In his technology column in the new Atlantic, James Fallows had some extremely nice things to say about my book. In a sidebar to a piece that reviews lots of different information-organizer programs, he names Dreaming in Code as “this month’s tech-literature pick”:
The book is the first true successor to Tracy Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine, and is written with a combination of technical sophistication and narrative skill not seen in many years. Read it to understand what all these software wizards actually do.
I’m grateful for the advance enthusiasm. (The book won’t be in stores till January, but there’s always Amazon pre-order…) To be associated favorably with The Soul of a New Machine in the pages of the magazine that served as its author’s home is an honor. I hope I can live up to it!
I’ve always been a little cautious about connecting Dreaming in Code with The Soul of a New Machine. Kidder’s book is a non-fiction classic that I’ve always admired. But the comparison sets a high bar and raises expectations to daunting levels. If people end up feeling that my book is one-quarter as good as Soul of a New Machine, I’ll take it as a compliment.
Kidder’s book — exactly a quarter century old this year — introduced a whole generation to the romance and the nightmare of building computers. It didn’t matter that he was writing about refrigerator-sized minicomputers just as the IBM PC was bringing the “microcomputer” into the spotlight and ushering in the computer-on-every-desk era. The book’s great achievement was its glimpse into the world of Route 128 engineers and managers — the intense, focused way they lived their work and worked their minds.
That world has become a widely familiar one in our era of “knowledge work” and startup-company culture. The opportunity for a writer today lies not in exploring this realm for the first time, but instead in trying to fathom some of its enduring mysteries. I’ve always been fascinated by the minds and work of programmers, and I wanted my book to tell a story that would capture some of their pleasures and terrors — and tell us something about why, 50 years into the computer era and 25 since The Soul of a New Machine came out, writing the software that runs our world remains a singularly unpredictable undertaking.
[tags]james fallows, dreaming in code[/tags]
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