To begin with, something to get out of the way: I’ve kind of lost track of the editions of Bagnall’s books. First there was the excellent “On the Edge – The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore”, one of my all-time favourite retro computing AND business books. Then came “Commodore: a company on the edge”, which has gone through a couple of revisions (I think), which is…? Supposedly, it’s got a bit more content like interviews with (the overrated) Kit Spencer, but why the different title?
Anyhow, “The Amiga Years” at least gives away the focus, and a follow-up within 2018 (eagerly awaiting it) will deal with Commodore’s latest years.
Brian Bagnall, according to Amazon and for those who don’t know, is the author of numerous computer titles, including Core LEGO Mindstorms, On the Edge, and Maximum LEGO NXT. He is also a frequent contributor to Old-Computers.com, an online museum dedicated to recording and preserving computer history. He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
On to the book, then. A nice 504-page long read, it will satisfy most. The hardcover format is of great quality – great binding, nice dust jacket (even if it doesn’t quite fit in with the previous books) and even the paper smell is great (for the weird of us).
The writing is concise and easy to read as always with Bagnall. It’s separated into proper chapters, sub-separated into mini-topics, so you can pick it up and read for a few minutes easily without leaving something in the middle.
At least the first half must have fallen through the cracks when editing, because there are several instances of stuff repeating within a paragraph or two, or things that are transposed in their position in their text, like what happens when you’re writing something and you revise it without re-reading the whole lot. After the 50 or 60% mark though it gets better, and in any case it’s not too bad to begin with; just a pity because the otherwise excellent feel is marred by these missteps.
Bagnall begins with the Amiga story itself, focusing on the Amiga company. This is not strictly Commodore history of course, but he’s well entitled to do so as the beginnings are of great interest. The transition between the Amiga and the Commodore story is seamless and very organic and the two stories meld together beautifully.
Tons of quotes from Commodore and Amiga staff give the inside story, and this is presented beautifully.
One thing that makes the book stand out from other retro computing books is his balanced approach. I’ve seen books where only engineering is considered, and the rest of the corporate functions (especially marketing) is ommitted, if not sneered at, like there’s a chance in hell anything could go to market and succeed just because some engineers got together and designed something beautiful.
Bagnall does give engineering much focus for the first half or so of the book, but slowly the rest comes in and the result is, again, a book that is not only a great computing history book but a business book as well.
Speaking of which, it’s definitely not as good as his first book(s), where the story was much better meshed together, but still it stands heads and shoulders above other books in the genre (the awful “Atari Inc – Business is Fun” comes to mind, where the budgeting meeting is more or less described as of no consequence and pretty useless).
Towards the end of the book Bagnall seemed to me to have run out of time. Towards its end things become more hurried and the very end is a crescendo lacking much of the flair and details of the beginning – the closing ot he Los Gatos branch, for instance, barely manages to fetch a couple of pages -if that.
The photos -not too many but not too few either, separated in two glossy-paper photo sections- are, unfortunately, nothing to write home about. Just a semi-random mismash of people and machines with no real connection to the book. Having been accustomed to the beauty of Bitmap Books, where photos are closely tied to the text, these were quite a disapointment, especially considering Bagnall’s access to the people of the story. All those machines! Prototypes, variations, schematics, drawings! Why are these not in there? What a pity.
As I said before, Commodore: The Amiga Years is not as good as his first book. However this is not to say it’s not a great read (and this, coming from someone who is the opposite of a Commodore fan, having grown up with the likes of the CPC and the ST). If you’re serious about your computing history section of your library then you have to get this. If you’re a Commodore fan, you *need* to get this. If you enjoy business books, this is not fantastic, but is good nonetheless.
Can’t wait for the final tome!
Updates about CPCwiki.eu, the ultimate Amstrad CPC community, but also other retro-gaming goodness and anything I might find worthwhile…