A few readers have asked me recently for recommendations on recent books about the personal computing industry. And looking through my Kindle and Audible collections, I do see a pretty decent list of books that should be of interesting to many readers of this site. Here’s a quick run-through of the past few year’s worth
In case it’s not obvious, we’re about a decade past the golden age of books about Microsoft. Back when the software giant was still ruling the personal computing industry and was embroiled in multiple antitrust trials, Microsoft was the hot topic for this kind of book. But in more recent years, attention has turned to Apple and Google, as you might expect. Still, anyone with even a cursory interest in the still-short history of personal computing should find something of interest here, though admittedly this list is somewhat skewed by my own interests and by the fact that many (but not all) of these books are quite recent.
Note: To be clear, this is not an exhaustive list of industry books. These are books that are in my own digital collections that I can recommend to others. These are books I’ve purchased (or repurchased in digital form) in the past two and a half years.
Nadella: The Changing Face of Microsoft
Description: “The appointment of Satya Nadella the man from Hyderabad as CEO of Microsoft Corp. has sent waves of curiosity speculation and expectation through the tech world at home and abroad. What drives the man chosen to lead tech giant Microsoft into the future? What does Nadella’s appointment in particular herald for Microsoft and indeed for the tech industry as a whole? Will Satya Nadella be able to reinvent and re-imagine the company that once captured the imagination of every techie and customer in the world?”
My notes: It’s more than a bit too early for this kind of book, but sort of explains why the time was right for change at Microsoft.
Microsoft (antitrust/middle years)
Resolve and Fortitude: Microsoft’s ”Secret Power Broker” Breaks His Silence
Description: “This is the story of a German-born executive, JK, who immigrated to the United States to aid Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s top honchos to build a commanding software empire. He led Microsoft’s OEM division that was responsible for sales to PC manufacturers, and drove the deals that made Microsoft Windows the world’s dominating operating system. Find out how much resolve, fortitude, and perseverance were needed to make that part of the PC revolution come true; what strategies were employed to win the Internet browser war; how IBM was beaten; what drove Apple to the brink of disaster; and how shady politicians and hapless competitors eventually goaded the Feds to ensnare Microsoft in a web of antitrust accusations.”
My take: To be clear, this book is almost insane, and poorly-written to boot. But because the author is indeed a former Microsoft executive, some of the insider stuff is interesting. You really need to look past the writing though.
Competing On Internet Time: Lessons From Netscape and Its Battle With Microsoft
Description: “Competing on Internet time means competitive advantage can be won and lost overnight. In this penetrating analysis of strategy-making and product innovation in the dynamic markets of commercial cyberspace, bestselling Microsoft Secrets co-author Michael Cusumano and top competitive strategy expert David Yoffie draw vital lessons from Netscape, the first pure Internet company, and how it has employed the techniques of ‘judo strategy’ in its pitched battle with Microsoft, the world’s largest software producer.”
My notes: This is a surprisingly detailed look at how both Netscape and Microsoft did business and created products in the years from about 1993 to 1998. If you’re interested in software development in particular, you need to check this one out.
Steelie Neelie: Neelie Kroes In Her Own Words
Description: “Not content to take the fat paycheck in Brussels, Neelie Kroes surprised everyone by taking on the world’s biggest companies, splitting up the world’s biggest banks, and saving Europe’s single market, not to mention fighting her own Prime Minister to win a second term in office.”
My notes: Not particularly interesting, except for the information about Microsoft’s antitrust case, of course.
Description: “Based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.”
My notes: If you only read one book about Steve Jobs—and you should read at least one—make it this one. The official biography gets Jobs right, and tells the story of the creation of some of the most important personal computing devices of our day: the iPod, iPhone and iPad.
Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs
Description: “Based on more than two hundred interviews with current and former executives, business partners, Apple watchers, and others, Haunted Empire is an illuminating portrait of Apple today that offers clues to its future. With nuanced insights and colorful details that only a seasoned journalist could glean, Kane goes beyond the myths and headlines. She explores Tim Cook’s leadership and its impact on Jobs’s loyal lieutenants, new product development, and Apple’s relationships with Wall Street, the government, tech rivals, suppliers, the media, and consumers.”
My notes: This is a fantastic book, but because it raised reasonable questions about Apple in the wake of Steve Jobs’s death, it was attacked by the company’s biggest fans. As always, ignore them.
The Rise of Apple
Description: “This e-single features writing from The New York Times archive on the rise of Apple Computer Inc., founded by Steven P. Jobs, Stephen Wozniak and A.C. (Mike) Markkula Jr., in 1976. The company helped to usher in the era of personal computers and then led a cultural transformation in the way we experience music, movies and mobile communications in the digital age. This collection of Times articles follows Apple from Mr. Jobs’s ouster in 1985 through its struggles to remain competitive; to Mr. Jobs’s return and creation of the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad; and finally, through the challenges it faces after the long illness and death of its visionary leader.”
My notes: A short compilation of New York Times stories about Apple from throughout the year. Interesting because the stories are contemporary to the times.
Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader
Description: “Becoming Steve Jobs takes on and breaks down the existing myth and stereotypes about Steve Jobs. The conventional, one-dimensional view of Jobs is that he was half-genius, half-jerk from youth, an irascible and selfish leader who slighted friends and family alike. Becoming Steve Jobs answers the central question about the life and career of the Apple cofounder and CEO: How did a young man so reckless and arrogant that he was exiled from the company he founded become the most effective visionary business leader of our time, ultimately transforming the daily life of billions of people?”
My notes: This book is an ego project—the author really knew Steve Jobs, as he points out endlessly, and a weak attempt at history rewriting. (Apparently, Jobs matured as he got older. Shocking.) If you only read one book about Steve Jobs, read the official bio, above, not this. If you read three or four, this can be one of them. Just understand the agenda.
iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business
Description: “In this encore to his classic 1987 unauthorized biography of Steve Jobs (Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward), Jeffrey Young examines Jobs’ remarkable resurgence, one of the most amazing business comeback stories in years.”
My notes: Somewhat interesting because Apple tried to get this book banned. Less interesting in that it was published before the iPhone was released and put Apple—and Jobs—into the stratosphere.
Available on Audible only (and in abridged form at that)
Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution
Description: “Behind the bitter rivalry between Apple and Google – and how it’s reshaping the way we think about technology. The rise of smartphones and tablets has altered the business of making computers. At the center of this change are Apple and Google, two companies whose philosophies, leaders, and commercial acumen have steamrolled the competition. In the age of Android and the iPad, these corporations are locked in a feud that will play out not just in the marketplace but in the courts and on screens around the world.”
My notes: This is a terrific story, well told. And it’s very recent, which I like.
Googled: The End of the World as We Know It
Description: “In Googled, esteemed media writer and critic Ken Auletta uses the story of Google’s rise to explore the inner workings of the company and the future of the media at large. Although Google has often been secretive, this book is based on the most extensive cooperation ever granted a journalist, including access to closed-door meetings and interviews with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, CEO Eric Schmidt, and some 150 present and former employees.”
My notes: Worth reading if only because it was written by World War 3.0’s Ken Auletta. Covers Google’s early years (through 2008/2009).
The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media, and Technology Success of Our Time
Description: “The Google Story is the definitive account of the populist media company powered by the world’s most advanced technology that in a few short years has revolutionized access to information about everything for everybody everywhere.”
My notes: An older book, covers Google’s origin story.
PC industry/ancient history
Open: How Compaq Ended IBM’s PC Domination and Helped Invent Modern Computing
Description: “Open provides valuable lessons in leadership in times of crisis, management decision-making under the pressure of extraordinary growth, and the power of a unique, pervasive culture. Open tells the incredible story of Compaq’s meteoric rise from humble beginnings to become the PC industry leader in just over a decade. Along the way, Compaq helped change the face of computing while establishing the foundation for today’s world of tablets and smart phones.”
My notes: This one is surprisingly interesting, contains a unique new bit of information about how Compaq, not Microsoft, made PC-agnostic MS-DOS possible, and is quite obviously the basis for much of the TV show Halt and Catch Fire.
Other industry books
The Battle of $9.99: How Apple, Amazon, and the Big Six Publishers Changed the E-Book Business Overnight
Description: “Little did Apple know when it introduced the iPad in 2010 that it would be setting itself up to land in federal court on price-fixing charges. This blow-by-blow account charts how five of America’s six largest publishers, afraid that bookselling powerhouse Amazon’s $9.99 price for Kindle e-books would undermine the industry, spent a few frantic weeks in early 2010 deep in negotiations with Apple to introduce a new business model for e-books, just in time for the launch of the iPad and the iBookstore. The catch is, it all may have been illegal. From Publishers Weekly senior writer Andrew Richard Albanese comes the story of how the e-book business changed in a heartbeat. Based on voluminous evidence gathered for Apple’s trial, it is the story of how corporate titans fought it out behind the scenes and why the case matters to anyone who has ever bought an e-book.”
My notes: Interesting (if short) look at Apple’s illegal attempt at screwing both Amazon.com and consumers with elevated e-book prices.
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
Description: “Amazon.com’s visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To do so, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that’s never been cracked. Until now. Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, and his book is the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. The Everything Store is the book that the business world can’t stop talking about, the revealing, definitive biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read.”
My notes: A decent and fairly recent history of Amazon.com. I only care about the digital products for the most part, so I skipped around.
Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!
Description: “A page-turning narrative about Marissa Mayer’s efforts to remake Yahoo as well as her own rise from Stanford University undergrad to CEO of a $30 billion corporation by the age of 38. This book is the inside story of how Yahoo got into such awful shape in the first place, Marissa Mayer’s controversial rise at Google, and her desperate fight to save an Internet icon.”
My notes: A very complete history of Yahoo. Is it a media company or a technology company? Surprising good, given my ambivalence about this company.
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
Description: “Masters of Doom is the amazing true story of the Lennon and McCartney of video games: John Carmack and John Romero. Together, they ruled big business. They transformed popular culture. And they provoked a national controversy. More than anything, they lived a unique and rollicking American Dream, escaping the broken homes of their youth to produce the most notoriously successful game franchises in history – Doom and Quake – until the games they made tore them apart. This is a story of friendship and betrayal, commerce and artistry.”
My notes: This is one of the best industry books available today, and is particularly good in Audible form. Tells the story of the two Johns from Id Software—John Carmack and John Romero—and how they defined the modern market for video games.
Service Games: The Rise and Fall of SEGA: Enhanced Edition
Description: “Riding the cutting edge of technology at every step, only to rise too close to the sun and plummet, Sega would eventually change the face of entertainment, but it’s the story of how it got there that’s all the fun. So take a ride, experience history, and enjoy learning about one of the greatest and most influential companies of all time. Complete with system specifications, feature and marketing descriptions, unusual factoids, almost 300 images, and now enhanced Europe specific details, exclusive interviews, and more make this the definitive history of Sega available. Read and learn about the company that holds a special place in every gamer’s heart.”
My notes: A detailed account of Sega, and what could have been.
My Loser Phase: Tales of Video Game Retail 1992-1997
Description: “A look back at the years 1992-1997 in video gaming from the perspective of a lowly retail clerk. Relive all the highs and lows of the era – from the Sega CD launch to the rise of the Sony PlayStation and everything in-between.”
My notes: This is a wonderful book, especially for anyone that spent time in a computer or video game retail store in the 1990s.
Atari Inc. Business is Fun (Complete History of Atari – Volume 1)
Description: “An amazing 800 pages, including nearly 300 pages of rare, never before seen photos, memos and court documents, this book details Atari’s genesis from an idea between an engineer and a visionary in 1969 to a nearly $2 billion dollar juggernaut, and ending with a $538 million death spiral by June of 1984. Several key and important fully detailed side stories are included.”
My notes: Kind of a self-published insider account of Atari when Atari was something important. Fascinating stuff, and the reason why last year’s “revelation” about those buried game cartridges in New Mexico was not news at all.
The Making of Karateka
Description: “In 1982 — the era of Apple II and Commodore 64 — 17-year-old college freshman and aspiring game designer Jordan Mechner began keeping a private journal. This first volume is a candid account of the personal, creative and technical struggles that led to his breakthrough success with Karateka, which topped bestseller charts in 1985, and planted the seeds of his next game, Prince of Persia.”
My notes: Fascinating diary-based account by the creator of Karateka. Inspirational.
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