The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s taken me a day or so to get round to writing the review for this book. Not so much because I’ve struggled with the review more that I’ve found the lessons of the book running over me in waves. Which is one of the reasons that I gave the book five stars (not that my rating should matter, a Pulitzer prize tells you a lot about a book).
There are other reasons why I gave this book five stars, not least among which is the vivd characterisations within the book. The author clearly spent a large period of time living with these people and making a concerted effort to understand them. He doesn’t slap them into boxes or shy away from the fact sometimes he can’t unravel them completely. this leads to vivid and real people who are sensitively portrayed. Even better the author clearly cares for the people he documents, they’re doing something tough and he gives them due credit for such. His examination particularly of the management styles employed by the senior characters is fascinating and he rightly criticises where some of the characters have a blind spot. As the project moves on the author brings the different elements of the environment together in a seamless way so you feel you understand why things are happening as they do. That’s not simple for a complex project such as the one undertaken in the book.
if I’m critical it’s really only that some of the technology terminology is explained in laymen’s terms when as a technologist I didin’t need the hand-holding. that lead to some skimming of sections within the book. I’d have preferred a glossary of terms but really, I’m picking out a tiny issue for a small number of readers.
Particularly because I work in technology and because I’m old enough to remember Data General machines (even having used one fleetingly) this book has a lot of meaning for me. Filling in the blanks on a heap of stuff I was barely cognisant of at the time. I wonder if this review would be as applicable to someone younger or not into technology. However, if you are late thirties plus and a geek buy this book. Marvel at the heroic efforts of the protagonists and maybe spend a moment asking yourself if we’ve really moved on that much. You should thoroughly enjoy yourself along the journey.
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