Review: Core Memory - A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers


Book Reviews

When I was a teenager, I used to spend a fair amount of time with a group of like-minded peers at a local store, which sold audio equipment but also had a table with “home computers”. That was before 8bit computers had the aura of being “cool” (just like, as an aside, being a fan of Kraftwerk back then was considered anything but “hip”). In fact, when I programmed a Commodore 64 “home computer” to play Johann Sebastian Bach’s Italian Concerto at my high school’s chamber music concert and then also distributed a leaflet that claimed that computers were to play a major part in music, all I got was hundreds of quite blank stares. Or maybe it was me demonstrating what aforementioned Concerto sounded like when played backwards. I remember that some people were nodding wisely, because probably they had always figured that there was something strange about that quiet, lanky kid.

Fast forward twenty years, and how little have things changed - at least as far as I am concerned! I am still using computers a lot, in fact for my job I am now using the largest computers that I can get my hands on, and here I am again, proselytizing; this time, it’s contemporary photography. At least now people seem to enjoy it for the most part.

Having said all this, you probably realize immediately that I am a biased reviewer for a book entitled Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers. But then, maybe I’m not. At no stage in my life did I ever entertain the idea that computers were “cool”. In fact, for the most part I find dealing with computers quite annoying, because they were such a hassle to use - and they still are. But computers are “here to stay” as the old saying goes, and there’s very little need to complain about it. And even though I was a bit embarrassed for the longest time about that chamber music concert episode (especially given that I live in a culture that belittles stuff like that as “geeky” or “nerdy”), I can now smile about it (disclaimer: it’s either my somewhat advanced age or that glass of red wine next to me that made me write this).

The beauty of Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers is that regardless of what you think about computers (unless you really hate them) you will get to enjoy the book. If you think vintage computers are “cool”, this is the book for you. If you are fascinated by the history of computers, ditto. If you want to look at what computers used to look like to infer a bit about the mind sets of the people who made (and used) them, there’s rich material.

Strictly speaking, Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers is not a photo book. However, the photography in the book - by Mark Richards - is quite exquisit, and you get just enough added information about each and every computer to know what you’re looking at. Just don’t try to understand the page numbers - or, if you managed to understand them, do send me an email how they work.

PS: Aforementioned Commodore 64 only appears on page 140 - I’m not that old after all (and I’m going to spare you my personal Konrad Zuse story).

PPS: Nobody ever really figured out what a “home computer” was really supposed to be.