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Publisher's Summary

One of New York Magazine's best books on Silicon Valley!

The true, behind-the-scenes history of the people who built Silicon Valley and shaped Big Tech in America.

Long before Margaret O'Mara became one of our most consequential historians of the American-led digital revolution, she worked in the White House of Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the earliest days of the commercial internet. There, she saw firsthand how deeply intertwined Silicon Valley was with the federal government - and always had been - and how shallow the common understanding of the secrets of the Valley's success actually was. Now, after almost five years of pioneering research, O'Mara has produced the definitive history of Silicon Valley for our time, the story of mavericks and visionaries, but also of powerful institutions creating the framework for innovation, from the Pentagon to Stanford University. It is also a story of a community that started off remarkably homogeneous and tight-knit and stayed that way, and whose belief in its own mythology has deepened into a collective hubris that has led to astonishing triumphs as well as devastating second-order effects.

Deploying a wonderfully rich and diverse cast of protagonists, from the justly famous to the unjustly obscure, across four generations of explosive growth in the Valley, from the '40s to the present, O'Mara has wrestled one of the most fateful developments in modern American history into magnificent narrative form. She is on the ground with all of the key tech companies, chronicling the evolution in their offerings through each successive era, and she has a profound fingertip feel for the politics of the sector and its relation to the larger cultural narrative about tech as it has evolved over the years. Perhaps most impressive, O'Mara has penetrated the inner kingdom of tech venture capital firms, the insular and still remarkably old-boy world that became the cockpit of American capitalism and the crucible for bringing technological innovation to market, or not. The transformation of big tech into the engine room of the American economy and the nexus of so many of our hopes and dreams - and, increasingly, our nightmares - can be understood, in Margaret O'Mara's masterful hands, as the story of one California valley. As her majestic history makes clear, its fate is the fate of us all. 

©2019 Margaret O'Mara (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Puts a gloriously human face on the history of computing in the US...extraordinarily comprehensive...a must-read for anyone interested in how a one-horse town birthed a revolution that has shifted the course of modern civilization.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“In a field crowded with accounts of how the tech industry has developed, this work places the story of our techno-human transformation within a thoughtful Darwinian context. A necessary addition to both public and academic library collections, it will become a reference for how technology has influenced America.” (Library Journal)

“Entertaining and nuanced history.... Concerned technology users - which pretty much sums up all of us - will find much of interest here.” (Booklist, starred review)
 

What listeners say about The Code

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    5 out of 5 stars

Among the better business histories I've heard

This is timely and useful. It does not bog down in any story or personality, and moves well across a wide canvas and all the disciplines that fit together to make this happen. I am deeply grateful for this work, and line by line, I'm please up by the author's felicity, in picking a good telling phrase or event to paint a very good overall picture. It is for a wide audience, and the only thing I would change, for my own tastes, would be a little more detail about particular finances and deals. It is more a personal and geographical and social history than a quantitative, sharp-penciled technical or deal-based one. But it gets all the broad strokes very well. It would be historically accurate to say that most of the pivotal and pioneering figures through a great deal of the earlier story were, for whatever reasons, Caucasian or increasingly, Asian males. She does not argue with this or distort it, but does seem anxious to inject various other people into the narrative who were, frankly, IMO, mainly bystanders or at best, helpmates at the (especially early) times. The roles were what they were, and some bright people just didn't have the doors open. As time passed, this did change though, as for example a woman became an early and effective evangelist for wide education on computer matters. But that is all in the ambit of the author's reasonable choices.

4 people found this helpful

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Mostly good, but also irrating

First off the writer of this book was a member of the Clinton White House, and I believe worked with Al Gore - and then the author talks about Gore it's in glowing fandom - that's pretty annoying. However I won't ding her for that since, enough though she's clearly a leftist, I do feel she is doing her best to try to be fair and balanced, mostly giving praise across the alise when it's justify, and not going over the top on praise of the Democrats. So for that, I am thankful, it's pretty much impossible to find books today that aren't pushing a political agenda - and I didn't feel this one was.

Well, I said pushing a political agenda - but I meant that in a purely Rep vs Dem meaning - because this book is 100% about the worst politics of all, the politics of political correctness. Seemingly every story the author has to squeeze in a completely unneeded female who will get lathered with praise. Now go and look these people up and you'll find basically nothing about them - and they should be in a movie of this size and scope since they've done nothing. But the author feels the need to talk about some lady who once answered a phone or something for some big company - and try to make that person either 1) a hero who was never given their credit) or 2) wait, there is no two, it's literally just xxx doesn't get the credit they are do... so on and so on...

If you can get past all of that, and I understand that is a lot, there is good bone on this frame. It's an interesting take, normally starting with a year, then going through some of the events or people and then moves on. That part of it I feel is done well.

1 person found this helpful

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Comprehensive Read

“The Code” is a very comprehensive and expansive book describing how tech has evolved from the Silicon Valley of farms, in the 1950s, until today, where its companies rule the world.

There are many other books on the topic of the growth of tech and it’s influence on society,but they typically focus one group, one company or one place whereas O’Mara covers everything from the period of Shockley, Fairchild Semiconductors to the growth of Azure and AWS; not only San Francisco and The Valley but also Seattle and Boston; Noyce, Moore to Jobs, Bezos and Yang; the lack of diversity and blockers put in the way of minorities in all aspects of tech; the influence of defence spending and grants, without which many of the superstar companies would’ve failed.

If you want to an introduction to the history of tech, how the industry came about, it’s challenges and the big players, this is a great book to start with.

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Fabulous narrative of SV formation

This book is a must read/listen for anyone who somehow works in tech.
I listened this book just after reading about Paul Romers’s endogenous growth theory and in that context, this book fits perfectly.

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Jaw dropping.

A chronological history of Silicon Valley? Sounds dreadful, really. But not so. Vibrant, great writing, well narrated, and an audacious story. Inspiring and galling, it reflects all that is great about America, and exposes some her greatest hypocrisies.

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Like listening to a timeline.

Started out with high hopes. But in the end the books provides a detailed timeline of the glory days of SV and only scratches on the surface of their addressing what makes the place unique or the many shortcomings of the mono culture.

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Excellent; very broad and nearly perfect

This book is epic. Very broad in scope, with many important historical details I've not seen anywhere else. It combines the most relevant parts of probably twenty other popular books about the well-known, and the not so well-known, contributors to the development of tech in the US. From the founders and important people in supporting roles, to the sources of funding both public and private, the only stones left unturned were deep technical details of the tech itself. The story includes psychological considerations of the development and use of technology, as well as gender and race bias, etc. It must have taken the author a lot of time to dig up the details behind the important women in the story, for obvious reasons that we are still trying to solve today.

It's not perfect, because there are aspects to the author's opinions that were attempted but not fully articulated, probably out of fear of not sounding impartial. I don't know how she could've possibly done a better job, though, because it's impossible to make every reader perfectly happy.

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Great book, odd narration

Important story with lots of relevant observations, but it was narrated like a shampoo commercial.

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Good Summary of the 20th Century Tech

The book did it's best in the earlier years of the U.S. tech timeline. By the time the author starts nearing the 2000's the pacing speeds up considerably. It may have been better to come out with two or possibly three volumes. My main concern is that it is too long and in parts too detailed to be considered a survey or primer. Otherwise, I thought it was a good evenhanded entry into the history of, mainly West Coast, tech.

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Excellent book covering almost every aspect of Silicon Valley history and culture right up to the present day

What a superb book!

There are a lot of Silicon Valley biographies and histories around and I’ve read several of them too but The Code does a truly excellent job of discussing a much wider variety of cultural and historical matter than just a regular “back in the old days it was an Apricot farm” type of thing.

Touching a broad variety of stories from Texas Instruments, to Al Gore, Newt Gingrich as well as the regular subjects like Steve “not an actual god” Jobs, The Mother of All Demos, Facebook, Bill Gates, Xerox Parc and so on.

It’s quite awesome how comprehensive this book is; so much so it should be required reading/listening for Computer Science 101 courses if it’s not already.

What an unexpected joy this was!