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Computers invaded British homes for the first time in the early 1980s, with a wave of cheap, futuristic microcomputers that allowed millions of people to discover for themselves the world of computing. In those heady early days of computing, Britannia very much ruled the digital waves. Electronic Dreams looks back at how Britain embraced the home computer, and at the people Computers invaded British homes for the first time in the early 1980s, with a wave of cheap, futuristic microcomputers that allowed millions of people to discover for themselves the world of computing. In those heady early days of computing, Britannia very much ruled the digital waves. Electronic Dreams looks back at how Britain embraced the home computer, and at the people who drove the boom: entrepreneurs such as Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar seeking new markets; politicians proclaiming economic miracles; bedroom programmers with an unhealthy fascination with technology; and millions of everyday folk who bought into the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives. It is a history of home computers such as the Commodore VIC20, BBC Micro, and ZX Spectrum; classic computer games like Manic Miner and Elite; the early information networks that first put the home online; and the transformation of the computer into an everyday object in the British home. Based on interviews with key individuals, archive sources, and study of vintage hardware and software, and with a particular focus on the computer's place in social history, Electronic Dreams is a nostalgic look at how a depressed 1980s Britain got over its fear of microchips and embraced the computer as a “passport to the future.”


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Computers invaded British homes for the first time in the early 1980s, with a wave of cheap, futuristic microcomputers that allowed millions of people to discover for themselves the world of computing. In those heady early days of computing, Britannia very much ruled the digital waves. Electronic Dreams looks back at how Britain embraced the home computer, and at the people Computers invaded British homes for the first time in the early 1980s, with a wave of cheap, futuristic microcomputers that allowed millions of people to discover for themselves the world of computing. In those heady early days of computing, Britannia very much ruled the digital waves. Electronic Dreams looks back at how Britain embraced the home computer, and at the people who drove the boom: entrepreneurs such as Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar seeking new markets; politicians proclaiming economic miracles; bedroom programmers with an unhealthy fascination with technology; and millions of everyday folk who bought into the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives. It is a history of home computers such as the Commodore VIC20, BBC Micro, and ZX Spectrum; classic computer games like Manic Miner and Elite; the early information networks that first put the home online; and the transformation of the computer into an everyday object in the British home. Based on interviews with key individuals, archive sources, and study of vintage hardware and software, and with a particular focus on the computer's place in social history, Electronic Dreams is a nostalgic look at how a depressed 1980s Britain got over its fear of microchips and embraced the computer as a “passport to the future.”

30 review for Electronic Dreams: How 1980s Britain Learned to Love the Computer

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    At the end of Tom Lean's book, subtitled 'How 1980s Britain learned to love the computer' is an epilogue where he points out the remarkable success of the cheap and cheerful Raspberry Pi computer, which has sold over 6 million units in just a few years. He puts this, at least in part, down to nostalgia for the early days of home computers - and certainly any UK readers of the right age will feel a wave of that nostalgia when they read this book and come across their first home computers. There ha At the end of Tom Lean's book, subtitled 'How 1980s Britain learned to love the computer' is an epilogue where he points out the remarkable success of the cheap and cheerful Raspberry Pi computer, which has sold over 6 million units in just a few years. He puts this, at least in part, down to nostalgia for the early days of home computers - and certainly any UK readers of the right age will feel a wave of that nostalgia when they read this book and come across their first home computers. There have been plenty of books on the introduction of microcomputers in the US, but far less on the distinctive British experience, so this was a welcome addition to the field. Unlike When Computing Got Personal, it doesn't try to take on the whole PC revolution, but concentrates on the distinctive concept of the home computer. The major stars here are the output of Sinclair, Acorn (responsible for the BBC computers that were the school standard in the UK for years) and Commodore. Between them, these brands dominated the home computer market in the UK, where the likes of the Apple II hardly made a mark as they were far too expensive. What is truly fascinating is the consideration of why this home computer boom happened, and why it ended. As Lean makes clear, early on, no one really had a clue about what a computer could do in the home. The most frequent suggestion seems to have been to use them as a way to store and organise recipes. What emerged initially was an exploratory process. Many purchasers just wanted to get their hands on a computer, to try it out and learn. Key to this was the quality of BASIC provided - because most of the early users were programming for themselves. When the killer app came - and this is how we can distinguish home computers from PCs - it was not the spreadsheet, or anything else business oriented. Yes, people did do a spot of business work on home computers, but these limited devices were not good at page-based work, typically only displaying 40 characters across a screen. The killer app was games. Games made the home computer and then, to some degree, killed it. Because once users had moved away from that experimental phase (recaptured by the Raspberry Pi), the distinctive nature of home computers became less significant. Coupled with the rise of the IBM PC and the Mac, which began to provide games as well as their primary business-oriented uses, the likes of Sinclair and Commodore were doomed. The old home computers became relegated to the toy cupboard. Generally, the book works well, though in a couple of chapters the author does slightly lose the audience by being too much of an enthusiast, giving us a little too much information. There is also one statement that's dubious. Commenting on the point and click interface used in the ill-fated BBC laser-disc Domesday project, Lean comments how advanced this was in a system built between 1984 and 1986, contrasting it with Apple's first attempt at a graphical user interface, Lisa, which came out in 1983, and pretty much flopped. This is true, but disingenuous, as the Mac was launched in early 1984 - and it was such a huge success that it's hard to believe the developers of the Domesday project were unaware of. This is a book that may have limited appeal outside the UK, but for anyone who was here in the 80s and got a feel for the excitement and sheer novelty that having a computer in the home for the first time brought, it's an essential.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rob Adey

    An evocative account of that exciting time at the dawn of home computing when you could play a game like Shop Steward - a trade union activity simulator - simply by typing in the code from a magazine. Suspect my enjoyment of this is largely down to nostalgia (I'm slap bang in the demographic, having been bought a Spectrum for 'educational' benefits, but ended up using the teacher's strikes to get really good at Jet Pac). An evocative account of that exciting time at the dawn of home computing when you could play a game like Shop Steward - a trade union activity simulator - simply by typing in the code from a magazine. Suspect my enjoyment of this is largely down to nostalgia (I'm slap bang in the demographic, having been bought a Spectrum for 'educational' benefits, but ended up using the teacher's strikes to get really good at Jet Pac).

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Brought back a load of 1980s memories of the home computing era.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard Eyres

    I am attempting to spread my reading a little to include some nonfiction. This is the first title along those lines. My aim is for 1 book a month. I picked this as it was on an audible offer, and I was a child living through it. I had an Acorn Electron as my first computer, which lead to a Spectrum 128, to Atari ST. Because of these machines, I believe it got me to where I am today. The book was insightful without being bogged down too much in minor details. The first few chapters were building u I am attempting to spread my reading a little to include some nonfiction. This is the first title along those lines. My aim is for 1 book a month. I picked this as it was on an audible offer, and I was a child living through it. I had an Acorn Electron as my first computer, which lead to a Spectrum 128, to Atari ST. Because of these machines, I believe it got me to where I am today. The book was insightful without being bogged down too much in minor details. The first few chapters were building up the scene, and explaining what was happening in America. The it moved to the UK, covering the hardware, software, and the businesses and personalities of the sector. Great reference for people with an interest in the subject matter, as well as modern history students. Not sure it will be a good read for anyone under 30, as they started with playstations - and I am sure there in a book for them.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Absolutely great book combining my love of history and of computing. Made me nostalgic for machines I'd both owned, seen and heard rumours of it felt just the right length and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Very good mix of technical and non-technical content a good read for anyone nostalgic or anyone who wants to try and understand some of where the current state of home computing came from. Absolutely great book combining my love of history and of computing. Made me nostalgic for machines I'd both owned, seen and heard rumours of it felt just the right length and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Very good mix of technical and non-technical content a good read for anyone nostalgic or anyone who wants to try and understand some of where the current state of home computing came from.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lee Osborne

    As this book is all about the history of home computing, I've written this review on a real home computer - a Spectrum +2, running Tasword, transferred onto a PC using an SD card interface and the Spectaculator Spectrum emulator. *** I lived through the home computer boom, so it's a period of societal change and technical advance I was part of, and remember fondly, so this book looked interesting. I'm very glad I gave it a go - it's an engaging and comprehensive look at the rise and fall of the "h As this book is all about the history of home computing, I've written this review on a real home computer - a Spectrum +2, running Tasword, transferred onto a PC using an SD card interface and the Spectaculator Spectrum emulator. *** I lived through the home computer boom, so it's a period of societal change and technical advance I was part of, and remember fondly, so this book looked interesting. I'm very glad I gave it a go - it's an engaging and comprehensive look at the rise and fall of the "home computer" as a distinct product, and the legacy it left behind. It's written from a British perspective, so naturally there's a lot in here about Sinclair and Acorn, the two big home computer manufacturers in early eighties Britain. Although much of the story within the book was familiar to me already, because I lived through it, and have been a keen member of the retro-computing scene in recent years, the author provides useful background and analysis, and the book brings together many strands of the home computing story in a comprehensive and accessible way. The author starts off with describing how the British computer industry was born during and after the Second World War, moving on to computing gradually becoming more commonplace, but the story really picks up with the birth of computers squarely aimed at home and small business users. He describes the "1977 trinity" of the Apple II, TRS-80 and Commodore PET that launched a boom in America, but these machines failed to really take off in the UK because they were too expensive for most people to afford. Enter Sinclair, with the MK14, ZX80 and later machines, which made home computers accessible to all. What I like about this book is the analysis of how computers established themselves in the home, and what people did with them. Early home computers were meant to introduce people to new technology, teach them to program and act as an educational aid - this was certainly my own experience when I got a ZX81 in 1983. Despite supposedly being able to do useful things in the home, I don't think many of us managed that! By the time I acquired a Spectrum +2 in 1987, things had changed rather a lot, and by then most people had given up pretending home computers actually had serious uses - by then, surviving 8-bit machines were cheap gaming platforms, facing an onslaught from consoles, PCs and 16-bit machines. Later, "home computers" as a distinct category died out completely, and the author examines how this came about. He suggests that ultimately they were too limited to carry on being useful, as most people exhausted their possibilities too quickly. Budget home computers couldn't really do much besides game playing without expensive add-ons, and that certainly mirrored my own experience. I remember seeing an advert for an address book program for the ZX81. Loading tapes on this machine was an unreliable nightmare, and the program could only store fifty addresses - given the time it would take to type them in, the five minutes it would take to save them on tape, and the same time required to load them back in (with no guarantee it would work) every time you wanted to use them, you'd be better off writing them down on a piece of paper. I was hugely excited to get my Spectrum for my 13th birthday in 1987, but by then just about everyone had given up pretending it was a "real" computer, and rather disappointingly I had to concede I was only really going to play games on it. That said, I did write a database program on it for my Computer Studies GCSE in 1990, so that can't be bad...and right now I'm using it for this (more on that later). The author covers the development of gaming quite comprehensively, but I found another chapter much more interesting - it covered a couple of things that were technological triumphs, but failures in other ways. The first was Prestel, the UK's attempt at developing an online service - devised by the Post Office in the seventies, it was originally intended for specially equipped TVs, but ended up being used by a lot of home computer owners. Although it had a dedicated user base and met with considerable enthusiasm, take up was very low and it ended up dying a death in the early nineties, leaving an online void until the Internet took off later in the decade. Users never amounted to more than tens of thousands, but the community was vibrant and active. Sadly, practically none of the material, besides a few printouts, has survived, and this led the author to discuss a classic case study in digital obsolescence - the BBC Domesday Project. This was a survey of life in Britain to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book, and involved local people gathering info and photos of their communities, encoded on two laser discs that could be accessed using players controlled by BBC Micros. I remember my primary school taking part in the gathering of information for the project, and a few years later my secondary school borrowed one of the terminals and I was amazed by how cool the interactive experience was - that sort of thing was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the hybrid analogue/digital data format and need for specialist hardware makes the material very hard to access now, although some of it has been put online. This chapter showed what you could do with eighties technology, but that often it was really pushing the limits of what was possible, and the true information revolution had to await better technology. After describing how the IBM PC became a widespread and popular machine, after initially being a rather dull and expensive business tool, and the computer became more of a content access device than a creative tool, the author describes how home computing of a sort made a comeback with the Raspberry PI, a machine seeking to recreate the heady experimental days of the early 80s. Healso describes the powerful nostalgia that has led to the interest in using and preserving old machines. I sold my Spectrum back in about 1990, after I got a bit bored with it, and then didn't own a computer again until I bought a PC in 1996, but I now own a Spectrum +2 I bought on eBay. It's been freshly serviced and produces an amazing picture on a modern TV, and with the use of an SD card interface, I don't have to muck about with tapes any more. Extra hardware I could never afford when I was a kid is now cheap and easy to find, and just about every software title ever released is freely downloadable online, making these machines easier and more fun than ever. I can now actually do all those fun and useful things I never managed when I was a kid! As you can see, this book has taken me on a highly enjoyable and nostalgic journey, and has helped me understand a lot about how and why things developed the way they did. Well-written with lots of useful notes and references, it's accessible, informative and a great starting point for further study.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joaquim

    As a former Zx Spectrum and Amstrad CPC owner (also played with TI 99/4A and Commodore 64 at some friends places) it was a good stroll down memory lane. Well written, gives a good description of the impact of these home computers in the computer business, culture and family life at the time. Focused on the UK but with small nuances can be applied to other European countries. In Portugal we were as well avid readers of Sinclair User, PCW, Crash, etc...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Czol

    Wonderful book. Was really interesting to learn more about the background to the computers I used as a child. The development of ARM processors was particularly interesting - it's a lovely thought to consider that the Android tablet I was reading the book on has a direct lineage to the Acorn Electron I had as a child & the BBC Micros that got wheeled around my school. The only thing that did annoy me really, was the author's repeated dismissals of universal standards as 'boring' & stifling, with Wonderful book. Was really interesting to learn more about the background to the computers I used as a child. The development of ARM processors was particularly interesting - it's a lovely thought to consider that the Android tablet I was reading the book on has a direct lineage to the Acorn Electron I had as a child & the BBC Micros that got wheeled around my school. The only thing that did annoy me really, was the author's repeated dismissals of universal standards as 'boring' & stifling, with the free-for-all held up as somehow better. While the latter might have been great from a creative standpoint, it's frustrating for normal users who have to spend a lot of money on something that might turn out to be a technological dead end, or not be able to do some of the things they needed, or might not even work at all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick Harriss

    This was an excellent book that brought back many fond memories of my teenage years. It also reminded me of how the UK cast aside the spirit of innovation and discovery within the computer sector and the teaching of computing that it built during the 80s, something that only now seems to be returning.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Davies

    Nostalgic and fun I really enjoyed this book. It was well written and flows nicely and I learned a few bits and bobs about computers that I didn't know. I'm 38 so I grew up using a spectrum 48k and then a cpc464 and I found myself grinning with nostalgia many times whilst reading. Simply put if you played computer games in the 80s you'll love this book. Nostalgic and fun I really enjoyed this book. It was well written and flows nicely and I learned a few bits and bobs about computers that I didn't know. I'm 38 so I grew up using a spectrum 48k and then a cpc464 and I found myself grinning with nostalgia many times whilst reading. Simply put if you played computer games in the 80s you'll love this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John Levon

    An nostalgia-fest for those old enough to remember ZX Spectrums and BBC Micros. Great read as a result although it could have been longer; I would have loved more details on the HW, SW, and especially the little one-man "publishers" An nostalgia-fest for those old enough to remember ZX Spectrums and BBC Micros. Great read as a result although it could have been longer; I would have loved more details on the HW, SW, and especially the little one-man "publishers"

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tim Webber

    Quite enjoyed this. It relates a lot of the events on the lead up to the machines of the 80s and I learned new things from this. Also, even during the 80s, many things happened that I was unaware of at the time. All in all, a very informative and pleasurable read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Great book for the nostalgics and provides an interesting insight into the world before the computers we know today. Hard to believe that there was a time before the computers we know of today and this book cleverly talks through that period and just how the 1980s kicked off a computer revolution.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Colin Hoad

    This was a wonderful read and brought back so many happy memories of what, for me, was a formative era. The 1980s home computing revolution was a peculiarly British phenomenon and it is so refreshing to read an account that focuses specifically on the British experience. Most Brits who didn't live through the 80s tend to think of the computer as a universally American concept, due largely to the dominance that the IBM PC compatible and the Apple Mac ultimately achieved. However, for roughly a de This was a wonderful read and brought back so many happy memories of what, for me, was a formative era. The 1980s home computing revolution was a peculiarly British phenomenon and it is so refreshing to read an account that focuses specifically on the British experience. Most Brits who didn't live through the 80s tend to think of the computer as a universally American concept, due largely to the dominance that the IBM PC compatible and the Apple Mac ultimately achieved. However, for roughly a decade, Britain developed its very own home computers and developed its own software; domestic computer ownership at one point exceeded any other country in the world, and had home grown software and games to match. Not only that, but with the invention of Prestel, Britain had its very own internet equivalent, complete with online shopping, banking and news, almost 10 years before Sir Tim Berners-Lee devised the world wide web. This book charts this remarkable period in the history of computing and has been really well researched. Tom Lean clearly has a passion for 1980s computing and this comes across on almost every page. There is plenty of technical detail here, right down to the designs of logic gates and microprocessor architecture, but as an enthusiast for technology I found all of this fascinating. The book begins with an excellent appraisal of the history of computing leading up to the 1980s, and shows how the development of home computing kits grew out of the early experiments like the Manchester "Brain". These kits, in turn, started to become fully fledged computers that required just a TV display to get up and running. There is a superb section on the Computer Literacy Project and how this led to both the BBC Micro and the BBC BASIC programming language. As an Acorn aficionado, I particularly enjoyed this chapter. Lean is even-handed in his treatment of the various computers that existed throughout the period, including all of the various Sinclair machines, Acorn, the Oric, the Dragon and many other more exotic (and, in some cases, rather less powerful!) machines. There is also a great review of the gaming scene and how it grew out of the "pure" software programming goal of the home computing pioneers and ultimately became its own industry. For "Elite" fans, there is even a short history of the game and just how groundbreaking it was - and continues to be. All in all, this book is a tremendous read, and I highly recommend it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rob Thompson

    Technology historian Tom Lean delivers an entertaining and affectionate account of Britain’s former computing dominance. Fuelled by a wave of cheap, futuristic microcomputers in 1983 Britain enjoyed the highest level of computer ownership in the developed world. Millions of people discovered for themselves the innocent joys of programming and gaming. In those heady early days of computing, Britannia very much ruled the digital waves. Simultaneously, the UK had several computer manufacturers. Sir Technology historian Tom Lean delivers an entertaining and affectionate account of Britain’s former computing dominance. Fuelled by a wave of cheap, futuristic microcomputers in 1983 Britain enjoyed the highest level of computer ownership in the developed world. Millions of people discovered for themselves the innocent joys of programming and gaming. In those heady early days of computing, Britannia very much ruled the digital waves. Simultaneously, the UK had several computer manufacturers. Sir Clive Sinclair’s Sinclair Research was making more than any other company in the world. There was even a Welsh computer, the Dragon 32, not to mention the BBC Micro. The UK had an primitive version of the modern internet, Prestel, set up by the Post Office. And other firms would go onto form ARM. This is a nostalgic and enjoyable book on the country’s pioneering relationship with computers. Heartily recommended.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Martin Glen

    Suspect that your interest in this book will rely largely on your direct experience of the home computer revolution in the UK in the late 70s and early 80s. That said, it isn’t a nostalgia trip. It’s solidly researched social history, and an insight into a brief moment when a sizeable portion of the (male) juvenile population of the UK knew what happened when you typed 10 Print Hello 20 Goto 10 on a ZX Spectrum’s dead-flesh keys.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul Knighton

    Covers early history of computing to start (dry, light in detail, covering raw facts in many other similar books). Starting 1980s however became far more interesting: more specific detail, more people quotes, generally richer and more readable. Also became more UK specific (which many CS histories do not) and resonated with my own experience of living through that period. Covered up to ~2015-16 with good analysis.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    A good read if you're an old geek like me! This book chronicles the different computers we had in the late 70s upwards, thankfully including some of the lesser known (I.E not just Spectrums and C64's) machines that sadly never made it. It's largely accurate although the claim the Spectrum +3 came way after the +2 (in the 90's!) is totally wrong - the +2 and the +3 were released at the same time. Overall a decent read if you love your old computers. A good read if you're an old geek like me! This book chronicles the different computers we had in the late 70s upwards, thankfully including some of the lesser known (I.E not just Spectrums and C64's) machines that sadly never made it. It's largely accurate although the claim the Spectrum +3 came way after the +2 (in the 90's!) is totally wrong - the +2 and the +3 were released at the same time. Overall a decent read if you love your old computers.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Excellent read, well written, and covers everything I would hope to see on the subject. My only complaint (other than the book cover sucks and might put off potential purchases) is that I would have loved this to have been even longer!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kully

    I applaud the research and effort put into presenting the information in this book. I made it through, but only found passing moments of being drawn in. I'm still unsure whether it was the book or me. I applaud the research and effort put into presenting the information in this book. I made it through, but only found passing moments of being drawn in. I'm still unsure whether it was the book or me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Reno

    An enjoyable trip down amnesia lane.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    Thoroughly recommended! A detailed and well-researched history of the 80s boom in British home computers. Both informative and fun, it brought back many happy memories.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Themistocles

    Even though I did not grow up in the UK, I did grow up with an eye to it, through magazines and articles and software titles and whatnot. C&VG, Amstrad Action and the rest gave me enough of a glimpse into the 80s Britain. So I found this book really enjoyable, mainly due to nostalgic reasons. The writing is nice (even though there are quite a few glaring editing errors that should've been easily caught by any proof reader) and the arguments put forward are mostly well thought-out and analysed. How Even though I did not grow up in the UK, I did grow up with an eye to it, through magazines and articles and software titles and whatnot. C&VG, Amstrad Action and the rest gave me enough of a glimpse into the 80s Britain. So I found this book really enjoyable, mainly due to nostalgic reasons. The writing is nice (even though there are quite a few glaring editing errors that should've been easily caught by any proof reader) and the arguments put forward are mostly well thought-out and analysed. However, the balance of the book is way off. Lean spends quite some time building up the story leading to the 80s period, which is fine really, but then he gets stuck at the original computing boom of '80-'81. Up until the 67%-point of the book we're still in 1983! The focus he puts on the BBC Micro and the Sinclair early machines seems way out of proportion, and what happens next gets bolted into the book just as an afterthought or epilogue. If the story arc managed to be a bit more balanced I'd have given it a solid 4/5 because I really enjoyed it, but the overall image is marred by its structure.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ade

    I guess many of the people who pick up this book will be from the generation that lived through the period it describes in such glorious, extensive detail. Almost every page provokes that madeleine moment - "The school PET! Manic Miner! The Jupiter Ace...yeah, I didn't have one of those, thank god." Lean fulfils a valuable role by placing all these pleasant reminiscences in a proper chronology, showing how Britain's early lead in computing would be quickly lost to the US, and then partly revived I guess many of the people who pick up this book will be from the generation that lived through the period it describes in such glorious, extensive detail. Almost every page provokes that madeleine moment - "The school PET! Manic Miner! The Jupiter Ace...yeah, I didn't have one of those, thank god." Lean fulfils a valuable role by placing all these pleasant reminiscences in a proper chronology, showing how Britain's early lead in computing would be quickly lost to the US, and then partly revived with the advent of microcomputing in the late 70s, birthing the first generation that would be au fait with the computer and what's more, could waggle a joystick really fast to win at Daley Thompson's Decathlon (insert obvious metaphor for more traditional teenage pursuits). He captures some fascinating insights from the people at Sinclair, Acorn and Commodore who masterminded this accelerated technological evolution. In fact, if the book has a failing, it's the relative absence of the voice of those who merely bought and used these products at the time, rather than developing or programming them. There are chapters on the BBC's Domesday project and the Prestel service, which are somewhat tangential but nevertheless interesting diversions. There's an excellent overview of the panoply of weird and wonderful product offerings from the initial boom (the "Mattel Aquarius", anyone?), but the most engrossing parts are obviously the accounts of the work done at Sinclair and Acorn to produce the first successful mass market systems in the UK. (If you know anything about these machines, you'll no doubt quibble that Lean is frustratingly glib in his coverage of their technical highlights, while others will probably feel he delves into too much detail - which probably suggests the text gets it about right. At least afterwards you'll know what a ULA does and why it was so critical in offering "something better at a lower price" with each new model.) And when you get through all that, there's a nice gallery of photos and screenshots to trigger fresh bouts of gentle nostalgia. Hey, smiling at the memory of a tiny leaping miner makes a change from grieving over the miner's strike. Warmly recommended, to both those who were there (and who know the precise moment to hit BREAK during the loading screen) and those who only know software as something you download from an app store. (For further 'Joysticks for goalposts'-style recollections, see my recent blog post.)

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Garvey

    I grew up in the '80s and, along the way, either owned or spent significant time with friends' ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s, Amstrad 464s, Atari STs and Commodore. I was never really into was the programming and inner workings and, being a child, knew very little of the computer industry or how these machines were developed and marketed. Tom Lean's book filled in a lot of those gaps but in the end, left me disappointed. Readable throughout, and only rarely straying into completely incomprehensible I grew up in the '80s and, along the way, either owned or spent significant time with friends' ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s, Amstrad 464s, Atari STs and Commodore. I was never really into was the programming and inner workings and, being a child, knew very little of the computer industry or how these machines were developed and marketed. Tom Lean's book filled in a lot of those gaps but in the end, left me disappointed. Readable throughout, and only rarely straying into completely incomprehensible technobabble, Lean starts with an excellent overview of the development of computing, referencing the technological leaps and the fears such things engendered. As the 1980s begin, the book focuses on information about and analysis of the BBC Micro, the Spectrum and many more. He also explains well the ways in which Thatcher's governments tried to promote computer literacy, and the rise of computer magazines. His tales of just how rushed, cobbled together and desperate some product launches were, and the customer service disasters that beset them, are fascinating and often funny. He covers the way computers were advertised, what people generally used them for (games, largely) and explains how Alan Sugar made so much money from what was, basically, just another computer. He also discusses long-forgotten machines like the Oric, the Dragon and, the Post Office's attempt to create what was essentially a pre-Internet with Prestel. So why did I end up feeling disappointed? Essentially, Lean's story ends around 1985. While he mentions the 16-bit revolution, he devotes very little space to it, and is even dismissive of it. The epilogue on the 2012 launch of the Raspberry Pi gets far more space. And while that machine fits in well with the book's focus on programming and how machines work, by all but ignoring the latter part of the '80s, the story feels frustratingly, and prematurely cut off.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vicky Armstrong

    A Kindle impulse buy. Ok, but very slow moving and clumsily written at times. A fair few typos/word mixups too, which REALLY irritated me, to the extent I thought it was a self-published book and I was being a bit harsh. It isn't, and I wasn't. A Kindle impulse buy. Ok, but very slow moving and clumsily written at times. A fair few typos/word mixups too, which REALLY irritated me, to the extent I thought it was a self-published book and I was being a bit harsh. It isn't, and I wasn't.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jazza1971

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paul Dennison

  29. 4 out of 5

    Oscar

  30. 4 out of 5

    Simon Robinson

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