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Silicon Valley History (patrickcollison.com)
85 points by rmason on Jan 17, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 25 comments

I highly recommend "The Secret History of Silicon Valley" - a talk given at the Computer History Museum. It starts with talk about radar and electronic warfare in WWII. "Every WWII movie you have ever seen that included airplanes on bombing missions is wrong". That soon becomes the genesis of universities in the war effort (research), east vs west coast, and Stanford with Fred Terman who is widely credited as being the father of Silicon Valley (along with William Shockley). He encouraged students to set up companies, sometimes investing in them too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTC_RxWN_xo Hour long video


It doesn't take place in Silicon Valley but I thought "Soul of a New Machine" [1] was a great read!

[1] http://www.amazon.com/The-Soul-A-New-Machine/dp/0316491977

Probably the best book about the development of a tech project ever written. (Disclaimer: I worked at DG for a long time, albeit starting a bit after the events of the book, and knew many of the folks depicted.) Showstopper, about Windows NT, is another good read in this vein.

Further afield again, We Were Burning http://www.worldcat.org/title/we-were-burning-japanese-entre... is a cracking history of the consumer electronics industry (largely distinct from the MITI-favoured computer firms) in Japan, and sometimes elsewhere.

Yes, I read that book some years ago and thought it was a great read too - in the sense of entertaining, like a novel, even though it is mainly about the computer industry and the race to create that computer, a next generation Data General minicomputer. It's also to a good extent about skunkworks style product development. I love that quote about pinball in the book; won't spoil it for readers by saying what it is, but it is likely to appeal to many people on HN.

Just saw this, from the Wikipedia article about the book, and thought it worth posting:


It's a short article in Wired about Tom West, the leader of the team that built the machine, many years later, when he was retired in a coastal town.

That's one of the best computing related books I've ever read. I keep giving it to younger programmers. Great read.

What was the name of that slightly fictionalized story that somebody wrote about the rise and fall of the iPhone fart app?

Aha there it is: http://www.flailfast.com/

Along with Jacob’s laughter. “I thought it was hilarious. I mean, we both ate like pigs at the time, and I wasn’t surprised that Ben had to let one go, but man...what a doozy.” Ben and Jacob left the breakout room early; they feared a hazmat team was required to make the room usable again. But they couldn’t stop listening to the video as they walked back to Jacob’s apartment. Jacob remembered his epiphany; he didn’t think much of it then. “I didn’t like having to pull out my Flip cam to listen to it over and over again, when I had my iPhone right there. It deserved to be more convenient.” As soon as they returned to Jacob’s apartment, he built a (aptly described) “quick and dirty” iPhone app that could serve his purposes. All the app displayed was a big red button and the word “FART!” underneath it. Satisfied that it functioned as expected, Ben spent some time prettying up the button, and installed it on his own phone. The novelty refused to disappear as they pressed the button over and over again; the staying power of Ben’s indigestion was unprecedented.

I like the doorstopper Fire In The Valley a lot and have read it several times. It hits basically every part of SV history, following personal narratives of major players in each time period. This style makes it very interesting to read.

Disclaimer: I have no idea where it stands with regards to factual accuracy.


I just read the latest edition, what really struck me is how many of the giants of the industry were really just in the right place at the right time.

Great talk about Silicon Valley history: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFSPHfZQpIQ

I watched this talk a long time ago, but I just noticed the name is Steve Blank, the "customer development" guy, and I have one of his books. That's pretty cool.


A few more references:

(Commodore) The Home Computer Wars, Michael Tomczyk http://michaeltomczyk.com/Tech-Pioneer.php

(Apple) The Apple Revolution, Luke Dormehl, http://www.zdnet.com/article/the-apple-revolution-book-revie...

A Bibliography of the Personal Computer, Roy Allan, https://archive.org/details/ABibliographyOfThePersonalComput...

A History of the Personal Computer, Roy Allan, https://archive.org/details/A_History_of_the_Personal_Comput...

If you want Commodore, there's On the Edge by Brian Bagnall http://www.amazon.com/On-Edge-Spectacular-Rise-Commodore/dp/... and its half-a-second-edition Commodore: A Company on the Edge .

Deathbed Vigil by Dave Haynie might also be interesting, the last days of Commodore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5QKnGTEiJo

Also not on the list and doesn't take place in SV but I loved it and the culture is very SV like - http://www.amazon.com/Skunk-Works-Personal-Memoir-Lockheed/d...

Here's a great PBS documentary on the history of the transistor which is also a great look into both the creation of Silicon Valley and Intel


There's a new book on Intel out, /The Intel Trinity/ http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062226761/the-intel-trinity by Michael S. Malone.

have you read it. I think highly of Michael Malone's great coverage of silicon valley.

So far I've just dipped into it at the bookshops. Maybe a little bit inspirational and personality-centric, but overall Malone seems to be fairly well-informed (I am not a topic expert) and not concerned to sugar-coat the bad. For a book billed as a joint biography, it's disappointing that the author doesn't seem to have had any direct access to the subjects. But if you're interested in a popular history of Intel or the first decades of the semiconductor industry then I think this should do nicely. (However see this lukewarm review on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/review/R1ZKDIXCGFBZ02/ref=cm_cr_rdp_pe... .)

Thanks. Yeah, I just saw the computer history interview with him for the book. I gotta check this out.

This is a great list and seems to nicely complement a list of similar intent I posted a while back: https://davepeck.org/2014/01/02/hacker-history-bookshelf

I love that Robert Noyce makes an appearance in Patrick's list; I feel that he did much to set the tone for entrepreneurship in the Valley.

Here's another good book, published by Silicon Valley Historical Association


I really like The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, it is a great book about the whole computer history and many ideas that made it possible.

This is a great list, thanks Patrick.

The problem with these lists is that I never find time to go through them properly.

Not everyone has to be a credible, billionaire startup founder.

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