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This book also brings back memories of the playground arguments that used to rage every day. The “my computer is better than yours” argument seemed to continue for years, spanning a multitude of hardware, but there were two instances that will always stand out. First there was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum vs. the Commodore 64 debate – this was a very hard fought battle, and although most Spectrum owners knew deep down that the Commodore was a more powerful machine, they did have the advantage of a wider and cheaper software base. The second landmark battle was between the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga – I was an Atari ST owner, and although I would never have admitted it at the time, the Amiga did turn out to be the better machine, but it was also far more expensive.
Gordon conducted hundreds of interviews with the people behind most of the machines in this book, many of which threw up question marks as to who was actually responsible for the hardware that eventually made it to market. One really interesting aspect of Digital Retro is that if you read it cover to cover, you’ll notice just how incestuous the personal computer industry has been over the years, with many key figures moving around the industry from one company to another.
The beauty of a book like this is that you can just dip into it at random and while away half an hour reminiscing. Flick through to the ZX-81 page and I guarantee that memories will flood back of spending hours typing in code from a magazine, only for the 16KB expansion pack to fall out, resulting in all your hard work going to waste. Or maybe you’ll go all misty eyed at the thought of hearing your Intellivision blurting out “Mattel Electronics Presents – B17 Bomber” from the bizarre sounding, but very innovative at the time, Voice Synthesis Module.
Digital Retro is a truly great book, and I’m not just saying that because Gordon Laing is an old friend of mine. Personal relationships aside, had I seen Digital Retro while wandering around a book shop, I would have definitely picked it up, definitely smiled with amusement and recognition and definitely carried it to the counter and handed over some hard earned cash so that I could take it home with me.
Digital Retro retails for £19.99, but you can get it from Amazon, via Gordon’s own portal for a very reasonable £13.96. If you’ve been caught up in the world of the personal computers for years like me, or even if you have a passing interest in the development of the home computer, Digital Retro is a “must have” item.
Ultimately, I’m pretty choosy about what literature adorns my coffee table and right now you’ll find Vanity Fair’s Hollywood by Christopher Hitchens, Images of a Champion: Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France by Lance Armstrong and Graham Watson and Digital Retro by Gordon Laing.
If you’ve been mucking around with computers for years, Digital Retro is the sort of book that will spark off memories of achievements and frustrations in equal measures. The slick design and illustrations make it an attractive coffee table book for anyone, whether you're a sucker for technology or not.