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Fire in the Valley:
In the early 1970s, while Silicon Valley was designing the latest generation of digital wristwatches and pocket calculators, a ragtag group of college dropouts, hippies, and electronics hobbyists were busy creating the future in their garages. What they built was the personal computer, but what they were aiming for was something much more ambitious: a revolution. Fire in the Valley is the story of their efforts, and in particular, the contributions of an informal think tank called the Homebrew Computer Club. Its technically gifted community, comprising sci-fi aficionados and Berkeley counterculturists, believed computers could usher in an age of human empowerment, perhaps even a utopia.
The club's most famous member is Steve Jobs of Apple, whose story is told here, as is Bill Gates's, who was strongly influenced by Homebrew. What sets Fire in the Valley apart from the many other books about early days at Apple and Microsoft, though, is its focus on the brilliant engineers and coders who built the foundation that would eventually support those two companies. They included ex-Berkley Barb editor and hardware designer Lee Felsenstein, who was adamant about using computers for populist ends; Adam Osborne, who took PCs to the next level by making them portable; hacker legend John "Captain Crunch" Draper, who used telephony for his own mischievous purposes; and activist Ted Nelson, the Thom Paine of the computer revolution.
The cast of characters is sometimes tough to keep track of, and authors Paul Freiberger and Michael Swaine have wisely included a graphic timeline in the first pages of the book that readers will find useful. It stretches from 1800 to 1999, encompassing events that have occurred since Fire in the Valley's original 1984 publication. This second edition includes new chapters and photographs to document the last 15 years, but they serve as more of an epilogue than a new act in this drama. The Homebrew Club's mark on personal computing history is cemented, and Fire in the Valley is an engaging account of it, one that should inspire readers everywhere. --Demian McLean [via]