Book Review : The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

I purchased a very tattered copy of this book in some forgotten book store years ago. I liked the burp. Finally in feb this year I dived in. What a complete treat.

This unassuming old book won the 1982 National Book Award for Non-fiction and a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction. The last time I read such a good book on interpersonal dynamics was The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. That one is easily one of the twenty best books I ever read. EVER.

This book, a true story, opens with a turf war between two computer design groups within Data General Corporation, a minicomputer vendor in the 1970s and then goes on to describe how the underdogs worked like daemons and delivered a machine no one confidently thought they could. Including the team at various many low points in the project.

Although the book talks about building a computer in 1978, it at heart is a really good primer on what organizational turfs and politics means and how the politics is the invisible presence in almost all interaction between key players and their plans. Any of you who works in a matrix organization or in a white collar job will appreciate the book that much more.
As a project manager I loved how the team approached this almost impossible task and tacked it. VERY good lessons the PMP training will not touch upon so full ROI if read by someone who manages complex projects for a living.

The Soul of a New Machine should be on the syllabus of all MBA courses, esp the more useless ones in third world countries since it adds immense value to understanding OB. Long tracts of it are necessarily dry and explanatory but then they needed to be in order for the reader to have more than a surface level view of what was at stake. The writer really immerses himself in the story and his character analysis is the part I found the most absorbing.

The Soul of a New Machine also cemented me an important lesson I am going to carry and pass on : The Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction winners are almost consistently amazing books. Something I cannot confidently vouch for about other book awards. I read another winner, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (a historical look at the way in which Al-Qaeda came into being, the background for various terrorist attacks and how they were investigated, and the events that led to the September 11 attacks) and it was also one of the BEST books I have ever read in the General Non-Fiction genre. Ever. In 2012 I really really relished ‘Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945’ by Tony Judt, which was nominated but did not win. Such a great primer on European 20th century history.

2015-03-22 13.02.26

this is my tattered copy of the book. Email me if you want me to mail it to you. free. I like sending good books to good homes.

Read all three in the coming decade and you will NOT be disappointed with any of them.

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