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The Mysterious Affair at Olivetti: IBM, the CIA, and the Cold War Conspiracy to Shut Down Production of the World's First Desktop Computer

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The never-before-told true account of the design and development of the first desktop computer by the world's most famous high-styled typewriter company, more than a decade before the arrival of the Osborne 1, the Apple 1, the first Intel microprocessor, and IBM's PC5150. The human, business, design, engineering, cold war, and tech story of how the Olivetti company came to The never-before-told true account of the design and development of the first desktop computer by the world's most famous high-styled typewriter company, more than a decade before the arrival of the Osborne 1, the Apple 1, the first Intel microprocessor, and IBM's PC5150. The human, business, design, engineering, cold war, and tech story of how the Olivetti company came to be, how it survived two world wars and brought a ravaged Italy back to life, how after it mastered the typewriter business with the famous "Olivetti touch," it entered the new, fierce electronics race; how its first desktop compter, the P101, came to be; how, within eighteen months, it had caught up with, and surpassed, IBM, the American giant that by then had become an arm of the American government, developing advanced weapon systems; Olivetti putting its own mainframe computer on the market with its desktop prototype, selling 40,000 units, including to NASA for its lunar landings. How Olivetti made inroads into the US market by taking control of Underwood of Hartford CT as an assembly plant for Olivetti's own typewriters and future miniaturized personal computers; how a week after Olivetti purchased Underwood, the US government filed an antitrust suit to try to stop it; how Adriano Olivetti, the legendary idealist, socialist, visionary, heir to the company founded by his father, built the company into a fantastical dynasty--factories, offices, satellite buildings spread over more than fifty acres--while on a train headed for Switzerland in 1960 for supposed meetings and then to Hartford, never arrived, dying suddenly of a heart attack at fifty-eight . . . how eighteen months later, his brilliant young engineer, who had assembled Olivetti's superb team of electronic engineers, was killed, as well, in a suspicious car crash, and how the Olivetti company and the P101 came to its insidious and shocking end.


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The never-before-told true account of the design and development of the first desktop computer by the world's most famous high-styled typewriter company, more than a decade before the arrival of the Osborne 1, the Apple 1, the first Intel microprocessor, and IBM's PC5150. The human, business, design, engineering, cold war, and tech story of how the Olivetti company came to The never-before-told true account of the design and development of the first desktop computer by the world's most famous high-styled typewriter company, more than a decade before the arrival of the Osborne 1, the Apple 1, the first Intel microprocessor, and IBM's PC5150. The human, business, design, engineering, cold war, and tech story of how the Olivetti company came to be, how it survived two world wars and brought a ravaged Italy back to life, how after it mastered the typewriter business with the famous "Olivetti touch," it entered the new, fierce electronics race; how its first desktop compter, the P101, came to be; how, within eighteen months, it had caught up with, and surpassed, IBM, the American giant that by then had become an arm of the American government, developing advanced weapon systems; Olivetti putting its own mainframe computer on the market with its desktop prototype, selling 40,000 units, including to NASA for its lunar landings. How Olivetti made inroads into the US market by taking control of Underwood of Hartford CT as an assembly plant for Olivetti's own typewriters and future miniaturized personal computers; how a week after Olivetti purchased Underwood, the US government filed an antitrust suit to try to stop it; how Adriano Olivetti, the legendary idealist, socialist, visionary, heir to the company founded by his father, built the company into a fantastical dynasty--factories, offices, satellite buildings spread over more than fifty acres--while on a train headed for Switzerland in 1960 for supposed meetings and then to Hartford, never arrived, dying suddenly of a heart attack at fifty-eight . . . how eighteen months later, his brilliant young engineer, who had assembled Olivetti's superb team of electronic engineers, was killed, as well, in a suspicious car crash, and how the Olivetti company and the P101 came to its insidious and shocking end.

48 review for The Mysterious Affair at Olivetti: IBM, the CIA, and the Cold War Conspiracy to Shut Down Production of the World's First Desktop Computer

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dale Bentz

    An interesting read of the trials and successes of the Olivetti dynasty in Italy. While Secrest succeeds as a historian and author, however, she fails as a detective. The conjectures concerning the deaths of key members of the Olivetti team are lacking in any new facts that would elevate them beyond the class of pure speculation. Perhaps one day, the true stories will be uncovered and presented in a new book. Hope so!

  2. 4 out of 5

    JDK1962

    I had a special interest in this, since I lived and worked in Ivrea in 1989, at an Olivetti joint venture company. Had I not, I doubt I would have finished this. Despite the title, the majority of this book is simply a history of Olivetti, and on that score, I found it interesting. Three chapters before the end, the story turns to the P101 (which the author terms "the world's first desktop computer", which is a pretty weak contention...maybe the world's first programmable calculator, but I had a special interest in this, since I lived and worked in Ivrea in 1989, at an Olivetti joint venture company. Had I not, I doubt I would have finished this. Despite the title, the majority of this book is simply a history of Olivetti, and on that score, I found it interesting. Three chapters before the end, the story turns to the P101 (which the author terms "the world's first desktop computer", which is a pretty weak contention...maybe the world's first programmable calculator, but anyway), and Olivetti falling upon hard times. Then the last chapter comes along, which is pretty much all conspiracy theory, in which, based on very little (if any) actual hard or non-circumstantial evidence, the author weaves a theory about how a deep dark conspiracy of US and Italian government and economic forces conspired to put a boot on Olivetti's throat and keep it barely limping along for another few decades. Suffice it to say that I didn't buy any of the conspiracy theory. One would have to completely discard Occam's Razor (as well as the saying "never ascribe to malice that which may be adequately explained by stupidity") to buy the final chapter. Italian economics/bureaucracy, mediocre management of a family company, and internal factions fighting for turf were more than sufficient to doom the P101.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Craig Evans

    A family business growing and changing. World War 2. Trysts and deceit. Mechanical and electronic engineering. Marriages and divorces. Geopolitical machinations. These set some of the background and content for the authors exploration of the Olivetti corporation, once one of the largest manufacturers of business machines in the world. A fascinating read, with much family history and the culmination of great thought and activity in engineering, social activism, art, design, and architecture. It A family business growing and changing. World War 2. Trysts and deceit. Mechanical and electronic engineering. Marriages and divorces. Geopolitical machinations. These set some of the background and content for the authors exploration of the Olivetti corporation, once one of the largest manufacturers of business machines in the world. A fascinating read, with much family history and the culmination of great thought and activity in engineering, social activism, art, design, and architecture. It did take quite a bit of time to get through the fascinating backstory of the family and business before one got to the last chapter, the one which really got into the gritty information that provided the books subtitle. The fact that what can be considered the worlds first desktop computer was created a decade before Apple and IBM's endeavours is an eye-opener. And given the cold-war sentimatilities of that era there is likely more to the story than is presented. Kudos to the author for her investigation and the process that generated this text. (there are several authors and books mentioned in the Acknowledgements that appear to be worthwhile in seeking out for further exploration of the information.) Disclosure: I received the advance copy via a give-away on GoodReads.com

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sean S

    Having little background on Olivetti, I found myself simultaneously intrigued and disappointed by this book. The premise of the story is that Olivetti invented the first PC as we generally recognize the term, and there was some nefarious intelligence play to shut it down. The reality of this book is as follows: * haphazard background on various parts of the Olivetti clan, with weak writing mixed in * eventually getting to the PC part and realizing the machine was cutting edge but not the PC we Having little background on Olivetti, I found myself simultaneously intrigued and disappointed by this book. The premise of the story is that Olivetti invented the first PC as we generally recognize the term, and there was some nefarious intelligence play to shut it down. The reality of this book is as follows: * haphazard background on various parts of the Olivetti clan, with weak writing mixed in * eventually getting to the PC part and realizing the machine was cutting edge but not the PC we think of * random speculation which adds nothing in the way of credibility in the final chapters as to why he died on the train that day Skip the book and Google the matter. You will get there quicker with the same results.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Harley

    I did not finish this book. I read up to page 73 and had to stop. The cover and description are beautiful. There is so much excitement and intrigue in both. However, it feels like Meryle and her marketing team have two different agendas. The book is written in a very dry tone and discusses politics and architecture quite a bit. And while these both have a part in the main story, I felt as if I were reading through a bunch of Wikipedia articles. I wanted to keep reading, but increasingly found I did not finish this book. I read up to page 73 and had to stop. The cover and description are beautiful. There is so much excitement and intrigue in both. However, it feels like Meryle and her marketing team have two different agendas. The book is written in a very dry tone and discusses politics and architecture quite a bit. And while these both have a part in the main story, I felt as if I were reading through a bunch of Wikipedia articles. I wanted to keep reading, but increasingly found myself dreading reading more of this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margit

    Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. This book was basically a hodgepodge history of the Olivetti family: what they manufactured, where they had offices, who lived where and with whom, who they liked, what their politics were, and so forth. As a dynastic history, it was barely adequate. As a book about the history of desktop computers, it was a failure. If there was a conspiracy, I must have skipped over it because I don't remember reading about one.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Very interesting read. I recommend this book!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  9. 4 out of 5

    Meril

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ặĥɱặd Ặł Ĥặśśặŋ

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  12. 5 out of 5

    Loraine Hunziker

  13. 5 out of 5

    John Dupuis

  14. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  16. 4 out of 5

    Trish

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dayna

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Neal

  20. 4 out of 5

    Diana Duncan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

  22. 4 out of 5

    Richard Dominguez

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  24. 5 out of 5

    Beatrice

  25. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  26. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

  27. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

  28. 5 out of 5

    BMR, LCSW

  29. 5 out of 5

    James Beggarly

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alice Maldonado Gallardo

  31. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  32. 4 out of 5

    Diane

  33. 5 out of 5

    Angela

  34. 5 out of 5

    Vuk Trifkovic

  35. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  36. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Moser

  37. 5 out of 5

    Martin Prusinkiewicz

  38. 5 out of 5

    Leigh Anne

  39. 5 out of 5

    C

  40. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

  41. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  42. 5 out of 5

    Janet Savill

  43. 4 out of 5

    Ethel

  44. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  45. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  46. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  47. 5 out of 5

    Bill Schlott

  48. 5 out of 5

    ☯~☽~•Patricia Mainard•~☾~☯

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