Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine
Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer

It's not often that I go through a 450 page book in a week. The fact that I spent about 13 hours of that week in an airport or on a plane didn't hurt, but still, this is an exciting, important, and engrossing book. Fire in the Valley is not without its faults however. Perhaps I should cover them first.

The authors, being journalists themselves, cover too much of the journalism surrounding the history of the personal computer rather than sticking purely with the PC itself. They seem to have confused the medium with the message a bit. The medium (PC-related periodicals, newsletters, etc.) was certainly important but too much of Fire in the Valley is spent on this tangent. The information is also very repetitive at times. Stories or facts are repeated sometimes as many as three times or more. It's almost as if the chapters have not been edited in this regard or as if they were written at different times for different forums. My final criticism is with regard to balance. Some companies are almost entirely omitted even though their contributions were significant. This is probably a reflection of the authors' bias towards the Silicon Valley. Apple is given more than its fair share of praise whereas Commodore, Novell, Amiga, and WordPerfect, to name a few, are scarcely mentioned. Fortunately, IBM is put in its proper place. But why not mention how NT crushed Novell in the PC server software market which Novell dominated for years, or why not tell the story of how Word and Excel turned WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 into ghosts of their former application market leading selves along with the story of Windows OS vs. Macintosh OS or the story of Explorer vs. Netscape?

Some thorough editing of the repetitive information/stories would have allowed space for a more complete history in fewer pages. The above criticisms aside, Fire in the Valley is still a really good read.

The sub-chapters are short and easy to digest. The last sentence of most of the sub-chapters include a teaser for the next section. These two reasons, and others, make the book difficult to put down.

For some reason, I'm quite fascinated by these sorts of histories/biographies. They make me feel like I wish I was there--watching, participating. In a sense I was having grown up in San Leandro just down the street from IMSAI (but not knowing of its existence or influence on the industry until reading this book 20+ years later). I also spent most of the 90s living and working in Silicon Valley so many of the names and places mentioned I'm more than vaguely familiar with.

So if you are interested in computers or history, or if you want to spark the imagination a youngster, then this is a great place to start. Highly recommended for inspiration or entertainment (and I'm not just referring to the early pictures and writings of Bill Gates included herein).

If you like this book and need more then don't miss the videos Triumph of the Nerds and Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet. They are already out of date but highly entertaining and informative nonetheless.

from the publisher:
In January 1975, Popular Electronics magazine published a cover story on the Altair, an odd metal box with switches and blinking lights that proved to be the progenitor of todayıs personal computer. Inspired by possibilities that the leaders of the electronics and mainframe computer industries couldn't see, unlikely entrepreneurs -- hippies, dropouts, phone phreaks, and electronics hobbyists -- seized the opportunity.

How those personal computer pioneers went from side street garages to Wall Street's graces, and how their brilliance, enthusiasm, camaraderie, and competition changed the world is all here in Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine's classic, Fire in the Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer. First released in 1984, it uniquely captures the explosive, frenetic energy of those early days.

This updated edition features interviews with the major players, new chapters, dozens of new photos, and updates throughout that carry the story forward into the Internet era. The authors convey the exciting development of companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Sun, Netscape, Lotus, and Oracle.

Itself a milestone in the fascinating history of the personal computer, Fire in the Valley is the definitive account of how it all happened and why.