|Neal Stephenson: In the Beginning… Was the Command Line|
Books (Paperback), ISBN 0380815931
But if I describe the book's actual topic, no one will read it except for those who already decided to, and even some of them -- the ones attracted by the "New York Times Bestselling Author" tag -- will run away. Because let's face it, while more and more of us use computers in our daily life and learned to like or at least tolerate them [You're getting on your soapbox, aren't you? Yes, shut up and let me finish], very few of us want to think about what goes on inside those ubiquitous yet faintly mysterious plastic cases. And even fewer of us want to know about the strange, tortuous mix of technology and business strategy that dictates why those boxes work the way they do instead of some better, more logical way.
So if I said that Neal Stephenson's book gives a witty yet incisive report from the front lines of the current operating system wars between Microsoft, Apple and the loosely organized guerilla forces of Unix, will anyone read it? Even if I emphasize that Stephenson's wry sense of humor recalls Pratchett and Adams, and avoids what he calls "mind-smashing technical detail?"
I could probably interest a few business majors by mentioning his brilliant analysis of why Bill Gates is a billionaire and a household name, and the guys running places like IBM and Oracle aren't. Maybe if I pointed out that reading In the Beginning… Was the Command Line will give a non-geek at least a vague idea about what this whole Linux thing means...?
Maybe I should give up. This book probably won't find the audience it deserves. Does an audience exist for an intelligent popularization of technology -- a brief, cogent report about an abstruse yet vital subject from someone who writes elegant and funny prose while avoiding both mystifying and talking down to readers?
I've got it -- literary terrorism! Read this book, or I'll find you and read it to you. It's only 151 pages. Highly readable pages -- I should know, because I've been practicing on hapless friends who make the mistake of asking what I'm giggling about. They seem to enjoy it. Unless they're humoring me.
So humor me. Read this book. You'll probably enjoy it, and you'll never look at your computer again in quite the same way. Thank you. [Is that supposed to be a review? Yes. Don't bother me; I'm busy adding more Stephenson titles to my book shopping list. I think the way this guy thinks.]
Donna Andrews is the author of Murder with Peacocks, which won the St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Award in May 1998. Her second book in the Meg and Michael series, Murder with Puffins, will be released this spring.
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