Fortune 500 film--was lagging slightly in development of a 32-bit minicomputer; and corporate management decreed a crash program to get a new machine out: two crash programs, really (Kidder is excellent at showing the subtle nuances of intra-corporate rivalry), of which the ""Eagle"" project led by engineer Tom West emerged the front-runner. In an atmosphere of near frenzy, young engineers straight out of college were recruited for the hardware and microcode teams that would turn an unimaginably complicated abstract concept into a machine. The lure for the kids was the promise of actual design work, not the creature comforts; and they soon learned about ""signing up""--the often unverbalized commitment to carry through a project, regardless of what incidental havoc it wreaks on your life. After a while, the point of the project is as much to see what you're worth as to build ""the machine."" Kidder has a good feel for people and, equally important here, the ability to make a computer's internal workings relatively understandable to a nontechnical reader (though the text does bog down, occasionally, in Boolean algebra, instruction processors, system caches, and microsequencers). Anybody can plug-in.

Pub Date: Aug. 26th, 1981
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown