HackerNews Readings
40,000 HackerNews book recommendations identified using NLP and deep learning

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The Soul of A New Machine

Tracy Kidder

4.6 on Amazon

177 HN comments

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series)

Christopher Alexander , Sara Ishikawa , et al.

4.7 on Amazon

176 HN comments

Meditations: A New Translation

Marcus Aurelius and Gregory Hays

4.8 on Amazon

172 HN comments

The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

Clayton M. Christensen, L.J. Ganser, et al.

4.5 on Amazon

168 HN comments

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy

Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

4.6 on Amazon

166 HN comments

Infinite Jest: Part I With a Foreword by Dave Eggers

Sean Pratt, David Foster Wallace, et al.

4.3 on Amazon

166 HN comments

The Elements of Style: Annotated Edition

William Strunk Jr. and James McGill

4.7 on Amazon

155 HN comments

Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell

4.7 on Amazon

152 HN comments

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

William B. Irvine

4.6 on Amazon

151 HN comments

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Neil Postman and Andrew Postman

4.6 on Amazon

151 HN comments

Stranger in a Strange Land

Robert A. Heinlein, Christopher Hurt, et al.

4.4 on Amazon

151 HN comments

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Joe Ochman, et al.

4.5 on Amazon

150 HN comments

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Charles Duhigg, Mike Chamberlain, et al.

4.6 on Amazon

149 HN comments

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Jonathan Haidt and Gildan Media, LLC

4.6 on Amazon

144 HN comments

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

Roger Fisher , William L. Ury, et al.

4.6 on Amazon

143 HN comments

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kristopolousonMay 28, 2021

The book is pretty great. I'll put it with "The soul of a new machine", Ferguson's "Computer Wars" and Lapsley's "Exploding the phone" as top narrative tech books.

fmajidonSep 21, 2020

Reminds me of the hardware engineer in Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine who burns out and resigns with:

> I'm going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.

fmajidonFeb 17, 2019

This is the legendary Tom West from Tracy Kidder’s “Soul of a New Machine

mrweaselonMay 9, 2018

The Soul of a New Machine is a wonderful book. I don't think it helped me career-wise, but it's an absolute joy to read.

codeboltonDec 21, 2019

The Soul of a New Machine was a fascinating listen.

mianosonApr 4, 2020

No one said TLDR this article, ever. This account has all the components of great book. It reminds me of 'The Soul of a New Machine'.

javiramosonAug 28, 2018

House looks like a fantastic book!

Tracy Kidder is also the author of The Soul of a New Machine for which he won a Pulitzer. One of my all-time favorites.

jfrdonSep 16, 2019

I read Cuckoo’s Egg and also liked “The Soul of a New Machine”, “SkunkWorks”, and “The Making of the Atomic Bomb”.

PhantomGremlinonNov 3, 2014

It's not just computer nerds who thought that The Soul of a New Machine was a great book. Tracy Kidder received the Pulitzer Prize for it.

But that Eclipse picture is boring. Here's how a computer should look. :)

joaomacponMar 27, 2020

+1 on "The Soul of a New Machine": it's one of the most mentioned computer history books, and inspired the great "Halt and Catch Fire" TV series.

gallego2007onMar 27, 2020

The Soul of a New Machine is a great read! Highly recommended.

cschmidtonApr 18, 2020

The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder is fantastic. The story of developing a Data General mini-computer.


kkenonFeb 9, 2013

Nice article. I immediately had to think about "The soul of a New Machine" ... Different times, but this is pretty much how a start up works today.


vram22onApr 2, 2017

>I also like The Soul of a New Machine

Me too. Fascinating read. I still remember the part where one of them compares their work to the pinball game - where the reward for winning is that you get to play again.

thundergolferonJuly 2, 2020

Technopoly ought to be considered in that group of books held as 'mandatory reading', alongside 'Mythical Man Month', 'Clean Code', and 'The Soul of a New Machine'.

leoconAug 22, 2017

The Soul of a New Machine gives a very good depiction of the moral ambiguities of that crusading spirit in the context of (most) computer-industry work.

michael_dorfmanonJuly 17, 2009

You missed the absolute best of the genre: The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder. It's a single case study, but told in such loving detail as to be Pulitzer-worthy.

Also, there's a lot of good primary source material
in "Programmers At Work", by Susan Lammers.

khendrononApr 18, 2021

Interesting write up. The whole article, with its stressed out overtime, inter-team fighting, and testing the computer using a game reminded me of "The Soul of a New Machine", which is a great read for anybody who hasn't read it.

mrongeonNov 27, 2010

I second The Soul of A New Machine, what an incredible book.

It follows a team of engineers at Data General around 1980 as they race to build a new computer under incredible pressure.
It's an incredible story and anyone who has worked on a tightly knit team under high pressure will relate.

russhonJune 14, 2018

"The soul of a new machine" is one of most interesting books I've ever read.

bertheonJune 17, 2018

The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder


It's mostly about the development of the Data General Nova computer. It's mostly about (80s) hardware engineering, but there's some software stuff too, IIRC.

sqldbaonNov 28, 2016

Wish there was a good book about the history of crays. It's the kind of thing you hear talked about but are unlikely to ever see.

Mainframes in general too.

I'm currently listening to Soul of a New Machine.

tkdc926onMar 31, 2019

Here's another interesting read in a similar vein... "The Soul of a New Machine", a Pulitzer Prize winning book about the creation of a new computer at Data General Corporation.


msieonFeb 24, 2009

I love that story too! Can anyone point me to a collection of stories like that? I have read "Hackers..." by Levy and "The Soul of a New Machine" by Kidder.

greenyodaonApr 14, 2019

Show Stopper is a wonderful book if you're interested in the historical development of large systems. It's second only to The Soul of a New Machine. I highly recommend it.


jamesbrittonMay 22, 2011

Wow. Sad. That book, The Soul of a New Machine, and Tom West's story, was what made me decide to go to college for real to study EE.

I ended up switching to CS but that's incidental; my eyes had been opened to endless possibility.

matfilonMay 21, 2019

It's a tough question, and I think depends a lot on what you're looking for.

For the specific case of work ethic in the sense of committing deeply to projects you believe in, then I'd point you towards "The Soul of a New Machine".

But I'm sure others see it completely different.

hcrisponSep 27, 2018

In my "History of Technology" course in college we read, "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder. More of a journalist's history of how a team built a new computer.

felixconJuly 18, 2015

Another similar example is Tracy Kidder (a writer, not an anthropologist) being embedded with a team at Data General, resulting in the fantastic book "The Soul of a New Machine". I can't recommend it enough. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine

tlrobinsononNov 17, 2008

Slightly off topic, but "The Soul of a New Machine" was a pretty good book.

corywilkersononJan 4, 2011

"Microserfs" was an interesting read 10 years ago, I'm unsure how it would read today.

A non-fiction recommendation that reads like fiction: "The Soul of a New Machine".

pbh101onApr 19, 2020

The Cuckoo’s Egg, Cliff Stoll

Dreaming in code, Scott Rosenberg

The Information: A history, a theory, a flood, James Gleick

Turing’s Cathedral, Dyson

The longitude prize, Joan Dash (for kids)

Soul of a new machine, Tracy Kidder

jlconJune 18, 2021

Off the top of my head:

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by D.F. Wallace

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

Anything by John McPhee

Edit: formatting

kickonDec 2, 2019

This post title is a reference to The Soul of a New Machine, which both Cantrill and Frazelle have written posts on:



kpsonSep 21, 2020

“I'm going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.” — Tom West quoted in Tracy Kidder The Soul of a New Machine

teddyhonSep 21, 2020

I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season.

— Josh Rosen in The Soul of a New Machine

gpczonNov 6, 2018

In "The Soul of a New Machine," there is an engineer who spends months debugging nanosecond-level glitches in their new CPU, snaps, and runs away after leaving a note: "I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season."

exolymphonNov 26, 2016

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. In general, books about the ups and downs of a particular business are better than books about business in general. That said, The Personal MBA is a good primer on the basic concepts of microeconomics. Just in case anyone reading this thread could use that!

samatmanonMay 19, 2021

Just as a random tangent from a great story, the Data General Eclipse was the machine designed and built in Tracy Kidder's excellent book The Soul of a New Machine.

Really fantastic book for anyone interested in the history of computers, captures its moment in time perfectly and won a Pulitzer for it. If you liked Halt and Catch Fire you'll love it.

comatose_kidonJuly 10, 2008

On this list, I've read the following:

Hackers & Painters

The Design of Everyday Things

The Soul of a New Machine

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who...

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

All were great books, so I should probably add the others to my 'read this' list.

djhworldonMar 27, 2020

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution ~ Steven Levy

The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder

catacombsonJune 7, 2020

Here's one for fiction: The Soul of a New Machine dives heavily into the production of a computer by team of engineers in the 1980s. The book doesn't deal with a startup but a large company.

ZevonDec 6, 2012

I'd highly recommend The Soul of a New Machine as well.

It definitely fits your quest for capturing a real moment, and anyone who's been an engineer for a any amount of time can go "Oh. I totally know that feeling" after reading any section of it.

joezydecoonMar 1, 2011

The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder.

To me, a kid in junior high school at the time, it was an introduction, an inspiration...and a warning about how thrilling programming and computers could be while at the same time driving you completely insane.

neffyonJan 4, 2016

The Psychology of Computer Programming. Gerald M. Weinberg 1971


The Soul of a New Machine Tracy Kidder 1981

ought to be required reading for anybody in tech.

segfaultbuserronJune 10, 2019

I recommend reading The Soul of A New Machine.

warfangleonMay 16, 2014

The Soul of a New Machine. Fascinating documentation of Data General's development of the 32-bit Eclipse machine. Sorta programming, sorta hardware... back when the two were more tightly integrated.

dasmothonDec 14, 2017

I’d add “The Soul of a New Machine” by Tracy Kidder.

cmseftononMar 28, 2020

Curious why you labelled The Soul of a New Machine as fiction? It's a non-fiction book by Tracy Kidder and I highly recommend it. A really fantastic piece of work I think anyone in our industry should read, great insights into teams, burnout, our culture, managing, software development etc. There are online versions of it if you Google.

mianosonApr 4, 2020

The Soul Of a New Machine is a book that seemed similar to me. A non-fiction story about the creation of a computer.

leoconApr 12, 2015

A North Carolina relocation is a large part of the story in The Soul of a New Machine.

leobuenoonMar 27, 2017

Both are great books. Influence helps me a lot to deal with my 3 year old. Should be on the parenting section on bookstores.

I also like The Soul of a New Machine, The Prince, The Art of War and On Human Nature.

dasmothonMay 22, 2018

It’s got a little bit of tech, but I can’t recommend “The Soul of a New Machine” (Tracy Kidder) highly enough.

jacalataonMay 15, 2016

The Soul of a New Machine, about building the first Data General machines.

pasbesoinonJan 4, 2012

The Mythical Man Month

The Soul of a New Machine (hardware; nonetheless pertinent, if dated -- was a best-seller)

tux1968onNov 15, 2017

If you haven't read The Soul of a New Machine, which
chronicles the creation of one new Data General machine,
it's well worth picking up a copy.


jacquesmonAug 8, 2009

3) The Soul of a new Machine, Tracy Kidder.

3) Neal Stephensons wired article on laying fibre optic cable across the globe: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.12/ffglass_pr.html

mike463onApr 25, 2009

The adolescence of p-1, Thomas Ryan
The soul of a new machine, by tracy kidder
Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

hermanschaafonFeb 9, 2019

Although I haven't read Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine", Google categorizes it as Biography, so if you buy that then by the rule of thumb it would not be off limits. And thanks, I have added it to my to-read list!

auxbussonApr 21, 2018

I'm reminded of The Soul of a New Machine[0] by Tracy Kidder. Essential reading, even today.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7090.The_Soul_of_a_New_M...

curtisonMay 14, 2009

Mountains Beyond Mountains is the only other Kidder book I've read. It's certainly worth a read, but it's a really different book from Soul of a New Machine, just by subject matter if nothing else.

sudobearonJuly 30, 2011

The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder

teh_klevonNov 27, 2014

I would agree, not read my copy for a very long time but it's very enjoyable. I think I read it at around the same time as I last read "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder, also a worthwhile read for some of the younger HN'ers who missed out on that era.

brunoconMar 29, 2011

Or read The Soul of a New Machine.

JamieEionJan 19, 2010

Coders at Work was very inspiring to me and also gave me the functional programming bug. It seemed like every one of the legends interviewed had something nice to say about Haskell (deserved IMO).

Founders at Work is also great but in some ways more of a business book. If you want to do a startup it is incredibly inspirational.

Another oldie but goodie is Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New Machine.

ArnoVWonApr 18, 2021

Excellent read, but not only for the bonus part. If anyone else enjoyed it for the EE / computer engineering part, I recomment The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder.

He followed, in a sort of embedded way, a team of Data General computer engineers in the late 70's, as they went through a death march to produce a 32-bit micro. Sort of like this blog post, but the book got a pullitzer.


empath75onJune 14, 2018

Her dad was also the subject of the book: ‘the soul of a new machine

renshawonApr 29, 2008

"The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder.

matfilonFeb 11, 2018

"The Soul of a New Machine", by Tracy Kidder. Solving hard problems, dealing with (and balancing) both technical and business concerns, but with emphasis on getting things done over process and organisational concerns.

dnsworksonDec 31, 2009

Tracy Kidder (Soul Of A New Machine) wrote a fantastic book about some of the epidemiologists who have been working for the past few decades on the problem, but from the POV of a sociologist. The book is "Mountains Beyond Mountains", and mainly focuses on Paul Farmer from Partners In Health.

pmiller2onAug 11, 2020

I vaguely recall reading Soul of a New Machine years ago, but I don't recall there being a lot of SWE lessons in it. Maybe it was because I read it so long ago. Mind sharing a few things you got from this book?

squeaky-cleanonSep 26, 2019

Anecdotally this is true for me. I used to buy kindle books frequently, now I rarely do because costs have gone up and paperbacks are often cheaper.

Going through my email order history also confirms this to be true (in my case) except for programming ebooks. Prices listed for my purchases are kindle prices in USD. I can't lookup the paperback price on my day of purchase but it would be higher otherwise I wouldn't buy the ebook.

May 2015 I bought The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy (book 1) for 4.99. Today kindle is 7.99 and paperback is 7.99 (also the ultimate edition paperback with all 5 in the series is 13.31)

May 2015 I bought The Intelligent Investor Revised for 13.99. Today kindle is 16.99 and paperback is 12.39

Jun 2015 I bought Mistborn: the Final Empire for 4.99. Today kindle is 8.99 and paperback is 8.92.

Jun 2015 I bought Soul of a New Machine for 9.99. Today kindle is 9.99 and paperback is 9.79

Aug 2015 I bought Snow Crash for $7.68. Today kindle is 13.99 and paperback is 13.15

And I can keep going but I think you all get the point.

cafardonMar 11, 2016

Years after encountering this in Chesterton, I read The Soul of a New Machine, and found Tom West quoted as saying "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well." I don't know whether he had read Chesterton or whether he simply made an obvious additional turn on a turn of phrase.

michaelhalliganonMay 25, 2011

RIP Tom, thanks for being an inspiration to me as a very young child. Soul Of A New Machine had a place on my father's bookshelf right next to The C Programming language. I might not work in the industry today if I hadn't been so stricken by Kidder's description of your work ethic.

increscentonJan 9, 2020

Yes, The Soul of a New Machine is well worth the read!

cafardonJan 21, 2016

In The Soul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder writes that the lawyer who helped the engineers start Data General made them take out a million each, to let them work with the fear of having to move back in with their parents. (Quoted from memory.)

LarryAonMay 28, 2011

I do a lot of Computer History- Soul of a New Machine, Hackers, Fire in the Valley, Commodore - A Company on the Edge. I go to used book stores and check out the pre-PC computer books... here's a great one: The Psychology of Computer Programming from 1972 that really is interesting (most of it still applies today).

FelipeCortezonDec 6, 2020

Not exactly what you’re looking for, but Elements of Typographic Style is an excellent introduction to typography written with so much passion it makes you want to become a typographer.

We’re mostly programmers here, but The Soul of a New Machine describes the creation of a computer, which is not something people do a lot these days. Fascinating stuff

angersockonFeb 11, 2015

The phonebook, because it has customers and your competition.

Nothing has helped me grow more than actually running a startup a couple of times.

If you're just looking for startup-themed books, I'd honestly suggest Masters of Doom, Dreaming in Code, and Soul of a New Machine.

Lean Startup if you're feeling trendy.

steveklabnikonDec 31, 2009

Have you read The Soul of a New Machine? It sounds like something you'd really like.

filereaperonJune 9, 2016

Since we're going into the history of Windows NT, VMS and Dave Cutler. I'd like to highlight this classic book on the history of all three of the above[1]

It follows the same line of narrative as The Soul of a New Machine

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Showstopper-Breakneck-Windows-Generat...

mindcrimeonJan 4, 2019

If you like thrillers with a geeky edge to them, you might like Zero Sum Game by S.L Huang. Some review I read described the protagonist of the story as "the geek's Jack Reacher". Pretty good analogy, IMO.

If you want non-fiction, maybe try Dreaming In Code. Or if you haven't read it before, how about *The Soul of a New Machine"?

grkvltonJuly 7, 2015

"The Soul of a New Machine" is an excellent book. It is about the creation of the first 32 bit minicomputer hardware, complete with descriptions of ADVENTURE (aka Colossal Cave) and the "Maze of twisty passages all alike" and memorable lines such as "I am going to a commune in Vermont, and will deal with no time period shorter than a season" said after much work on gate delays and intstruction timing iassues...

mindcrimeonDec 20, 2010

I don't necessarily know of any one book that meets all of your friends requirements, but...

Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine might be good for your friend.


Another good option might be Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold.


Or, how about Coders at Work?


Another one that I have (but haven't had time to read yet) is Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software by Scott Rosenberg. It might have something that your friend would find interesting.


Another one that may be inspirational, although it's more about personalities than computer science per-se, would be Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.


dublinonJuly 7, 2020

Some good suggestions (and a couple I'll have to read...) I'd add the following:

8. "The Mythical Man-Month" by Fred Brooks (still, IMO, one of the best management books ever, esp. for software and product development.)

9. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
by Robert Coram (OODA is the true core of agile thinking, and it works pretty much everywhere.)

For software and computers specifically, add:

10. Computer Lib/Dream Machines by Ted Nelson (Impossible to categorize - it's a hypertext book for crying out loud - but browsing it can change your thinking.)

11. The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. (Good for new products in general.)

And for general management and leadership inspiration, two great autobiographies:

12. Mover of Men and Mountains, by R.G. Le Tourneau.

13. Rickenbacker, by Eddie Rickenbacker.

feydaykynonMar 9, 2021

Here are two great books on the topic:
- xerox dealer of lightning, about PARC: https://archive.org/details/dealersoflightni00hilt
- fire in the valley, about the development of personal computers : https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1427580.Fire_in_the_Vall...

My personal favorite is The soul of a new machine, an account of a team trying to create a new computer : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine

ctdonathonJuly 5, 2012

He went away from the basement and left this note on his terminal: "I'm going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season." - Tracy Kidder, "The Soul of a New Machine"

mtVesselonFeb 8, 2019

Tracy Kidder was the immediate counterpoint that came to my mind, as well. "The Soul of a New Machine" probably is (or should be) on every HNer's bookshelf. "Mountains Beyond Mountains" was also a fascinating read about an entirely different subject -- a doctor's humanitarian work.

Also agree that Goodreads reviews require a healthy dose of caveat lector.

ljw1001onNov 20, 2016

Neither of these is exactly what you asked for, but both are awesome in their own way, and both are (narrow and somewhat dated) histories:

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy.

The Pulitzer Prize Winning) The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder. The second one literally changed my life in leading me to computers.



pcprincipalonMay 9, 2018

Some I haven't seen mentioned here:

1. Coders at Work

Peter Seibel does an amazing job of asking programmers questions that make them explain their methodology. The interview with Donald Knuth is awesome; really enjoyed hearing him talk about literate programming.

2. The Soul of a New Machine

Tracy Kidder's 1981 Pulitzer Prize winner I think is a brilliant case study on how engineers work together and the things that can go wrong and right with different personalities interacting with highly technical ideas. The project in this book starts without the consent of management, which to me shows the value of questioning the system to add business / engineering value.

3. Little Schemer

Small book that will give your brain a serious workout and show you how to problem solve with Lisp like languages. Even if you never end up using a Lisp dialect, this book expands your brain.

I have more here, all of which I recommend for software and other careers http://benbrostoff.github.io/books/

elevensiesonJuly 27, 2016

Sure, here are my top picks:

Interesting Story

- Soul of a new machine

- Hackers by Levy

- Masters of Doom

Lots of interesting information, not so compelling as a narrative:

- Open: How Compaq Ended IBM's PC Domination

- Elon Musk (bio by Vance)

- Softwar (Larry Ellison)

Related to tech, but not really tech:

- The Decipherment of Linear B

- Oglivy on Adviertising

- The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

hydandataonMar 27, 2020

In no particular order:

Sunburst and Luminary: an Apollo Memoir

The Brain Makers

Strategic Computing: DARPA and the Quest for Machine Intelligence

The Soul of a New Machine

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet

Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn
Not a dedicated history book, but Hamming talks a lot about personal experiences and observations

UNIX: A History and a Memoir

Masters of Doom
https://www.amazon.com/Masters-Doom-Created-Transformed-Cult... linking to audiobook because it is read by Wil Wheaton :)

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker

It might be just me, but I really enjoy reading biographies of people important to the science, for example here is one for John Tukey https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsbm.2003...

mindcrimeonApr 4, 2011

+1 for Cryptonomicon. It isn't the easiest book to get through, but it's very worthwhile.

Another couple of possibilities might be:

The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder


The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage - Clifford Stoll


Hackers & Painters - Paul Graham (yes, that Paul Graham)


prependonJan 26, 2021

I worked for a startup and we had a programming intern in my shop who was a new mom who wanted to learn programming. She was also an ex model from Denmark or Belgium or somewhere. She was really pretty, prettier than the actors on Halt and Catch Fire, and got a ton of attention from the rest of the programmers who were almost all typical programmers. [0]

She was doing well as a programmer when the company folded.

Other than this one programmer, I’ve never seen any programmers or product managers or engineers as attractive as in this show.

[0] “In a book called Computer Power and Human Reason, a professor of computer science at MIT named Joseph Weizenbaum writes of a malady he calls “the compulsion to program.” He describes the afflicted as “bright young men of disheveled appearance, often with sunken, glowing eyes,” who play out “megalomaniacal fantasies of omnipotence” at computer consoles; they sit at their machines, he writes, “their arms tensed and waiting to fire their fingers, already poised to strike, at the buttons and keys on which their attention seems to be as riveted as a gambler’s on the rolling dice.”
― Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine -

pvgonOct 28, 2019

I've always felt we don't appreciate history very much in our industry.

Why do you feel this way? ACM has had a History of Programming Languages conference since the late 70s where the well known History of Lisp paper was presented. All sorts of popular accounts are, well, popular. Soul of A New Machine was published in '81, Hackers in '84, Accidental Empires in '92, just as a few examples off the top of my head.

ram_raronJuly 13, 2018

1. The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday
Its all about stoic philosophy and teachings by Epictetus

2. Examined Lives from Socrates to Nietzsche by James Miller
Biographies of, some of the most famous philosophers.

3. The Soul of a new machine by Tracy Kidder
its about 2 competing computer design teams juggling between engineering quality and time to market.

mindcrimeonFeb 5, 2019

The Selfish Gene by Dawkins was very influential on me.

Another was Nineteen Eighty Four by Orwell.

I'd also cite The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand as having influenced me, although I read it when I was older and found that it mostly reinforced ideas that I was already sympathetic towards. Similar situation with Atlas Shrugged, also by Rand.

I could probably also call out The Soul of a New Machine by Kidder, as being a primary influence that pushed me in the direction of getting involved with computers.

neilvonJune 27, 2020

Their collection is coming along nicely.

Right after NextStep, they really need to get Apollo Domain/OS (not HP-UX) on the HP 9000/425e. :) Apollo innovated a lot, and rethought or created the network OS, display system, SCM and CI/build servers, etc. There are ideas you won't see elsewhere, or that only reappeared decades later.

If they don't have SunOS 4 with SunView on one of those SPARCstations, that's another neat one to have in the collection. Architecture-wise, a Sun-3 (m68k-based rather than SPARC) would also be nice, and were often used with "shoebox" drives, to complement the pizza box. There were also some neat Sun-386i models, though those were minitowers, not pizza boxes.

Since the theme is "Pizza Box computer", DG actually advertised the less-known m88k-based AViiON as "Mainframe in a Pizza Box", IIRC. If you've read Soul of a New Machine, "AViiON" looks like "Nova II".

mindcrimeonDec 23, 2018

Favorites read in 2018:

Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg. This book is, so far, the closest I've come to finding a "spiritual successor" to The Soul of a New Machine by Kidder. If you liked The Soul of a New Machine, or if you like watching Halt and Catch Fire, you may well like Dreaming in Code.

Inspired by Marty Cagan. Really solid overview of the essentials of product management.

The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by Judea Pearl. Judea Pearl is, of course, a giant in the worlds of statistics and AI, and this book distills his work on "causal inference" and lays it all out in a pretty accessible manner. Not a textbook per-se, but not completely non-technical either. Read this if you're interested in how statistical analysis can be used to truly establish cause/effect relationships.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand. Do you think you hate Capitalism? Do you not understand why so many people love Capitalism? Have you based your opinion of Ayn Rand on second-hand commentary instead of actually reading her works? Then read this book.

jeffreymcmanusonOct 27, 2011

Stating that "The ladder we chose to climb was a very short one, unlike the ones the reporters climb" is kind of bullshit. Dave is a blogger who feels like bloggers are the new news reporters, and that news reporters would be as great as him if they would only grow a pair, or something. But reporting the news is not easy. For most reporters it's like bringing a spork to a machine-gun battle, every single day of the week.

This is not a book about Apple and it's not a book about technology. It's not supposed to be "The Soul of a New Machine." It's about Steve Jobs. Did Dave not look at the cover before he started reading? It's all right there.

ssamulionMay 25, 2019

Looking at first 5 or so pages, I've read a lot of these. Good stuff but seems very unilateral view on the world and I think could be unhealthy for founders to focus too much on startups.

Not sure what is the right mix, but some of the most motivating reads for me were:

- Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture

- iWoz

- The Soul of a New Machine

- Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

- Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

- The Mighty Micro: Impact of the Computer Revolution

- Accidental Empires

- The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity

- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

bishnuonJan 26, 2021

I don't think it is. Most popular, groundbreaking technology isn't the first version of itself. Eg, I think of this profile of Tony West: https://www.wired.com/2000/12/soul/

Tony West is the protagonist of The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder, the account of Data General creating a new microcomputer in the 80s. The first season of H&CF borrows heavily from it. He was ahead of the curve on a lot of things - laser printers, computers, laptops, thin clients...but never had the ability to bring it all to market in a meaningful way.

The tech industry is full of people like this - people that can build the future but not sell it. I didn't find it unrealistic.

vram22onJan 5, 2015

Your saying Pinball, combined with the topic of this post - i.e. older computers and operating systems - reminded me of the book The Soul of a New Machine:


which I read some years ago. A fantastic story. Pinball is mentioned in it. Anyone interested, don't go by the description in the Wikipedia article; it may be only partially accurate, and anyway cannot do justice to the book. Try to get hold of an online or offline copy and read it. I'm not endorsing (or otherwise) any of the practices or principles described in the book - just found it a fascinating story. According to Wikipedia:

"The book won the 1982 National Book Award for Nonfiction[1] and a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction."

Current and former startupistas may be reminded by the book, of some aspects of their life/work-styles, whether good or bad.

mauvehausonSep 22, 2020

Funny you should mention that book. Tom West's daughter is Jessamyn West, famous Vermont librarian. Her cousin is Christopher Schwarz of Lost Art Press, influential author and publisher of woodworking books. She was recently interviewed on Vermont Public Radio's Brave Little State podcast on an episode about religion in Vermont.

I believe all of the above is public information about the named people.

If I'm honest, I haven't yet read The Soul of a New Machine, but it's on my list. I did pick up House[0], also by Tracy Kidder and read it over the winter holidays a couple of years ago. I'm not sure exactly how I'd sum it up, so I'll leave that to the author, linked below. I've also read excerpts of Among Schoolchildren[1] and can recommend it (at least the parts I've read) as well.

[0] https://www.tracykidder.com/house.html

[1] https://www.tracykidder.com/among-schoolchildren.html

dankohn1onJune 11, 2015

I hate to sound hyperbolic, but I can't overstate how impressive this work is. For me, it evokes nothing so much as Tracy Kidder's The Soul of A New Machine [0] for opening up an obscure world (the one many HN posters live in, but obscure to most people). I am amazed both by the technical fidelity and by the quality of the story telling.

[0] http://www.amazon.com/Soul-New-Machine-Tracy-Kidder/dp/03164...

ganeumannonJuly 7, 2015

The most authoritative work is Ceruzzi's A History of Modern Computing (http://amzn.to/1TiHgqd). Because it's written by an academic, not a journalist, it also has a great bibliography and footnotes. Some of the works it cites that are very valuable in themselves, depending on your area of interest, are:

- R. Hodeson, Crystal Fire (on the invention of the transistor), http://amzn.to/1RictfF

- T.R. Reid, The Chip (on the IC), http://amzn.to/1Hdbu8w

- E.W. Pugh, IBM's 360 and Early 370 Systems, (on the evolution of computer architecture), http://amzn.to/1NKZcWQ

Also, as others have mentioned, Soul of a New Machine is awesome.

I feel like you may be asking about computer science, though, not computer hardware. If so, pickings are slim. Two that stand out are:

- S. Rosenberg, Dreaming in Code, http://amzn.to/1HdbJk1 (Not really a history of code, just the history of a single project)

- M. Campbell-Kelly, From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog, http://amzn.to/1RicYpS (which, while not quite as amazing as the others, is the only history of the software industry as a whole I know of.)

jacquesmonOct 17, 2020

Absolutely, and also program change/note on/note off those would already enable a whole pile of applications.

It's typical Mozilla. We won't do 'X' because 'Y' but when you drill down they could easily do 'X' but they won't and 'Y' is just whatever they can throw up to get away from it without having to dig in and get it over with in the best possible way. If users want something and you start throwing up technical reasons why you won't instead of can't then you've lost that user if alternatives are available.

This is how you kill your market share.

An interesting bit from one of my favorite IT related book, the Soul of a new machine revolves around the 'mode' bit. The engineers all want a 'mode' bit because it will make their life that much easier, and they keep throwing up flak why it has to be that way and the CEO keeps his foot down and says 'no mode bit, period'. 'I don't care how you get it done but that's the constraint and you will have to deal with that constraint'. And so in the end they find a way.

With all the smarts at Mozilla if they really wanted to get it done, I'm sure they'd find a way. The existence proof is Chrome, and I've yet to hear of a random website corrupting a synth's firmware using Chrome.

K0SM0SonJan 28, 2020

I really enjoyed season 3 of this podcast (which was about the history of programming languages), so I thought I'd share as season 4 is just starting.

First episode is roughly following the book The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder¹ (1981) — described as a "heroic tale" of technological innovation.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine

LarryAonJuly 2, 2011

Programming PHP - O'Rielly its not the cutting edge book (2006), but it is by PHP founders and a good ground-start to get a feel for the language and what the commands can do. I learned quite a bit more on how many of the commands work than what other books covered. You will still need a good OOP book,

for OOP I've liked PHP Objects, Patterns and Practice by Matt Zandstra

Some Classic Computing Non-Fiction (circa 80s and earlier):
* Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder
* Fire in the Valley - Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine
* Hackers - Steve Levy
* Commodore: A Company on the Edge - Brian Bagnall (get the second edition)
* The Psychology of Computer Programming by Gerald M. Weinberg - for being written in 1971 (with an updated edition in 98) it is very interesting and still relevant.
* Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming by Peter Seibel - interviews of many luminary programmers, how they got stated and what they have done.

ivanmaederonNov 6, 2019

Right now: "Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction" (Judith Grisel)

Recommend. Addict turned neuroscientist who doesn't hold back, so a good mix of gritty details—

> After I got sober, it took me a little over a year to go a single day without wishing for a drink, but it was more than nine years before my craving to get high abated.

—and science.

Before that: "Educated: A Memoir" (Tara Westover)

Recommend. A good break from typical non-fiction books: easy to read, sometimes thrilling, and emotional.

Before that: "The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America" (Margaret Pugh O'Mara)

Don't recommend. I really wanted to like this book, and I believe some of the themes are important and aren't often discussed. E.g., the support the Valley received from politicians, the lobby groups, the size of military spending back in the day…

It's possible my expectations were in the wrong place—I wanted to be inspired like with "The Idea Factory" (Jon Gertner), "The Soul of a New Machine" (Tracy Kidder), "Dealers of Lightning" (Michael A Hiltzik), etc.

mindcrimeonJuly 23, 2012

When introducing theory, be careful not to reduce his enthusiasm and excitement.

Agreed... unless he just plain shows a lot of interest in theory for theory's sake, I'd say to make sure to always have an application for any theory you introduce, that demonstrates the value of what you're showing. Or even if you can't literally demonstrate it, at least an explanation that's as context relevant as possible.

Example: If you start talking about sorting algorithms and runtime complexity, explain how a bad decision here could cause lag / latency in one of his projects. IOW, tie the theory back to something he can easily relate to.

Otherwise, if he already thinks he wants to be a developer down the road, I'd say you'd be doing him a favor by teaching him some of the things that you tend to not get in a CS degree program... that is,the "software engineering" stuff. Revision control, release strategy, testing, etc.

Anyway, it sounds like your son is in a pretty good place already, so you might want to be careful not to push him to hard, to the point where programming becomes a chore and he starts to tune out.

Finally, there are a couple of books that might help whet his appetite for hacking, such as Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution or Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine or Rosenberg's Dreaming in Code.

smacktowardonNov 2, 2016


If you want to do something like this right, the way to do it is the way Data General wanted to do it when IBM, then the 800-pound gorilla of the computer world, entered into DG's minicomputer market. (Which is described in Tracy Kidder's classic book The Soul of a New Machine (https://www.amazon.com/Soul-New-Machine-Tracy-Kidder/dp/0316...)

The ad they proposed was much simpler -- a full page that said only the following:

They say IBM's entry into minicomputers will legitimize the market.

The bastards say, welcome.

schoenonFeb 2, 2021

The Hacker's Dictionary says (by way of recommending The Soul of a New Machine by Tracey Kidder)

> This book (a 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner) documents the adventure of the design of a new Data General computer, the MV-8000 Eagle. It is an amazingly well-done portrait of the hacker mindset -- although largely the hardware hacker -- done by a complete outsider. It is a bit thin in spots, but with enough technical information to be entertaining to the serious hacker while providing non-technical people a view of what day-to-day life can be like -- the fun, the excitement, the disasters. During one period, when the microcode and logic were glitching at the nanosecond level, one of the overworked engineers departed the company, leaving behind a note on his terminal as his letter of resignation: "I am going to a commune in Vermont and will deal with no unit of time shorter than a season."

greenyodaonNov 2, 2014

Here's a picture of the Eclipse MV/8000 "Eagle", the machine they were building in the book:


"The Soul of a New Machine" is a great book, by the way, even if the technology in it is a bit old at this point. Hackers of hardware and/or software should definitely read it.

Another interesting book about the creation of a large system is "Show-stopper", by G. P. Zachary, which describes the building of Windows NT.

ArtWombonJan 7, 2020

The usual recommendations are: "Racing the Beam", "Where Wizards Stay Up Late", "The Idea Factory", "Soul of a New Machine", "The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce"

All fine reads. But I just want to remark how singular "Masters of Doom" is. It struck me just the other day. The entire id Software team was 18-19 years old. And each individually possessed 4-5 years of (bare-metal) computer game making experience by the time they joined!

I think about that a lot when I see high schoolers today crafting worlds so easily in Unity ;)

cstrossonJune 10, 2015

> The only things they have in common are that their main products are websites with tertiary features that let you buy things. Yet both of them ended up scrambling to write their own payment platforms from scratch. What the fuck is going on?

* Raises hand *

I was the first dev hire at Datacash and wrote their back-end servers. Datacash only came into existence because an earlier (circa 1995-96) startup trying to sell stuff via the web couldn't handle payments without a card reader and a dialup connection. Handling payments properly is hard, especially as if you do it right (and your business grows) you turn into a juicy big target for black hats everywhere.

I also resemble the OC's burnout, except fifteen years down the line and mostly recovered ... by not working in tech any more. I'm a novelist and I set up and do my own projects more or less in my own time and (as a much earlier tech burnout case said, in Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine") I try not to deal with any time frame shorter than a season.

Yes, there is life after you quit your last high pressure tech sector job. And yes, you can find things to invest your personal interest in that don't chew you up and spit you out and which earn you a living. The problem is with the way corporations are internally constituted -- especially with hierarchies of control and command where the people at the top don't have any deep understanding of the problems the people at the bottom are engaged with.

monocasaonJan 7, 2020

I have a category on my bookshelf of semi humourous memoirs of engineering projects.

The two classics are:

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman, about the Manhattan project and other places he ended up.

And Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine, about the engineering effort behind the Data General Nova. This one literally has a Pulitzer.

I also enjoyed The Race for a New Game Machine, but not as much as the above books.

fossuseronMar 28, 2020

I also think it's a great book, but partly because it is technical.

Charles is great at explaining how computers actually work with circuit diagrams from the ground up in a way that's articulate, clear, and engaging. I think I learned more from this book than I did in my CS architecture class.

The historical context he puts it in helps with clarity since it's easier to understand when you know how each successive step built on the previous one.

In addition to the Dream Machine, I'd also mention Steven Levy's Hackers as an obvious one to read.

Some others I've read:

- What the dormouse said (this one was just okay, but interesting to see some of the cultural context at the time).

- Crypto (about the history of cryptography). I really liked this one, but people I've recommended it to found it dry.

- In the Plex (history of Google)

- Masters of Doom (John Carmack, John Romero and Id Software)

Related Fiction:

- Microserfs

- The Soul of a New Machine

- The Phoenix Project (fiction paired with the Dev Ops Handbook)

qnttyonMay 15, 2020

"The Jargon File" might be a good place to start. From there, maybe read one of The Cathedral and the Bazaar, The Soul of a New Machine, or Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.

I read Fire in the Valley when I was young and it impacted me, although there might be a better book that's similar. I might also recommend something by Jaron Lanier or Stallman if you don't might being a little political.

andyjohnson0onJuly 7, 2015

Some important developments in computing in the sixties and early seventies were driven by the NASA space programs. Some sources:

Computers in Spaceflight - The NASA Experience: http://history.nasa.gov/computers/contents.html

Digital Apollo, by David A. Mindell -

The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation by Frank O'Brien - http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Apollo-Guidance-Computer-Archite...
(highly detailed)

I'd also recommend Turing's Cathedral by George Dyson and The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder.

Many early IT systems used special-purpose hardware, and boundary between the software and hardware development wasn't as clear as it is now. For this reason, I think, many surveys tend to emphasise the hardware aspect.

fogusonMar 13, 2008

Off the top of my head:

- Soul of a New Machine

- The Cuckoo's Egg

- Revolution in the Valley

- Fire in the Valley

- Compilers by Sethi, Ullman, Aho

- Masters of Doom

- iWoz

- Steve Jobs & the NeXT Big Thing

- Crypto

- Code

- The Man Who Loved Only Numbers

- The Man Who Knew Infinity

- ANSI Common LISP

Most of the books above are recommended because once reading them you will have an uncontrollable urge to immediately create something brilliant. You will not be able to stop yourself.


nomoresecretsonMay 21, 2009

"A Computer Called LEO" - story of the first commercial computer, used to run Lyons teashops. Fascinating both in terms of computer history, and history in general, especially Lyons' attitude to perfectionism, to the extent of doing many things themselves, that these days would never survive an outsourcing purge.


"The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder

Drags a bit in places, but is still interesting in a history type way. It's the story of Data General building a 32-bit minicomputer in a year in the 1970s.


mindcrimeonAug 22, 2018

The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank would probably top my list.

Some other books that I find deserving of the at least occasional re-read (if not yearly)

The Soul of a New Machine - Kidder

Hackers - Levy

False Memory - Dean Koontz

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand

Neuromancer - William Gibson

Nineteen Eighty-Four - Orwell

The Mysterious Island - Jules Verne

maxharrisonMay 13, 2013

The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Those are the two to start with.

If you like those, check out some of her nonfiction books: The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (these are but a few - Rand wrote a long series of nonfiction books).

Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith (a philosophy professor at UT-Austin) is excellent because it unpacks Ayn Rand's ethical system in an academic style. Finally, Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand gives a comprehensive view of Rand's entire philosophy.

Light reading (not by Objectivist authors, and not in any particular order):

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner

The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder

The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James Watson

What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman

mindcrimeonOct 7, 2019

One book that has a profound influence on me was:

The Four Steps to the Epiphany - Steve Blank

Also looking back to my youth, I think that reading The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder was one thing that influenced me to pursue computing as a career.

Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four also helped shape my worldview in many ways.

Movies? Hmm... good question. There's no question that The Matrix has been a big influence on me on some level, but I'm not sure it reaches the level of "transformed my life".

EdHominemonApr 4, 2016

> to essentially make the git DAG look like a (lie of a) straight-line CVS or SVN commit list.

Err, it doesn't make it look like the "lie of a" straight line, it makes it into a straight line. Whatever the other developers do, I move the project forward one ball of functionality at a time when their changes are useful to mainline.

When you use software, why do you run a "release" instead of whatever happens to be in the dev's directory when they leave for lunch? Don't you feel dishonest getting the version without the bugs?

> Seeing how the sausage was actually made (no rebases, no squashes, sometimes not even fast-forwards) isn't pretty, but it is meaningful

Perhaps if I was going to hire you it'd be interesting to glance at how you work with nobody looking. Do you keep your desk tidy or not?

But it's absolutely irrelevant to the final project and as such, it shouldn't be stored.

> I trust that. It's real and visceral and how software is actually made

You should read Tracy Kidder's _The Soul of a New Machine_, it's a good read about sausage.

But it's not how you should work because you have choice now.

ghaffonJuly 9, 2021

The Soul of a New Machine is still one of the best books about product development ever written. (Showstopper about Windows NT is very good too,)

I was a longtime hardware product manager at DG starting a few years after the events of "the book" as it was called. I knew a lot of the people involved and even dotted-lined into Tom West for a while when the first x86-based NUMA servers were rolling out.

linuxlizardonJune 1, 2018

_Showstopper_ One of the best tech books, after _Soul of a New Machine_ (recommended in the comments, too). Covers Microsoft's creation of Windows NT.

_DEC is Dead. Long Live DEC_ about the rise and fall of Digital Equipment Corporation.

_Skunkworks_ Lockheed-Martin's creation of the SR-71.

_Moneyball_ using math to build a top flight US baseball team.

Broadening the category a bit:

_The Smartest Guys in the Room_ is about Enron's collapse. Not directly related to computer tech but definitely tech and people.

_Billion Dollar Lessons_ covers several spectacular company failures. Again, not strictly tech related but amazing stories of crash & burn. Includes (IIRC) Iridium, Kodak, IBM.

vram22onSep 18, 2017

>I lost, but winning was not the point. Playing was. :)

Ha, that reminds me something from the book "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder:


From the article above:

[ The motivational system is akin to the game of pinball, the analogy being that if you win this round, you get to play the game again; that is, build the next generation of computers. ]

The idea is described better in the book, though.

[ The book won the 1982 National Book Award for Nonfiction[1] and a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. ]

angersockonJune 26, 2013

Masters of Doom was one the books that really steeled my resolve to get into game programming back when I'd read it in highschool. It's a fascinating story about the birth and development of ID Software (the folks that made Wolfenstein, Doom, Quake, and are near singlehandedly responsible for us having consumer-grade graphics cards of note today). It's a fun, easy read, and the personalities involved are quite amazing. Both Carmack and Romero are painted in very human lights, and it's a fascinating insight into how to run a growth company without venture capital.

It's the ultimate bootstrap and find market fit and make bank story you'll likely ever read.


Later, you should also read Soul of a New Machine and Dreaming in Code for a less calvinball approach to software development.

noobdoodonMar 28, 2020

I second some of the ones others have mentioned, e.g. like Soul of a New Machine,the Hackers book by Levy, the 2 Programming Pearls books by Jon Bentley, etc.

Bentley also wrote a less-often-mentioned gem of a book: Writing Efficient Programs.
It is about performance tuning of programs at many levels, micro to macro.

baddspellaronFeb 8, 2019

I would argue that goodreads is not a particularly good way to determine whether a non-fiction book is worth reading. goodreads reviewers are just regular people who evaluate books based on how much they enjoyed them, not how accurate of useful the books are.

If I'm looking for a book I want to learn from, I scout recommendations from journals, magazines, blogs, respected radio programs/podcasts. End of year "best of" lists are also a good source of ideas. Then I read some in-depth reviews of books that strike my fancy by reviewers who have reason to know what they're talking about. Many of these have 4+ star ratings in goodreads, some don't.

Also, a blanket rejection of books by journalists or other non-experts is going to lead you to miss some really good books. That rule immediately called to mind Tracy Kidder. So, "The Soul of a New Machine" is off limits. Really? No thanks. I can think of many others.

pasbesoinonFeb 11, 2012

Mathematics is probably "theoretical" enough? A good Discrete Mathematics text, Perhaps some others. He'll have some mathematics knowledge around which to orient his programming. And people have been learning math for a long time -- meaning, long before computers.

Related, a good book on logic, including logic as implemented in circuits.

I recall a fairly intense "computer science survey course" back in college, that started with and, or, not gates and built up through adders, etc, to an ACU. Introduced a pseudo assembly language. I forget how far it continued beyond that. Something like that book I can see doable in good part on paper and in thinking, and it would provide some fundamental background that many programmers don't have or don't retain.

It might also be helpful to give him a good, concise book on project management. So that he has some idea what people are talking about when he encounters the work environment.

And there are always some of the classics, both for insight and for cultural orientation. Brooks' "The Mythical Man Month". Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine". Some years back, I rather enjoyed "Where the Wizards Stay Up Late", for it's take on the early development of what we now call "the Net".

If you're sadistic (and willing to risk some bucks against the chance of censorship), you can always send him Knuth's compendium. ;-)

adrianhononJuly 6, 2020

If you were put off by the first few eps of this show – or in my case, the first 20 minutes – and abandoned it, please reconsider. It's one of the best shows I've ever seen about business, creativity, working in a team, and of course, the computer industry. Season 1 takes some time to get going, but it's well worth the effort.

Fans of books like The Soul of a New Machine and Dealers of Lightning will find a lot to like here. Yes, it's a little unbelievable that the same small group of people somehow get involved in every computer revolution in a decade, but no more so than Don Draper apparently writing every good ad in the 60s and 70s. And the fact that the characters are drawn as real people rather than caricatures is a sign of the show's maturity and great writing.

mindcrimeonJune 1, 2018

Maybe not perfect matches, but a few titles I'm familiar with that you might like:

Dreaming in Code - covers Mitch Kapor's post Lotus effort to build Chandler.


Everyone Else Must Fail - all about Larry Ellison and Oracle


Winners, Losers & Microsoft - title says it all


Two books by Bill Gates:

Business At The Speed of Thought



The Road Ahead



MCI: Failure Is Not An Option


Already mentioned, but I feel obligated to add another +1 for these three:

The Soul of a New Machine - Kidder

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - Levy

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation - Gertner

Also, if you enjoy this kind of stuff, you might enjoy the AMC series Halt and Catch Fire. Yes it's fiction and highly dramatized, but it captures a lot of the spirit of the times from the beginnings of the PC era up through the Dot Com Bubble era.

SomeoneonNov 27, 2010

There was a time that I read every programming book front to cover (no Internet, few programming books in public libraries, not enough money to buy zillions of books, and loving reading all contributed to that) but some are more addicting than others. Looking at my bookshelves, I find many that stand out not only because I read them front to cover, but also because of their quality. Examples:

Inside Macintosh (especially the phonebook edition), (terse, but well-written, and describing a revolutionary system), but also some of the later books. For example,mtgs series on QuickDraw GX is tedious in it's repetition, but if you skip that, it nicely describes a very much complete 2D Graphics system.

How to solve it.

The art of computer programming (volumes 1, 2, and 3). What helped here is that my public library had them, but they are nice to read, if you have the mathematical background (it definitely helps to read this in parallel with a study in number theory, combinatorics, etc)

Anatomy of Lisp.

The art of the meta-object protocol.

Out of the inner circle.

The Soul of a new Machine.

Unix Internals, the new frontiers.

Effective C++.


More recently, I found the C# specification a page turner. Easy to read, and almost every section made me think about why they chose to do things different from Java the way they did (examples: complicate the grammar by including structs, having signed and unsigned ints).

__donJune 17, 2018

Some of the middle era SV history books are quite good, although they cover the combination of hardware, software, and startup stuff.

Fire in the Valley,
Dealers of Lightning,
Where the Wizards Stay up Late by Katie Hafner,
Soul of a new Machine by Tracey Kidder,
The Dream Machine.

There are histories of Apple, Microsoft, and many smaller (and now gone) companies and/or projects.

Showstopper (Windows NT),
Insanely Great (Macintosh),
Defying Gravity (Apple Newton),
In the Plex (Google),
Hackers (by Steven Levy),
Ghost in the Wires.

More philosophical type stuff
In the beginning was the command line
Dreaming Code,
Coders at Work

There's many worthwhile books about the history and culture of programming and hacking not listed, but this might be a useful starting point.

acomjeanonApr 20, 2016

In the book "Soul of a new machine" there is described a moment in 1978 when an Data General engineer (Tom West) gets to go look at and take apart a newly installed DEV VAX at a friends company.

Oddly VAX cost $200,000.

Very short exert

Long exert of the book which continues the story of the VAX disassembly was published in the Atlantic called "flying upside-down".


Soul of a new machine is a really good book. highly recomended.

gary__onDec 11, 2014

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder, the classic book following the development of a new minicomputer in the late 70s.


Stealing The Network: How to Own the Box. This is a collection of fictional accounts of "hacking" written by hackers. Real world techniques are described though its in lightweight detail, the aim of the book is more to give an insight into how an attacker thinks. It's quite an enjoyable read too.


Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground by Kevin Poulsen. This one's a true story.


Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software By Charles Petzold. I still have to read this one, but I expect it would fit in with what you're after quite well.


mindcrimeonOct 12, 2019

The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder. A classic that inspired many people (myself included) to become interested in the computing field.

Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier - Katie Haffner & John Markoff - there is some dispute about the factual accuracy of some of the book, but it's wildly entertaining nonetheless.

The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage - Cliff Stoll

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - Steven Levy

Charles Proteus Steinmetz: The Electrical Wizard of Schenectady - Robert W. Bly

Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe - Lee Smolin

The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next - Lee Smolin

The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real - William Irwin

teh_klevonJuly 7, 2015

"Casting The Net" is a good companion book to "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" already mentioned here:


Again, and already mentioned, "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder is a great read. It's a particular favourite what with being an ex-Data General field engineer (maintained and fixed Nova 3/4 and Eclipse S/130/140's and associated peripherals).

I can also recommend "In Search of Stupidity:Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters" which about how the old giants of the early PC software industry (Ashton Tate, MicroPro et al) made colossal mistakes resulting in their extinction.


gonzoonMay 25, 2011

"Soul of a New Machine" was practically required reading when I was at Convex (where Steve Wallach, interviewed for the article, went to be CTO post-DG.)

To say that the culture of Mostek and DG influenced Convex would be gross understatement.

I learned a lot at my first "real job" in the industry. I've never found anyplace as "good" to work since. (Nor am I alone in expressing this.)

OrangeMangoonJan 24, 2020

Automated testing existed at the time Brooks wrote his essay. In "The Soul of a New Machine", published 5 years prior, engineers arrived in the morning and examined the results of the automated tests that ran overnight, looking for regressions and improvements in the microcode for the new processor. The author treats this sort of behavior as standard engineering work, something all serious engineering professionals do and have been doing for as long as such a thing was possible. Not new, not novel.

What we have now is the result of refinements and improvements, perhaps it is a series of innovations. You are right - automated testing doesn't refute Brooks.

timdellingeronJune 1, 2018

I'll be the voice of dissent regarding The Soul of a New Machine and also More Than My Share of It All.

Yes, Soul won the Pulitzer prize, but it was published in 1981, and I found it very dated, and hard to slog through at times. I know it'll never happen, but I'd love to see a re-write, or a heavily edited edition that's more approachable for a modern reader.

I also found More Than My Share to be a little disappointing. There were some fun things in there, but overall the there was too much of an emphasis on the tedious details of his life, not enough detail about the technical and managerial challenges / accomplishments, and then (unfortunately disjointedly) a few project management guidelines and some technology forecasting were tacked on at the very end. I can't help but think that he had more anecdotes and technical adventure stories in him which would have made for a much more compelling, enlightening, and readable book.

OldHand2018onJune 8, 2020

Code coverage and automated testing tools existed and were mature when I started at my now defunct employer 20 years ago. In The Soul of a New Machine [0] (published 40 years ago) such tools were used and the author wrote about them without any indication that they were new or novel. Every new generation of developers thinks that the "old days" were primitive, but that's just not true.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine

jamesbrittonJune 10, 2011

College, the beta version, I didn't care about grades. I was only taking three classes (French, English Comp, and Music) and ended up only paying attention in French class. Came in handy when I decided to go to Paris that summer.

Some years later I read Soul of a New Machine, got excited about studying EE, and managed a partial scholarship to NYIT.

I cared about passing, and cared about learning (most) stuff, so I mostly got good grades. Switching from EE to CS helped. :)

My enthusiasm sort of petered put after a while, I started lowering my course load (school + work was getting hard), then dropped out for bit then went back, but nine years later I graduated with honors and an award from the the English department.

I had wicked great English profs, and a few really good CS teachers. Most of the time teachers would let me slide on assignments if I otherwise demonstrated understanding and the ability to apply what I knew. So I had some fun. Had one math prof who gave me a C even though I swear I never got more than 30 on any test. But I was the only one in class who asked intelligent questions and could make useful observations. (Thanks, Dr. Vitale!) Sadly, I sucked on the tests.

Did the grades matter later in life? I doubt it. I think all that mattered was that I had a degree. Might be wrong, you never really know, but I don't recall too many people being impressed. Once you get a job all people care about is what you're doing right then and there, not some college grade.

Overall I think you should learn as much as you can for its own sake, which often leads to good grades anyway.

jingonJan 15, 2010

Charity isn't always about being as "effective" as possible. People there are literally dying from not having food, water, and medical care. I hate to say this on hacker news, but not everything is a numbers game. Haiti is in a humanitarian crisis right now. Yes, you could logically say to yourself that X dollars would be more "effective" elsewhere and that Haiti will never become a flourishing country, but that largely misses the point. It also presumes that you have the balls to say who should live and who should die. People there need help. Now.

A good charity I donated to is Partners in Health which was founded in Haiti (by an American) and has always been in Haiti. You can read more about them in "Mountains Beyond Mountains" which coincidentally and topically was written by Tracy Kidder who also wrote "Soul of a new Machine".

ghaffonMay 4, 2021

I joined DG a few years later than that though I knew many people in "the book" including Tom West who I sort of dotted line reported to for a time when NUMA servers were coming out. (For those who don't know what we're talking about, "Soul of a New Machine" is still one of the best books about product development ever written.)

pjungwironJan 22, 2018

If people are interested in tech monopolies, innovation, and government, here are some great books:

- The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, by John Gertner: A running theme is how AT&T was motivated to "give back" to the country to avoid anti-monopoly action by the government. I take today's talk about Google/Facebook/Apple/Amazon to be a negotiating tactic to motivate them to act similarly, although I wouldn't be surprised to see real government involvement either.

- The Chip by T. R. Reid: the invention of the integrated circuit near-simultaneously by two different people/companies.

- Where Wizards Stay up Late by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon: the origins of ARPANET at BBN.

Two other closely-related themes in these books are:

- Patents (a limited monopoly), and how the patents for both transistors and integrated circuits were licensed very freely, allowing much faster innovation.

- Government spending, e.g. how the space race and arms buildup paid for the early years of IC development before they were commercially competitive with just wiring up lots of components.

. . .

OT, I found all these books more interesting than The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. Although it won a Pulitzer, it never felt like any of it "mattered" in the same way. (I had never heard of the Data General Eclipse.) It just seemed like another story of engineers killing themselves with overwork.

JPLeRouziconSep 23, 2017

The lifetime of a large company depends usually on the way it manages their wealth, it does not depend on one or two "smart ideas, or well defined markets". So IMO both should have a long life (like Ford). But the life time of a company that relies on only a few markets, is much shorter (~20 years). Complexity is inherent to long life.

To give more context: Truly huge companies like Google or Facebook are actually conglomerates of thousands of informal tiny companies, that often are their main competition. Look for example to the large number of projects that Google created or companies it bought and then closed two years later. Each time there was people behind those projects, for them it was a huge stress when their project was dropped. This way to manage companies, helps their board to control competition by internalizing it.

Think "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder on steroids.

TriinTonMay 6, 2009

There are many ways of making a living as a techie. Working for certain kinds of companies is a sure way of being miserable, that is for sure. Going the other way and trying to become the next Gates / Bezos / Brin, etc is another way of being miserable because the odds are ridiculously slim.

However, the area of chip design seems particularly unforgiving. I have seen people burning out very rapidly. Reminds me of that book "The Soul of a New Machine" -- you give your all when you're young, and then you find something else to do with what's left of your life...

acomjeanonApr 17, 2013

"The Soul of a New Machine" is a great book, about a topic that wouldn't seem that interesting. I second (third?) the recommendation.

My Mom worked at Data General and she used to take home some transparent masks for chips that were "corporate trash". She made art out of them and they're still hanging in her house.

pchristensenonJuly 10, 2008

Single Page link: http://spectrum.ieee.org/print/6354

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance - Henry Petroski (Knopf, 1989)

Mirror Worlds; or, The Day Software Puts the Universe in a Shoebox…How It Will Happen and What It Will Mean - David Gelernter (Oxford University Press, 1991)

A New Kind of Science - Stephen Wolfram (Wolfram Media, 2002)

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Douglas R. Hofstadter (Basic Books, 1979)

Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age - Paul Graham (O'Reilly, 2004)

The Design of Everyday Things - Donald A. Norman (Basic Books, 1988; paperback reprint, 2002)

The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder (Little, Brown, 1981)

The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing - David Kahn (Macmillan, 1967; revised edition, Scribner, 1996)

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time - Dava Sobel (Walker, 1995)

The Making of the Atomic Bomb - Richard Rhodes (Simon & Schuster, 1986)

kbr2000onApr 18, 2020

I can recommend to get a copy of

* Datapoint: The Lost Story of the Texans Who Invented the Personal Computer Revolution, by Lamont Wood.

* The Soul of A New Machine, by Tracy Kidder.

* Books by George Dyson (son of ...): Darwin Among the Machines, Turing's Cathedral. (unrelated, but also give Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship a go)

* The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, by Leslie Berlin.

* Richard Feynman Computer Heuristics Lecture at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKWGGDXe5MA

* Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing, by Thierry Bardini.

tokenadultonMay 25, 2011

"'What he told them was that if you win at this level, then your reward is that you get to play again at the next level, but guess what: The next level is more difficult,' said Don McDougall of Palo Alto, Calif., a former vice president of technical products at Data General."

That's great insight into how to motivate people to do their best.

I read the book The Soul of a New Machine many years ago, but already long enough after it was published that the technology sounded a bit primitive. It was a grippingly good read, a glimpse into how different personalities mesh to solve a tough technical problem.

mindcrimeonApr 17, 2013

Reading "The Soul of a New Machine" [1], the story of building the successor to the Eclipse, when I was 13/14 was what made me want to work with computers, although I couldn't decide whether hardware or software was cooler.

Same here, pretty much. That was a very influential book for me. I went back and read it again a couple of years ago, and it was still fascinating. Then I found out a guy at our local Hackerspace was there during some of that time and knows some of the folks mentioned in the book. That made it all seem even more real to me... quite an interesting story in any case.

mnemonicslothonMay 14, 2009

not as well written as, say, Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains"...

This is the second time I've seen Kidder's work mentioned here in the last few days [1]. I've read and enjoyed Soul of a New Machine. Would you recommend any of his other books?

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=601903

mgolanbarionMar 30, 2016

I highly recommend all of the following:

- 'DEC is Dead, Long Live DEC' (one of the best books I've read on the failure of a tech firm)

- 'Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the dawn of the computer age'

- 'The Supermen: The Story of Seymour Cray and the Technical Wizards Behind the Supercomputer'

- 'When Smart People Fail' by Carole Hyatt and Linda Gottlieb (I have the 1986 edition, I believe a later edition is also available; this book is well written but it is so good, complex, and mature that I had to read it several times to fully understand it, and I still try to read it at least once every year to refresh my memory)

- 'The Anxious Organization' by Jeffrey A. Miller

- 'The Soul of a New Machine' by Tracy Kidder

- 'How to Get Rich' by Felix Dennis. (The title is misleading, this is not one of those books containing superficial, useless advice -- the book offers highly useful, in-depth, practical advice on entrepreneurship, including a brutally honest discussion of Dennis's many business failures [as well as his personal failures], and even a list of the most important business mistakes that entrepreneurs, including Dennis, typically make, and how to avoid them.)

- 'Starting Something: An Entrepreneur's Tale of Corporate Culture' by Wayne McVicker. A little-known book, but absolutely excellent.

- It appears that another user (bhamguy) has suggested 'Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure' by Jerry Kaplan. Good choice, I support that selection, definitely one of the best books I've ever read on startup failure.

steveklabnikonNov 3, 2010

I've always really enjoyed "The Soul of a New Machine" Amazon, non-affiliate: http://www.amazon.com/Soul-New-Machine-Tracy-Kidder/dp/03164...

It's the story of a team of engineers building a new minicomputer, back in the late 70s. I couldn't put it down. He manages to make the politics interesting and the technical details simple.

jraboneonApr 17, 2013

Reading "The Soul of a New Machine" [1], the story of building the successor to the Eclipse, when I was 13/14 was what made me want to work with computers, although I couldn't decide whether hardware or software was cooler. DEC had already won by that point, though. I even acquired a DEC Rainbow 100+ as my first "PC" (it was a hybrid 8088 / Z80 which could boot DEC's DOS or CP/M).

A couple of years ago my father and I scrapped the last of the Rainbows (not rare enough for a museum to be interested) and a Micro PDP 11/23 (no interest from museums or UK PDP enthusiasts, and too hard to ship internationally). It was a sad day.

[1] http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0679602615

rbanffyonJuly 7, 2015

There is Ceruzzi's book mentioned elsewhere, but you might find some others interesting too.

- "The Soul of a New Machine" is about the development of a mini-computer.

- "What The Dormouse Said" is a fun read and exploration about counterculture, the Silicon Valley and microcomputers and on why it all happened together.

- "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" is an account on the dawn of the Internet.

- "Computing in The Middle Ages" is a first-person account on the birth of the personal computer. No, not the one you thought.

- "Accidental Empires" seems a little bit dated in retrospective, but it's an exceedingly fun to read book and will give you great insight on what we were thinking about the personal computer revolution while it happened around us.

jacquesmonAug 21, 2010

A couple of pointers: read 'the soul of a new machine' by Tracy Kidder, if you find yourself agreeing with the fact that you are 'signing up' then the problem may be on your end.

But the fact that you think that it is company wide suggests the issue may be with your management.

In that case I would confront them with this. Maybe suggest that that is not a long term workable solution and if they refuse to change tack start looking for other options or put down your foot once to see how they respond to that.

good luck, that's a tough situation to be in.

Don't fall like I did for the 'I've already invested so much in to this, one more thing I can do' trick, that carrot can be moved ahead of you for ever.

klocksibonMar 12, 2008

Hmmm, here's a list of books I really like:

Memory as a Programming Concept in C and C++ by Frenck

The Design and Implementation of the FreeBSD Operating System by McKusick/Neville-Neil

Learning GNU Emacs by Cameron, et al.

Practical Common Lisp by Seibel

The C Programming Language by K&R

The C++ Programming Language Stroustrup

The Design and Analysis of Algorithms by Leviten

Assembly Language Programming for the IBM PC Family by Jones


Hackers & Painters by PG

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman by Feynman

What Do You Care What Other People Think by Feynman

The Cathedral & The Bazaar by Raymond


The Soul of a New Machine by Kidder

Where Wizards Stay up Late by Hafner

dasmothonSep 28, 2018

John D. Clark's "Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants" is back in print as of a few months ago, and pretty readable overall (but does venture into some of the less travelled corners of chemistry as well...)

For computer stuff, Tracey Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine" is one of my favourites.

redis_mlconMar 28, 2020

> The Soul of a New Machine

There's a software-industry version of that book about the startup Ask Computer Software killing it in the MRP business software space with a product called MANMAN. Maybe somebody remembers the title?

It's like reading a long version of one of Paul Graham's essays.

Some of the things it covers:

- Ask's actual relationships with customers. One of them interviews all other existing clients before buying (like 200 companies.)

- the software team dynamics. One "rockstar" polyfills over all the weird OS bugs at the time, so the others can work on the actual application.

Ask eventually acquired Ingres.


skmurphyonJan 17, 2009

Another formulation of Conway's Law is that communication problems in an organization will be manifested in their finished products. One example of this is from Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine" has a scene where Tom West, the leader of the Data General effort to develop a 32 bit mini gets a look at the VAX, DEC's competing machine:

"Looking into the VAX, West had imagined he
saw a diagram of DEC’s corporate organization.
He felt that the VAX was too complicated.
He did not like, for instance, the system by
which various parts of the machine communicated
with each other; for his taste, there
was too much protocol involved. He decided
that VAX embodied flaws in DEC’s corporate
organization. The machine expressed that
phenomenally successful company’s cautious,
bureaucratic style. Was this true? West said it
didn’t matter, it was a useful theory."

(See http://www.computer.org/portal/cms_docs_annals/annals/mahone... for more background )

dalkeonJune 1, 2015

Umm, we have lots of lore in this field. "The Graphing Calculator Story" at Apple, "The Story of Mel", the entire site folklore.org, stories about Gates and the early days of Microsoft, the "IBM visiting Gary Kildall" story, the Ariane V exception, Grace Hopper and the moth stuck in a relay (and her nanosecond wire), the "Steve Jobs at Xerox" story, Stallman's description of why he started the GNU project, Torvald's first posting about Linux, the Torvalds/Tannenbaum exchange, the rumors about the CIA wanting popcount on the Cray and about the backdoor in DES, "Better is Worse", "Reflections on Trusting Trust", "Always mount a scratch monkey", anecdote collections like http://www.dodgycoder.net/2012/02/coding-tricks-of-game-deve... .

http://www.filfre.net/ is going through the history of ludic games, including discussion of the lore associated with specific games. There are stories about IBM's "Black Team" ("more than one programmer was reduced to tears while having his code evaluated by the Black Team.") Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine". Robert X. Cringely's "Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date" shouldn't be read as a history book but a collection of lore about Silicon Valley.

Also, I picked "engineers" and "plumbers" to show real-world examples of non-universal elements. "Architect" is another non-universal.

Regarding naval architects, there's Bushnell's Turtle, Ericsson's Monitor, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Eastern .. and that's just from my general cultural knowledge. I assume that actual naval architects have more lore.

ja27onAug 26, 2010

I'd add a few that might be a bit dated, but I still think they're still great today:

Introduction to Algorithms - CLR(S) - other people already suggested this.

The Soul of a New Machine - feels old now, but it's still a fairly well-written glimpse into real-world (hardware) projects, or at least where we came from. Ahh, maybe it really is too old now to be that educational, but it's a good read.

Programming Pearls - I think this book still teaches as much practical knowledge about the field than you could get in 5-10 years. If you really "get" everything in here, you should be well on your way to being a super-star code hacker, if that's what you want to be.

ghaffonMar 27, 2020

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. Probably the best book on product development ever written. Command Line Heroes podcast on it: https://www.redhat.com/en/command-line-heroes/season-4/minic... (Disclosure: I work for Red Hat)

Also worth checking out in this vein is Showstopper about the development of Windows NT which focuses on the role of Dave Cutler.

gvbonMar 16, 2011

Not everything worth doing is worth doing well.

— Tom West, quoted by Tracy Kidder in The Soul of a New Machine (Modern Library, 1997). ISBN 0-679-60261-5

Note that Data General is defunct, so I take this quote as a warning.


* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_West

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine

bishnuonJan 26, 2021

If you enjoy this series I really recommend reading The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. It's 40 years old but still the best book I have ever read about what motivates engineers (not entrepeneurs - there are tons of books about that - but rank-and-file engineers).

Actually, the first season of H&CF cribs a lot from the book (from the overall plot to a few very specific anecdotes).

SwellJoeonOct 17, 2007

I got a Commodore 64 in '82 when I was eight, with disk drive and dot matrix printer. By the time I was 12 I was going to garage sales with my mom (an antique dealer), buying old broken C64s and other machines of the era (by high school I'd already owned several Spectrums, an Apple Lisa, many TRS-80s, a Coleco Adam, a Commodore Plus 4, and other assorted weirdness), and fixing them for resale (fixing computers back then meant soldering iron and a meter and lots of trial and error). So, my first business sprang from my experience with my first computer.

I also ran a BBS on my C64 through middle school and early high school. So, it gave me experience with computer networks, too. ;-)

I also loved Soul of a New Machine. Fantastic story, and reading it back in 97 or 98 lead me to research and buy Data General stock, which turned out well when they were acquired by EMC.

mindcrimeonMay 29, 2017

Gosh, there's so many. But these come to mind:

1. Neuromancer - William Gibson

2. Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson

3. Hackers - Heroes of the Computer Revolution - Steven Levy

4. How to Measure Anything - Douglas Hubbard

5. Godel, Escher, Bach - Douglas Hofstadter

6. The Pragmatic Programmer - Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas

7. The Soul of a New Machine - Tracy Kidder

8. Code - Charles Petzold

9. The Shockwave Rider - John Brunner

10. Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become
- Peter Morville

11. Don't Make Me Think - Steve Krug

12. The Design of Everyday Things - Donald A. Norman

13. The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering - Fred Brooks

14. Decline and Fall of the American Programmer - Ed Yourdon

15. Cube Farm - Bill Blunden

16. The Philip K. Dick Reader

17. The Cuckoo's Egg - Clifford Stoll

18. The Prince - Niccolò Machiavelli

19. The 48 Laws of Power - Robert Greene

20. The Atrocity Archives - Charles Stross

21. Business @ the Speed of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System - Bill Gates

gvbonSep 27, 2010

Not everything worth doing is worth doing well.

-- Tom West, quoted by Tracy Kidder in The Soul of a New Machine (Modern Library, 1997). ISBN 0-679-60261-5

Commentary: Data General is no longer with us.


* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_West

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soul_of_a_New_Machine

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_General

jloughryonMar 28, 2014

Designing and building a CPU from scratch is still possible; in fact it's easier now (using an FPGA and a hardware design language) than it was a few years ago (using 7400-series TTL chips and wire wrap). It's old, but I highly recommend the book Understanding Digital Computers by Forrest M. Mims (1987). It teaches the architecture of a four-bit computer completely and is sufficient to gain a foothold from which to read Hennessey and Patterson. From there, read Gordon Bell's description of the VAX (and The Soul of a New Machine). For perspective, learn about the architecture of Burroughs and the IBM AS/400.

I can think of no better way to grok the underlying hardware. Write a simple assembler. Next, begin writing an OS.

angersockonMay 24, 2013

The reason I advocate that approach (other than it is what I do, to varying degrees of success, to support myself) is that it seems to be more straightforward a value prop than trying to sell an idea.

Read "Masters of Doom", read "Soul of a New Machine", read "The New New Thing", read iWoz: we see that products fail all the time, that pioneers take a bath, that the second mouse gets the cheese--but that engineers are always in demand.

A business can fail, but raw material is always being looked for.

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