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Summary

Remember the ZX Spectrum? Ever have a go at programming with its stretchy rubber keys? Did you marvel at the immense galaxies of Elite on the BBC Micro or lose yourself in the surreal caverns of Manic Miner on the ZX Spectrum? For anyone who was a kid in the 1980s, these iconic computer brands are the stuff of legend.

In Electronic Dreams, Tom Lean tells the story of how computers invaded British homes for the first time, as people set aside their worries of electronic brains and Big Brother and embraced the wonder technology of the 1980s. This book charts the history of the rise and fall of the home computer, the family of futuristic and quirky machines that took computing from the realm of science and science fiction to being a user-friendly domestic technology. It is a tale of unexpected consequences, when the machines that parents bought to help their kids with homework ended up giving birth to the video games industry, and of unrealized ambitions, like the ahead-of-its-time Prestel network that first put the British home online but failed to change the world. Ultimately, it's the story of the people who made the boom happen, the inventors and entrepreneurs, like Clive Sinclair and Alan Sugar, seeking new markets, bedroom programmers and computer hackers and the millions of everyday folk who bought in to the electronic dream and let the computer into their lives.

©2016 Tom Lean (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

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Entertaining, Engaging, Enlightening

Very well written and narrated. It starts by showing the initial development of computing as a whole, and moves on to the background which fostered the boom in micro-computers in '80s Britain, starting with kit computers onward. Gives some interesting looks at not only the big hitters like Sinclair, Commodore, and Acorn (especially the influence of the BBC Micro and accompanying TV programmes) but other manufacturers and their machines.

Games get some great coverage from the early arcade-style ZX-81 titles which featured some creative use of ASCII characters, through to Ultimate Play The Game's isometric endeavours, and the galaxy in a casette/floppy, Elite.

While people with a light interest in reading about a very important age in computing will find this a great read, I reckon enthusiasts will lap up every word. An excellent look at not only the technology but the cultural impact which can still be felt today.

4 people found this helpful

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Comprehensive and enjoyable nostalgia trip

Incredibly thorough history of the home computer in Britain. While listening a couple of times I thought 'hold why hasn't he mentioned X'? Then the next chapter would cover that very topic in detail!

Makes the point that whilst home computers were originally conceive primary as educational and 'tinkerers' devices it was gaming that proved to be the 'killer app'.

Anyone who nostalgically remembers owning the mighty ZX Spectrum (or even one of its inferior competitors) will find this walk down memory lane a compelling listen.

2 people found this helpful

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That's my history

I started on ICL mainframes, but as soon as personal computers appeared, I had to have one (many). The commercial machines that I worked on changed as did the personal ones now I have 4 models of Raspberry Pi. This book tells the story of my progression and I suspect, many other enthusiasts I recommend it.

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Full of nostalgic enthusiasm.

If you grew up through the personal computer revolution you'll get a lot of nostalgic kicks and some great information, if you're new to the history this book is written (and read) with such enthusiasm that you'll get a taste of what it was like it be there.

Truly an inspiring tale and the best thing is - it's all true!

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Really engaging and comprehensive history

2nd time ive listened to this. I suppose its also interesting becuase i grew up in the era covered by this book and saw the evolution of home computing and how the silicon chip became integral to our everyday lives.

i highly recommend this book as its written so that the lay perosn and the enthusiast alike will be satisfied.

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Really interesting

Well read and very interesting account of the rise of the micro computer. Britain played such a big part in it all…shame all the proceeds now going abroad! Highly recommended.

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Pretty good account

I know a fair amount about the history of computing but most books are from the American point of view. It was very refreshing to hear the full history of the growth of computers in the UK.

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Good nostalgia for...

... those of us who were there. Not sure how it reads to a twenty-something today. There was a missing chapter though - silly to tell this story without any mention of the Nintendo Entertainment System (1985), Master System ('86) and following Super Nintendo and Megadrive.

Lean suggests it was the PC that killed off the home micro, but also (correctly) identified gaming as being a key use of the micros. It was the NES (in our house) that replaced our Spectrum, the PC was a few years later.

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Really enjoyable and accessable

A great run down of computer history in the 80's. Delivered factually with plenty of humour, an enjoyable educational listen.

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Great from start to finish.

Outstanding insight into the early days of the home computer in Britain. Definitely worth a look for those interested.

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  • Johnny
  • 28-09-17

Awesome outline of electronic history

I love this book. The content is excellent, offering a very clean and easy to follow timeline of the development of computers both from a technological perspective and an economic one, without getting dry or boring at all. The narrator is easy to listen to and really lets you focus on the story without any distraction. I enjoy the history of computers as a subject and out of the books I've read and listened to this is my favorite one in both regards.