Way back in the 60s and 70s, there used to be a minicomputer company named Data General. It was actually quite successful for some time and competed with the giant DEC. Eventually, however, the company got into financial trouble in the 80s, plodded through the 90s and was acquired by EMC in 1999.

In the late 70s, the company began the "Eagle project" - a 32-bit enhancement of their existing "Eclipse" minicomputer line - Data General's answer to DEC's mythological VAX computer. In this book, Tracy Kidder summarizes the effort of creating the Eagle, having spent countless hours with the members of the team, documenting the project as it advanced.

Written in 1981, this book immediately reminded me of Steven Levy's "Hackers" - one of my favorite books. It manages to do successfully what others fail - capture the spirit that drives the computer/electrical engineers and programmers in their work. True, these people were sacrificing social life for the sake of work, but they had a whole computer to build, almost from scratch, and this computer was to be the greatest ever - and this is the only thing that really mattered. I personally think that this is what makes engineering the engrossing occupation it is - the drive to create. Create something better than what already exist. It's a parallel of artists trying to leave a mark on the world with their works, I guess.

The book also has many interesting insights into the computer industry. Although written almost 30 years ago, these things are all relevant today. Moreover, reading this book made me actually understand that at its core, the computer industry hasn't really changed that much in the past 30 years. Although 90% of the companies mentioned in the book don't exist these days independently, their spirit (and employees) reside in current companies. Another part I want to specifically mention is the hiring process, discussed on pages 64-66. This is probably the best account of hiring good engineers I've read in a book.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading "The soul of a new machine". Tracy Kidder did a great job here (and won the Pulitzer prize for it). Although I'll be on the lookout for more modern books on this topic, this book is quite relevant and very enlightening even 30 years after being concocted.