Despite becoming an Apple II and Mac user in the 80s, I didn’t know much about Apple history until quite a few years later.
In the 1990s, I enjoyed Robert X. Cringely’s articles, and his TV programmes Triumph of the Nerds. It was a great series, and prompted me to get a copy of his book Accidental Empires. Recently, I watched the TV programmes again with my children, in an attempt to educate them about how we got to where we are today, in terms of computer history.
In 2005, Robert X. Cringely did a series of interviews called Nerd TV, and the first one featured Andy Hertzfeld. It was fascinating, and left me wanting to know more. Around the same time, Andy’s book — the subject of this review — was published. I bought a copy right away.
The book contains a series of anecdotes, which are presented in chronological order, ranging from August 1979 to May 1985.
Andy was an Apple employee who worked on the Apple II initially, before going on to write a significant part of the original Macintosh system software, as well as quite a number of the original desk accessories. That puts him in a very good position to tell the story of how the Mac project began in 1979, and how it progressed until just after its launch in 1984.
Most of the stories in the book are also available to read on Andy’s website, at Folklore.org. But the hardcover book is beautifully presented, and contains dozens of photos, so it’s a more enjoyable read than the website. The website is still great if you want to search for something, or it you want a taste of what’s in the book.
Revolution in The Valley is quite a unique and unusual book. One reason is its square shape — it measures about 8″ x 8″ x 1″, so it stands out on my bookshelf.
There are some nice touches, such as the inside cover being a cropped photo of the inside of the original Mac’s case, complete with signatures of its creators.
There are also photos of notes and sketches made during the development of the system software, which helps give a real sense of how much they were trying to achieve in such a short time.
The ‘Cast of Characters’ consists of eighteen people.
In addition to well-known names such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (who also wrote the foreword), a few of the other names are:
Bill Atkinson — wrote QuickDraw, upon which all other Mac software depended for graphics operations; MacPaint, which was a great early app with many novel features; Hypercard, which was like the world wide web, before the web.
Chris Espinosa — one of Apple’s earliest and youngest employees; a name I remember from various Apple publications.
Joanna Hoffman — wrote the first draft of the Macintosh User Interface Guidelines.
Bruce Horn — one of the main Mac system software architects; wrote the Finder.
Susan Kare — designed most of the fonts and icons used by the original Mac, which gave it much of its personality.
Jeff Raskin — conceived the Macintosh project.
Caroline Rose — a name I remember from reading Inside Macintosh, which contained information needed by programmers (or ‘app developers’ to use modern terminology).
Burrell Smith — designed the digital boards for the early Macs and the LaserWriter.
Bud Tribble — the first Mac programmer; convinced Burrell to switch to the 68000 microprocessor instead of the less powerful 6809.
The book is split into five parts, each containing a number of stories from a particular time period. The stories are quite short in general, typically two or three pages. I like that, because I can always find time to read at least one in its entirety.
August 1979 — February 1981
February 1981 — September 1982
April 1982 — June 1983
September 1983 — January 1984
January 1984 — May 1985
Twelve stories plus epilogue.
The stories are well-written, with an engaging and interesting style. It feels like a genuine account of what happened.
It’s incredible to think of how much was happening while I was still at high school, just a few years before I got my hands on a Mac for the first time.
Quite a few stories have technical terms which might not mean much to people who are not programmers. But there is still plenty which should be of interest to anyone who is curious about computer history and Apple.
With just under 300 pages, and each of the individual stories being reasonably short, it’s a very easy book to dip in and out of. All in all, it’s one of my favourite books about Apple — highly recommended.
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