Book reviews

"Paul Allen - Idea Man" (Paul Allen, 2011)

Idea Man Paul Allen

I don't read autobiographies often, but for some reason I was intrigued to know more about the story of Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder.

And it makes for quite an entertaining read. I'm a lover of old-time computing stories (or maybe they could be addressed as "tales" at this point already), and this book has a ton of them. Mainframes, terminals, teletypes, having to sneak into computer rooms in order to write the code for their first commercial products... it makes you feel incredibly fortunate to have access to so much computing power with just a simple laptop and a browser nowadays!

Something that surprised me was that I hadn't read much about Bill Gates before. I understood he was a brilliant programmer and all that, but from what is described here, he's also probably as much of a psychomaniac-boss as Steve Jobs was. The sort of sociopath you don't want to have as a boss. I'm glad he's sort of retired now; this kind of people is harmful to society and a terrible thing to have in IT.

Once the gory details of his relationship with Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Microsoft are over he turns to describe everything that has happened after that. And there's where I started feeling a bit "hmph!". For he insists in picturing himself as the "Idea Man" that is the (sub?) title of the book, and continuously brings up quotes of old articles in journals and magazines that probably no one other than him and his archivist have accessed in years, in order to demonstrate that he had the idea first, but maybe the circumstances weren't the best for developing such idea at that point. The book it's a bit boring in that part, I guess because no one likes to hear about so many failures --specially after having read about success in the first part of the book. It's interesting nevertheless, but it didn't engage me so much.

There's something else that I found disturbing, although that's probably because I have never managed such amounts of money, and it's how he tells about investing a couple of billions here, another hundred of billions there, and he's got a boat with a submarine and a recording studio on board and ... what!? Surely this cannot help me empathise with him, no matter how many ideas he had and failed to implement. Still--it's interesting to read his point of view. At the end, billionaires are just people who get bored and want to play with shiny toys, just like the rest of us. Cool to know.