The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine is an account of the project which developed Data General’s Eclipse/MV8000 minicomputer. The book was written by the journalist Tracy Kidder and won a Pulitzer Prize. It was the first non-technical computer book that I read. I was attracted to the book by its title and then absorbed by its story.

Kidder spent a lot of time with the team of engineers who developed the Eclipse, and produced a fascinating and very readable book about how engineers go about their work. The engineers were divided into two teams; the Hardy Boys who developed the hardware and the Microkids who developed the machine language code. A lot of the engineers were recruited directly out of college and the Eclipse was their first project. The team was working under tremendous pressure; much of it created by the head of the Eagle project, Tom West.

Eagle was started to develop a competitor to DEC’s VAX range of machines. The Eclipse did well enough for a while, but the VAX range was enormously successful. VAX computers continued in production until 2005, and many are still in use throughout the world. In the end it turned out that Kidder’s book about the Eclipse was much better than the machine itself.

There is a Wikipedia article about the book and a December 2000 Wired article about the Eclipse team twenty years on. Though The Soul of a New Machine was published in 1981 it is still in print, and is still very well worth reading.

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