Author: Andy Hertzfeld
Aimed at: Apple fans
Pros: Anecdotal insights into technical details attractively illustrated
Cons: Rambling, lacks historical context
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead
You can get some idea of the style and presentation of this account of how the Mac was created from its subtitle: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made. Yes it's over the top and no academic history of technology development. How you react to this depends a lot on what you are looking for. If you want an academic account of how it all happened, set in the wider context complete with analysis, then you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a "good read" then again you will most likely be disappointed. There is no gripping narrative that takes you from the early days of the idea to the finished product. What you get is best described as a disordered, good natured ramble through some personal memories of what happened during the Mac project.
The most important thing to realize before you but this book is that you are going to great of detail and a lot of it is quite irrelevant to the bigger picture. This is a book that you have to read if you plan to write a history of Apple just to get the background information and a feel for the place.
The whole project started out as a collaborative website aimed at documenting recollections of working on the Mac project. The website was later converted into the book. Most of the contributions are by Andy Hertzfeld himself with a few attributed to other authors.
The book is divided into five chronological parts running from 1979 to 1985. It does cover the big events over this period but in many cases from the point of view of some one removed from them - an observer from a distance. Many of the bigger happenings, like John Sculley's appointment as CEO, are reported as anecdotes and hearsay. This isn't unreasonable because the book is from the point of view of the engineers actually creating the Mac and if it has a charm for you then it will be because you recognize the design choices they are making. However, even this will depend on the type of engineer you are. For example, in Part Three there is an essay on what the boot beep, i.e. the sound at start up, should be like. Such attention to detail will either annoy or excite you and my guess this depends on whether of not you are an Apple fan or an Apple hater.
This is definitely a book that will appeal to Apple fans - how much it appeals to non-Apple fans is an interesting question. There are many places in the book where there are descriptions of technical design by methods that are casual to say the least.
One aspect that is unarguably a delight are the photos and illustrations included throughout. They all act together to make this small book feel a bit like a coffee table book - perhaps there is scope for a bigger version with a lot of the text removed to fill exactly this niche.
This book isn't about history, or design or technology - its a book of gossip and old photos. It has lots of stories about Steve Jobs and even about Bill Gates and these are worth reading in themselves. Overall it does a good job of informing the reader of what it was like during those days. It will appeal to Apple fans more than the general reader and you need to be technical to get some of the anecdotes. The good news is that the structure of the book as short essays means you can always skip to the next one if it gets too technical.
Overall it confirms the Apple mythology without being analytic or critical in any way. If this gives you a warm glow then you will enjoy the book a lot. One thing for certain is that it makes a great gift for any Apple fan.