Review: The Race For Perfect

If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to get a laptop from a concept to your hands, The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer by BusinessWeek writer Steve Hamm is the book for you.

The Race for Perfect looks at what until now was a mostly forgotten part of computer history (in print): that of making small computers. Which, as I think it’s become pretty clear, is also the future of computing. Other great books like Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age and Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution have mostly focused on desktops.

Hamm’s book is at it’s best when it is reporting. We’ll probably have to wait for a book like Hackers to get more meat out of laptop history and to bring the characters involved to life. The history is more overview. But the middle 2/3 of The Race for Perfect, dealing with the Lenovo’s creation of the X300, is really good stuff, and Hamm got the kind of access that is usually guarded pretty closely. Hamm shows us not only the ambitions of Lenovo’s CEO Yang Yuanqing, but also follows that through to the designers, engineers, manufacturers, and marketers who are all involved in bringing a new product to life. Hamm takes us from the design rooms of North Carolina to the manufacturing facilities of Japan and China to show the effort, decisions, and trade-offs the team has to make to bring a sophisticated piece of equipment to market.

Don’t expect much from the future chapter: it takes some shots in the dark that already seem a little dated.

But overall, recommended.