A quirky, parochial appreciation of the widening world of microelectronics from a workbench-wise boffin and tech writer, which complements the wider-angle perspectives of Michael Malone's The Big Score (p. 632). While Mims lacks formal training as an engineer, he has compiled a remarkable record in high-tech ventures. An enthusiastic tinkerer since boyhood, the author conducted do-it-yourself rocket launches while serving as an intelligence officer in Vietnam; his missile moonlighting landed him an assignment at the prestigious Air Force Weapons Lab in New Mexico, where he worked on lasers. While still in the military, Mims joined forces with three kindred spirits in 1969 to build kits for model rocket buffs. Their fledgling firm (named MITS Inc. in hopes of establishing a subliminal link to a similarly named engineering school in Massachusetts) limped along until 1974; that year, the sole remaining founder (Ed Roberts) saw the commercial possibilities of Intel's pioneering microprocesser circuit and designed the first personal computer. Sold in kit form for $397, the Altair 8800 was an immediate success and created a multibillion-dollar market. Although Mires was directly involved in the Altair's development, he had sold his MITS stock to Roberts to concentrate on tech writing; consequently, he did not share in the spoils when his erstwhile partner was paid $6 million for the company in 1977. If this lost opportunity caused the author any lasting pain, it's not apparent. In the event, he moved on to further adventures, all more or less related to advances in solid-state technology. On one occasion, The National Enquirer retained him to eavesdrop on Howard Hughes by reflecting a laser beam from his window. On another, Mires fought and won a protracted legal battle with Bell Labs over rights to a fiber-optic device with significant applications potential in telephony. In the meantime, he has produced scores of circuit and systems books for Radio Shack customers as well as countless magazine articles. In recounting his offbeat odyssey, Mims offers short courses on the fundamentals of semiconductor chips, minicomputers, software, and allied items, which make the typically exotic state of the art comprehensible to novices. The yarns are the thing, though, in this engaging, fast-paced tour of the electronics industry's grass roots.