Revolution in the Valley

Revolution in the Valley by Andy Hertzfeld is a fun book that is a collection of short stories about the creation of the original Macintosh computer at Apple in the 1980s. The stories were largely collected from a site called folklore.org that Hertzfeld maintains.

The book is beautifully laid out and has great little pictures of how various bits of the Macintosh interface evolved such as the finder, Macpaint and the widgets for the Mac.

The stories are all fun and give an insight into how a small, tight team developed a computer that would eclipse Apple’s bigger Lisa project and become a very influential personal computer and remain as one of the 3 standard desktops in the modern world. The stories describe how Burrell Smith a technician who had no degree but was obviously supremely able would design the motherboards of the Macintosh. Bill Atkinson, who wrote the quickdraw system that was critical for allowing the Mac to work is written about extensive. The way Steve Jobs works is outlined. Jobs is portrayed as a driven, manipulative guy who is rarely bested and drives people almost crazy but is able to motivate people to do extraordinary things. His ‘reality distortion field’ that operates around him and that made it so difficult for engineers to contradict him is described and referred to repeatedly.

The book is full of fun facts about the Mac. The history of the names of the fonts and how they started off as landmarks on a bus route before Steve Jobs got them renamed after well known cities is great fun. The book does not pretend to and does not put the Mac in context or describe other systems of a similar vintage such as the Amiga.

The book is well worth a read for anyone interested in computers and how small engineering teams operate and can produce truly great systems. It’s not a coherent narrative that describes the Mac and puts it into context nor is it a look at the technology that made the Mac take off or a deep historical book but it is an entertaining read for many people who have an interest in the history of computers.

4/5

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