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Accidental Empires


by Robert X. Cringely, 1992, 324 pages, $19.95, ISBN 0-201-57032-7

While this is not a brand new book (1992 copyright), the subject matter is very current.  The recent PBS TV 3-hour documentary, "Triumph of the Nerds", was based on it.

Today, few inventors are turned on by tales about Edison or Tesla, but many are interested in how Microsoft's Bill Gates became a multi-billionaire (yes billions, not millions).

Cringely's gossip column ran in InfoWorld for about 10 years.  He not only interviewed the greats of the personal computer field, but collected nuggets of information from the engineers, programmers, managers and salespeople.  As the author notes, only automobiles, energy production and illegal drugs are larger manufacturing industries today.

If as an independent inventor, you feel you may not have what it takes to build your invention into a commercial success, read this book.  According to the author, almost the entire computer industry was built "by accident and by amateurs".  Also, if you think the Japanese are destined to take over the field, read this book.  They will not and Cringely makes an excellent case for why they will not.

It's an American tradition that we root for the small guy.  Often it is wishful thinking, but the author details how Compaq knocked off mighty IBM in the personal computer area.

If you have difficulty raising capital, read how Gordon Campbell (Chips & Technologies - 5 chips to replace 63 chips) traveled the world over and his pitch was rejected 60 times and then number 61 said yes.

He notes, "The main thing America has going for it is the high-tech startup and, of course, our incredible willingness to fail".  The author also notes that 19 of 20 high-tech startups fail.  He further comments, "High-tech startups fail for only three reasons: stupidity, bad luck and greed".  If you are about to start up a high-tech product, read his three tips regarding people, products and venture funding.

Many of the views expressed by the author, Robert X. Cringely (pen name for Mark C. Stevens), are fascinating to say the least.  An interesting sidelight is that he is currently involved in a legal hassle over the rights to his own pen name according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, June 14,1996.

All in all a delightful book.  It gives you a good feel for the very human people who have built the greatest industry of our times.


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