Regular readers are likely aware of Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Soul of a New Machine, an inside look at the experience of a team of Data General engineers racing to design a next-generation minicomputer back in the 1970s. It’s an fascinating and highly enjoyable read that set me searching for similar, up-close looks at the genesis stories of the various microcomputers that I know and loved in my youth.
Books of the sort, as well as more general computing historicals that I can recommend, follow in no particular order.
- Dealers of Lightning: Xero PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age by Michael A. Hiltzik — A close look at the creation of so many key computing technologies that sprang from a little research lab set in the hills of Palo Alto, back in the 1970s.
- The Little Kingdom by Michael Moritz — An inside look at Apple in the early ’80s, very similar in style to Kidder’s work.
- On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore by Brian Bagnall — A behind-the-scenes look at the creation stories of Commodore computers, from the PET to the Amiga.
- Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Herzfeld — A series of short anecdotes that together provide an interesting look at how the Macintosh came to be.
- CoCo: The Colorful History of Tandy’s Underdog Computer by Boisy Pitre and Bill Loguidice — An in-depth look at the home computer a Fort Worth leather company brought to market, and the community that rallied around it.
- Defying Gravity: The Making of Newton by Markos Kounalakis and Doug Menuez (photographer) — A look at the creation of the Apple Newton, full of engineering anecdotes as well as lavish photography that helps convey the experience.
- Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything by Steven Levy — The author’s account of his first experiences with the prototype Macintosh and a look at its first 10 years.
- Revolutionaries at Sony: The Making Of The Sony Play Station And The Visionaries Who Conquered The World Of Video Games by Reiji Asakura — The genesis story of the Sony Playstation.
- The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon–The Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World by Steven L. Kent — A rather detailed look at the pinball and early arcade and home console video game scene, and the companies behind it.
- Steve Jobs & The NeXT Big Thing by Randall E. Stross — A look at Steve Jobs’ creation of NeXT Computer after his ousting from Apple in 1985. The book provides a detailed look at the company but, interestingly, was published in 1993, before NeXT took over Apple and NEXTSTEP became Mac OS X.
- Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner — A detailed account of the creation of the Internet, beginning in the 1960s with J.C.R. Licklider and his DARPA team, on through to the modern Internet we use every day.
- Inside the Machine: An Illustrated Introduction to Microprocessors and Computer Architecture by Jon Stokes — A comparative look at the evolution of the Intel Pentium Pro (P6) and IBM PowerPC microarchitectures from then to now.
- The Second Coming of Steve Jobs by Alan Deutschman — A detailed look at Steve Jobs and NeXT’s takeover of Apple and the biggest turnaround in business history that resulted.
- The Race for a New Game Machine: Creating the Chips Inside the XBox 360 and the Playstation 3 by David Shippy and Mickie Phipps — The story of the creation of the processor that powers Sony and Microsoft’s seventh-generation game consoles, told by the team leader inside IBM. (Not so vintage, but extremely interesting.)
- Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner — A look at the Johns Carmack and Romero and the story of the games they created, from the Commander Keen days to Doom, Quake, and beyond.
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson — The highly acclaimed bio gets us closer to Jobs the man, while taking a detailed look Apple’s history (and NeXT’s) and the formative days of Silicon Valley.
- The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder — An inside look at the experience of a team of Data General engineers racing to design a next-generation minicomputer back in the 1970s.
* While the list above is indeed Apple / Steve Jobs-heavy, Apple has endured while most of its early contemporaries have not. That fact, along with Jobs’ history and notorious personality, have attracted much attention from authors over the years. I feel it’s worth mentioning that most (if not all) of the titles dealing with Apple give a wider glimpse of the industry at the time, as well, which those not particularly interested in Apple may still find worth a look.