As you may know, Tracy Kidder is the author of some wonderful non-fiction books, including Soul of a New Machine, House, and Mountains Beyond Mountains. (He also attended both high school and college with me, but that’s not so important.) Apparently this really is a small world, as Kidder’s new book, A Truck Full of Money: Coding, Mania, Love, Genius: The Life of an American Entrepreneur, is a biography of Paul English, who was a software developer at Interleaf while I was working there. I’m sure that all of this isn’t really a coincidence. English is now a multi-millionaire and a philanthropist; I am neither.
Anyway, although (or perhaps because) this was written with the full cooperation of the subject, Kidder gives a warts-and-all presentation of Paul English, from his childhood in a working-class family in West Roxbury through his education at Boston Latin to his founding and sale of several companies, most especially Kayak. I found it all quite captivating, but you may not. You‘ll get some snapshots of the software development process, include QA, but you won’t really learn about it in depth. You’ll definitely get a feel for the short-lived jobs in software startups, as I know from my own experience. When I needed a break from teaching in the mid ’80s, I worked for LCSI, Atari, BBN, Mirror, MAD, Interleaf, Coleco, and I’m sure I’ve left out a couple — all in a span of about six years. That’s how it was in the ’80s.
Most importantly, you will learn about the various people in English’s life, especially the colleagues whom he brought along with him from job to job. This again was not unusual. In particular, you’ll learn how his life has been affected by his bipolar disorder, which he is open about. All of this interacts in significant ways with his philanthropy, which became possible when he sold Kayak to Priceline for a lot of money. Although he’s not quite a billionaire, English made enough money to be able to provide significant aid to Haiti and to fund the Martin Luther King/Coretta Scott King memorial in Boston.