cover image Home Computers: 100 Icons That Defined a Digital Generation

Home Computers: 100 Icons That Defined a Digital Generation

Alex Wilshire. MIT, $29.95 (254p) ISBN 978-0-262-04401-1

Video game consultant Wiltshire (Minecraft: Blockopedia) provides a serviceable but superficial history of early home computing, via brief biographies of the era’s winners and losers. Though, as he explains in the introduction, computers have been around since 1943, their availability to consumers was ushered in by IBM’s 5150 in 1981. Wilshire covers plenty of famous machines, such as the Commodore 64, “both a rush job and the most successful computer of its generation”; Radio Shack’s TRS-80; and the Apple Macintosh (as well as Steve Jobs’s post-Apple foray with NeXT), but there are just as many quirky lesser-knowns to keep readers interested. Osborne 1, the first portable computer, which boasted a five-inch screen, weighed 24 pounds and cost $1,795 when introduced in 1982, and the short-lived Mattel Aquarius, on shelves for a mere four months, are just two of the models that came and went. Wilshire’s depth of knowledge gives useful perspective to the triumphs and missteps of this epoch in computing, but there isn’t much of a through line in terms of charting the technology’s evolution. The photography, meanwhile, doesn’t do the book any favors and has the sterility of an early 1980s computing catalogue. The result will appeal to the most avid computer aficionados, but leave the average user cold. (May)