Breakout: How Atari 8-bit Computers Defined a Generation, written by Jamie Lendino, is a book that only comes along once in a blue moon for us Atari computer fans. That in itself is a crying shame considering everything these computers had to offer the home computer enthusiast and were as capable and worthy to sit amongst the likes of the Commodore 64 and European entries like the ZX Spectrum and the BBC and Amstrad micros. With this book, Jamie Lendino sets out to set the record straight and attempt to correct the wrongs the Atari 8-bit computer range has suffered over the years. Jamie Lendino is the Editor-in-Chief of ExtremeTech.com. He’s written for the print, Web, and digital versions of PC Magazine for more than 13 years and has frequently covered the retro gaming community in both places. He has also written for Popular Science, Electronic Musician, Consumer Reports, Sound and Vision, and CNET. He’s also done TV work and appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, CNBC, Fox News, Reuters TV. So, he is no stranger to his field and is a huge Atari 8-bit fan as his book excitingly demonstrates. I was extremely delighted to be given the opportunity to read this book on behalf of RVG as I, myself, am a huge Atari 8-bit fan. Like Jamie, and a great many other people, I grew up eating and breathing the Atari home computer range. Whether it be for gaming, business, or leisure, Atari home computers had every base covered so you can see why a book like this needed to exist.
The book is a 6 x 9 inch paperback with 292 pages and a selection of black and white images throughout that are an Atari memoir bliss. This book really is a personal homage to this platform by the author, something a great many of us can relate to. If you lived through that period of Atari history, this book is for you! Even you did not, that doesn’t matte as this book will also accommodate newcomers who want to get a personal insight to what Atari meant to so many people long before it became the Atari you all know today. The current Atari is literally worlds apart from what the company used to be. If you just caught the retro-gaming bug and only discovering these computers for the first time, this book is also for you.
The book opens with a personal insight of growing up with the Atari brand as told through author’s eyes. Through the book’s pages, he reminisces how he made some great friends from the likes of BBS bulletin boards and Atari clubs, something that was nice thing to be included. So far, off to a good start. The book then shortly moves to the machines themselves that started it all, the Atari 400 and Atari 800 home computers, and briefly covers the background history with just enough information to bore the reader. In fact, I feel it was just the right amount of information, even if diehard fans will pretty much already know most of it, but still makes for a nice reference if needed. A handy thing I thought was very clever was the inclusion of links and website tags at the bottom of pages with extended information for the reader to dive into after reading the book if they so choose. You don’t see that too often in many retro gaming related publications, so kudos to Jamie for including it for everyone. Throughout this brief the pages are littered with non-intrusive pictures of pricing advertisements or the machine parts themselves which doesn’t take away from the content, but felt it needed more in this context. Also the book goes for a little history lesson in what was a big part of using home computers in the 1980’s “Programming” which was a real trip down memory lane for those of us who spent hours typing in programme listings only to see a syntax error message telling you piece of the code is incorrect whereby you have to now review the entire listing to search for a mistake or, in a lot of cases, the actual listing itself is wrong in the magazine, so no matter what you do..it’s F’ed. I enjoyed that part too.
Another part, just before following up to the wonderful software, was the Peripherals of the Atari Home computer range to which there were many, including several from third-parties. When both computers were launched you had the choice of either a computer cassette deck, the (Atari 410), or, if money was no object, the faster (Atari 810) disk drive using a 5.25inch drive. These were just for starters! The book looks at these from the author’s perspective rather than a copy and paste Wikipedia reference which was refreshing. The book also covers for many at the time a daunting task of “Using your Atari Computer” which reflects what I mentioned above the programming aspect of things, the disk operating system (DOS) etc. I loved all of this as I myself had forgotten how actually ahead Atari was at the time with what the user could do with these machines. So in many cases, so far, the book is successfully covering all the bases it needs to which is quite refreshing as both a fan and reviewer to read making it now a go to reference for my own stuff. Another nice touch is the book likes to dip into other Atari products within their computer range and console range based on the architecture stemming from the Atari 8-bit range. Alright, lets move on to what many look for in books that cover computers and consoles: the games.
This is always a good part of any retro gaming related book within which you can get a perspective either similar or different from yours with regards to the games you played back as a kid. Do keep in mind this is only a something Jamie was obligated to include in the book from his personal experiences rather than magazine style reviews you see in so many other publications. His personal choice of games is amongst the best in the history of the Atari 8-bit era and is also something dear to my heart. The collection of titles covered were released by some of the most innovative and distinguished software houses of that decade now encapsulated in this all in one go-to Atari book. I personally can’t see why nobody has covered this till now and I’m so glad Jamie has.
Now, despite all the amazing things about this book, it can never be 100% pure gold. Regardless, my comments are not going to take away from the book. This book is a standard paperback publication and is completely done in black and white. I feel this is an incredibly missed opportunity as a book like this should have been done in full colour. The exclusive photography throughout the book would have demonstrated more effectively how great Atari was and raised the bar on the product as a whole and made this the penultimate guide to the Atari 8-bit computer. I think it should have been a little bigger than the standard novel size of 9″ x 6″ as a book based of a system of the past should have a bigger scope. I also feel an exclusive interview here and there would have added even more glitter to the book. Now, I understand that the cost of printing these days is quite expensive, but this could have either had a crowd funder to produce the funds to do so. I’m sure there would have had great support like what was seen for the Art of Atari publication from Tim Lapetino. The writing within the book was superb and enjoyable. My final thoughts on the book are that it is fantastic and highly recommend for everyone who has an interest or love of the Atari brand of the past. This is one is for your book shelf.
If you like this review and are interested in acquiring a copy of this excellent little book, then by all means head over to : Amazon
Creator of forth coming Coin-Op:Arcade Guide and creator of the Atari Gamer Magazine and the Atari ST Gamer Magazines. Retro gaming expert & fact finder.