The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer

Book Review

Moritz, Michael. The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer, New York : William Morrow, 1984.

Much has been written about the early folklore of Apple Computer. Many people know of how the company was founded by two college dropouts in 1976. But few people know the details of how this company came to be. Fewer know much about the early life of Steve Wozniak, the creative genius behind the original Apple computers.

The story is a fascinating one. The high points of this story have been captured by Michael Moritz, in his book The Little Kingdom: The Private Story of Apple Computer, William Morrow and Co., 1984. Written when the early days of Apple were still fresh in people's minds, this book is well worth revisiting a second time.

The overriding strength of this book is that it covers both personalities and setting. Accounts are given of the development of Silicon Valley in the 1950's. And details are given of the individuals who played a part in making Apple Computer happen.

Credit is given to Wozniak's parents, for instance, in raising a family where creativity was prized as a high virtue. Steve's father, Jerry Wozniak, himself was an electrical engineer, trained at Cal Tech, and employed at Lockheed, the giant electronics/weapons concern. Steve's mom, Margaret, was an outgoing woman, with a strong interest in civic affairs and politics.

Beyond the family, though, electronics was very much a part of community life too. A neighbor of the Wozniak's owned a surplus electronic parts store. This enterprising fellow invited neighborhood kids to help him with chores around his house and yard. Instead of paying them in cash, he paid them with resistors, capacitors, transistors, and diodes.

Science fairs at the schools in the Valley encouraged science projects with an electronics theme.

Young Woz, with his father's help, constructed a tic-tac-toe playing machine for a junior high science fair. This project was assembled on the Wozniak's kitchen table, a foreshadowing of future kitchen table activities.

Structure of the Book

The book is structured in an unusual way, with accounts of the early days interleaved with accounts of Apple in the 1983 era. The early days of Apple are presented as flashbacks, borrowing from the technique of motion pictures. Persons with a familiarity of the early developments at Apple ought to be able to keep these two time periods separate in their minds. But from the vantage point of the 1990's, 1983 already takes on the look of "ancient history."

Some of Apple Computers first attempts at advertising are hilarious to look over eighteen years later. Verbatim copy from a full page 1976 Apple ad: "Our philosophy is to provide software for our machines free or at minimal cost."

The case of the Apple I was made out of wood, created by a local cabinetmaker. That is to say, the deluxe version of the Apple I came with a wood case. The startup version of the Apple I came as a printed circuit board, completely ready to go with the chips in place. All you had to do was add a power supply, keyboard, case, television monitor, and cables.

The anecdotes about Jobs' and Wozniak' personal life, though, bring this book to life. Steven Jobs' fascination with Eastern mysticism continued even after the company got rolling. In the first year of Apple, Jobs consulted with his hippie friends about a possible decision to give it all up: "Jobs visited her frequently and talked both to her and to Chino about abandoning Apple and heading for a Zen monastery in Japan." This was not just some hippie whim, for Jobs had shown his spiritual resolve with his 1974 "journey of enlightenment" to India.

Both Wozniak and Jobs were persons of eclectic tastes and colorful backgrounds. But some of the people they brought on board at Apple made the two of them look like straight-laced squares. When it came time to designing the power supply for the early Apples, they tracked down the best power supply designer in the business, Rodney Holt, a motorcycle-riding graduate-school math major with a stronginterest in Marxist-Lenist doctrine. The book describes Holt in the following way: "He found graduate work in mathematics at Ohio State lonely - 'It was like playing chess with yourself' - edited a free-speech newspaper, and explored the private jealousies of radical-left splinter groups. He became national treasurer for the student portion of the National Coalition Against the War in Vietnam and was invited by a small New York publisher to write a book about the Logic of Marxism." page 163-4.

Of the two time periods that are interwoven in this book, the 1975 to 1980 time period has the most amusing and personal accounts. In re-reading this book, I found myself skipping over the sections on the later developments at Apple (describing the early developments of the Macintosh), so as to maintain a stronger continuity of subject with the happenings of the first five years.

It's plain that the author took great pains in the research for this book. Many of the principal players were consulted and interviewed. Those persons who were more closed-mouthed about their experiences had their point of view spoken for by friends and family. A vivid picture of the day and age is painted.

This story, of how two counterculture electronic hobbyists started the whole personal computer industry rolling, tells much about how the modern business world operates. Large companies are always reluctant to take risks with untested technologies. Which means that there will always be a place for the young, innovative startup company, both in the software and hardware fields.

The most exciting aspect about the Apple Computer tale, though, is that the story keeps going. This book, like the book of life, keeps having new chapters added to it. For those persons interested in learning more about Apple's folklore and roots, The Little Kingdom is one of the best places to start your exploring.

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Other Recommended Books About Apple Folklore:

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, Steven Levy, 1984.

Woz: Prodigal Son of Silicon Valley, Doug Garr, 1984.

So Far: The First Ten Years at Apple Computer, Apple Computer, 1986. (An oversized, coffee table sort of book with lots of color photo spreads, glamor, self congratulatory back-patting. Fun to browse through. Good timeline of events at Apple.)

West of Eden: The End of Innocence, Frank Rose, 1989.

Digital Deli, by Steve Ditlea, editor. 1984

(This book is a compilation of essays and articles on early personal computers in general. Check out the great article on how Paul Lutus wrote the first word processor for the Apple II, Applewriter, in a hut on the top of a remote Oregon mountain.)

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