Book Review: Paul Allen’s Memoir: Idea Man

by Khalid Hosein on May 25, 2011

Book cover of Paul Allen's "Idea Man" One of the co-founders of Microsoft along with Bill Gates, Paul Allen is one of the richest men in the United States and the world, and he recently wrote an autobiography called Idea Man.

Over half the book is devoted to his early life and inevitably his time at Microsoft. The rest of the book is devoted to his life after Microsoft particularly his varied Investments and and contributions to arts and music and sports.

While other headlines blared that the book slammed Bill Gates, I don’t see it that way. From everything I’ve read about Gates’ personality, Allen was just recounting the same almost matter-of-factly. If anything, he was almost complimentary and in admiration of Gates’ living-on-the-edge personality, although he probably reacted in consternation more so than anything else.

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While there was some mention of Gates continually restructuring their initial 6-40 split, I don’t feel that he dwelled on it, but that it was worth talking about in the context of his eventual wealth as well as it being one of the factors in his decision to leave Microsoft.

Inevitably, with Allen and Gates spending so much time together prior to and at Microsoft meant that a significant amount of the material would revolve around their interactions and relationship. And it is fascinating at times. Allen corroborates much of the folklore surrounding the Bill Gates persona, and casts himself as a staid, boring if you will, character.

If you’re into computers and history, then you’ll find at least the first half of the book chock full of interesting content. The second half of the book is mostly about life after Microsoft and his ensuing endeavors such as buying pro sports teams, investing in various companies and research and his ongoing health problems. Allen has certainly not sat around idly after resigning from Microsoft and has a diverse set of experiments and accomplishments to point to, yet strangely Bill Gates will still always be the one garnering the headlines.

This book, or anything of the genre (Hackers is a great book) is worth a read if you’re interested in how many of these uber-rich techno-geeks started out. I almost wished there were more code in it, but then again, what would I know about programs for the PDP-10 or an Altair! It can even be inspiring – makes you want to put the book down and get coding.