The Soul of a New Machine Book Summary - The Soul of a New Machine Book explained in key points

The Soul of a New Machine summary

Tracy Kidder

Innovation, intrigue, and invention: uncover computer culture's roots

4 (14 ratings)
13 mins

Brief summary

"The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder is a non-fiction book that chronicles the development of a new mini-computer by a team of engineers at Data General Corporation in the late 1970s. It provides insight into the complex interplay between innovation and competition in the tech industry.

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    The Soul of a New Machine
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    Data General was a fast-growing, no-frills computer company under pressure to design a new kind of minicomputer.

    In the late 1970s, a few so-called “minicomputer” companies were in fierce competition with one another. (Back then, “minicomputer” meant a device costing under $25,000, that could just aboutfit into an elevator.) The biggest player was a company called DEC, with a circa 85% share of the market.

    One company in particular, based in Westborough, Massachusetts, was notorious for its brutally competitive and stingy ways. That company was Data General. It had been founded about ten years earlier by the current president Ed De Castro, who had jumped ship from competitor DEC.

    From the outset, Data General was focused strictly on profits, with little ostentation: even their headquarters was a bleak, concrete fort.

    The company’s practices were infamous in the industry; even competitors warned customers about these dangerous newcomers, which of course only generated more buzz for the company. There was even a rumor that Data General had torched a competitor’s factory.

    But Data General did indeed make money, generating 20% profits, year after year, until its revenue eventually grew to a whopping $508 million and the company found itself in 500th place on the Fortune 500.

    It was around this time that competitors such as DEC were coming out with a new kind of computer – the “supermini” –  and everyone wanted  one. DEC’s new VAX 11/780 machine was considered a breakthrough in this burgeoning industry, and Data General – learning that the market was set to be worth several billion dollars in just a few years – decided it needed to build an “answer” to the VAX.

    To this end, Tom West, an engineering Vice President at Data General, bought and took apart the VAX machine. After examining it closely, he decided Data General could do better.

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    What is The Soul of a New Machine about?

    The Soul of a New Machine (1981) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about one team at the computer company Data General who was determined to put its company back on the map by producing a new superminicomputer. With very few resources and under immense pressure, the team pulls together to produce a completely new kind of computer.

    The Soul of a New Machine Review

    The Soul of a New Machine (1981) by Tracy Kidder is a fascinating exploration of the world of computer engineering. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its insider perspective, it offers a captivating glimpse into the intense world of designing and building a new computer.
    • Through its detailed narrative and engaging storytelling, it brings the technical challenges to life, making it accessible even to non-tech enthusiasts.
    • The book's intimate portrayal of the engineers' passion, dedication, and struggles creates a rich human drama that keeps readers invested from start to finish.

    Who should read The Soul of a New Machine?

    • Anyone interested in the history of the computer industry
    • Anyone interested in the the birth of the tech start-up working culture
    • Anyone interested in effective (but mean) management techniques

    About the Author

    Tracy Kidder is a literary journalist who has won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Soul of a New Machine. He attended Harvard University, where he switched his major from political science to English.

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    The Soul of a New Machine FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Soul of a New Machine?

    The main message of The Soul of a New Machine is the intense and high-pressure world of computer engineering and the pursuit of innovation.

    How long does it take to read The Soul of a New Machine?

    The reading time for The Soul of a New Machine varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Soul of a New Machine a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Soul of a New Machine is a captivating read for anyone interested in technology and the human aspect of innovation. It offers a unique and insightful perspective. Worth it!

    Who is the author of The Soul of a New Machine?

    The author of The Soul of a New Machine is Tracy Kidder.