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The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest/ Mount Dragon


In the basement of a distinguished Silicon Valley research lab, Andy Caspar's engineering talents are being ignored. All he wants is a meaningful and challenging project to prove himself.

A chance appears when Francis Benoit, the lab's chief engineer, sets Andy up on a long-neglected project: design a radically simpler and cheaper computer. Andy recruits three eccentric ...

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Frye, Aaron (reader) Grand Haven, Michigan, U.S.A. 1997 Audio Book Audio Book Very Good (Cassette Tapes) in Good-(Box) jacket Brief summary of content available on request by ... e-mail. Abridged audio book on 2 cassettes. Running time 3 hours. Read more Show Less

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In the basement of a distinguished Silicon Valley research lab, Andy Caspar's engineering talents are being ignored. All he wants is a meaningful and challenging project to prove himself.

A chance appears when Francis Benoit, the lab's chief engineer, sets Andy up on a long-neglected project: design a radically simpler and cheaper computer. Andy recruits three eccentric programmers, and the team works around the clock to achieve a breakthrough.

But just as Andy's team is on the verge of success, their work becomes a threat to other interests at the research lab; the project and their careers are put in jeopardy. To save his project, Andy must be far more than a programmer - he must become a strategist, a salesman, and an expert motivator.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
FYI: Bronson is chairman of Consortium Book Sales & Distribution.
Library Journal
Silicon Valley think-tank engineer Andy Caspar likes his job, but the head engineer has it in for him. Forced to work on creating a consumer PC that sells for less than $300, Andy gives it all he's got. His team progresses quite nicely until their bosses decide the project is a threat. Andy and his friends decide to start their own company. Little do they realize they are merely game pieces being manipulated by a master. Narrator Aaron Frye is comfortable in his role as the affable Andy. Frye also gets high marks for creating the memorable misfits on Andy's team and the various higher-ups at the think-tank. What he can't correct, however, is the narrative. Although unabridged, the novel is full of gaps and goes in several directions at once. On the other hand, author Bronson understands the vagaries of the technology industry, including the practical jokes, back-stabbing, and credit-hogging that runs rampant. Libraries with a technical constituency should definitely purchase!Jodi L. Israel, Westwood, Mass.
Ray Duncan

Molding Moguls

The First $20 Million Is Always The Hardest is social commentary encapsulated in a humorous novel about computer nerds and their quest for The Next Big Thing. In this respect, it follows in the footsteps of Douglas Coupland's Microserfs,although it is not (thanks be to Knuth!) cluttered up with Couplandesque visual gimmicks and junk typography. Knowing that Bronson writes for Wired, and having watched with disappointment as Wired went steadily downhill since its first issue, I must admit that I bought this book mostly with the idea that it would be shallow, pretentious, and deserving of a severe bashing. I was way wrong!

Bronson's novel is entertaining and highly readable, but the most impressive thing about it is the way the author fearlessly plays out the story smack-dab in the center of today's feverishly evolving software and hardware scene. Most novels about computers take place in the future or an alternate universe, or (like Coupland's and Crichton's) they gloss over the details to the point where the technology doesn't really matter. The First $20 Million, on the other hand, is set firmly in the real-time Silicon Valley and revolves around an Intel CPU clone much like Cyrix's and a software invention much like Java. Yet the machinery of the plot never makes the technically-savvy reader gnash his or her teeth with gross blunders or distortions. This is a remarkable accomplishment!

To say more would be to spoil the twists and turns of the tale. You'll enjoy this book.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books

Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling Bronson's (Bombardiers, 1995) stab at capturing and conveying the high-tech angsts and ecstasies of California's Santa Clara (a.k.a. Silicon) Valley comes off as less a novel than a preachy, populist allegory.

Despite a place on the payroll at La Honda Research Center, Andy Caspar is discontented. The Stanford grad is doing scut work while fellow engineers are advancing the state of broadcast, computer, networking, semiconductor, and telecommunications media for the West Coast electronics enterprises that fund the prestigious nonprofit institution. Rejected by the legendary Francis Benoit for a high-profile chip program, Andy winds up heading a dead-end project whose stated objective is to develop a personal computer that can retail for $300 or less. No shirker, Andy recruits some assistants and gets cracking. When word leaks out that the outcasts' efforts could bear fruit, an influential sponsor (less than eager to encourage low-end competition) lays down the law. Effectively cut adrift, Andy & Co. (who have devised a universal program that can afford speedy access to the Internet's data streams) go in search of venture capital. The only willing source of financing they can find, however, is a sleazy accountant. Desperate, they accept his hard bargain (which costs them control of the company) and learn that their angel is fronting for the duplicitous Benoit. Andy fights back, consigning a recoded version of his brainchild to the public domain and thwarting the best-laid plans of the villains for a megabuck public stock offering. At the close, Mr. Integrity and two of his three original colleagues are gainfully employed at a for-profit concern morally committed to making and marketing low-priced hardware and all-purpose software.

Not without a few bright spots, but Louis B. Mayer was right: In most cases, messages are best left to Western Union.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561009749
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 3/28/1997
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Product dimensions: 4.33 (w) x 6.97 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Po Bronson is the author of Bombardiers, which was an international bestseller, as well as receiving critical acclaim. Kirkus claimed it was "Required reading for everyone," and the Baltimore Sun called it "Brilliant, devastatingly funny." He is a feature writer for Wired magazine, and lives in San Francisco.


Po Bronson is the rare writer that makes no claims to having an extraordinary or controversial history. On his web site, he states, "I'm a regular guy. I don't have much of a particularly unusual story." While some may assume such a description might not be the makings of a person with any stories worth telling, it actually provides the perfect background for a writer such as Bronson. He has made it his mission to relate the stories of his fellow everyday people, and with books such as What Should I Do With My Life? and Why Do I Love These People?, he has proved that ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives.

A prolific writer with a talent well-suited for a variety of genres, Bronson started out dabbling in screenplays, op-eds, TV and radio scripts, performance monologues, and literary reviews, and his first two books were satirical novels. Bombardiers (1995) was a sort of Catch 22 set in the bond-trading business; The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest: A Silicon Valley Novel, Vol. 4 (1997) a tale about the West Coast tech boom of the late 1990's. With his third book, The Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other Tales of Silicon Valley, he turned his focus away from fiction and toward the true stories of the tech-heads he encountered while working as a writer in Silicon Valley. Hailed by The Village Voice Literary Supplement upon its publication as "the most complete and empathetic portrait of the Valley so far," the breakout bestseller established Bronson as the first author to truly capture the spirit of the high-tech heyday.

In writing What Should I Do With My Life? (2003), Bronson posed that very question to a variety of regular folks all around the globe. The result: a rich and fascinating compendium of inspirational, witty, and insightful personal stories about finding one's direction, vocational and otherwise. The book was a tremendous success, and Bronson had clearly found his niche. Why Do I Love These People? followed in late 2005. This time around, Bronson questioned a multitude of people about illness, resolving familial conflicts, infidelity, prejudice, money problems, abuse, death, and other provocative issues, once again illustrating that one need not be a celebrity to lead a life worth reading about. Among others, Bronson encounters a Southern Baptist in the Ozarks who tracks down the teenage son he had abandoned at birth, a woman who fought for her life and the life of her children while trapped underwater in a Texas river, and a Turkish Muslim who wed a U.S. naval officer -- a union resulting in death threats from her own father.

Bronson characterizes his recent books as "social documentaries," but he doesn't rule out returning to the other genres he's loved. He does, however, credit his recent work with one important feature: "I used to write novels, and maybe I will again one day," he told in an audio interview, "but I have found that writing these social documentaries is good for me as a person."

Good To Know

Some fun factoids gleaned from our interview with Bronson:

"Well, when I look upon what I've written to the below questions, there's a lot on how I became a writer, but not much on how I came to write the books I have been doing the last six years. I write social documentaries, in which I tell the life stories of ordinary people. I used to write novels, and maybe I will again one day. But I have found that writing these social documentaries is good for me as a person; they make me a better person. I put myself in a position where I need to listen and learn from other people I interview. And even if the books were not successes, I would be a better person just for doing so much listening."

"Okay, I realize now that's now what you were really asking. It sounds like you want personal details -- you want to know me through my lists: my lists of books, films, music, restaurants I eat at, hobbies I enjoy. I'm not sure that's the best way to know the soul of a person, because it kind of suggests that who we are = what we consume. However, I'll answer, by all means. Here we go:

  • What I drive: Toyota Sienna minivan
  • Where I buy clothes: Banana Republic, Mexx, and thrift stores
  • Cell phone brand: Treo 650
  • Kids: Two. My son is 4, my daughter 1
  • Dog: golden retriever, 84 pounds
  • What I cooked for dinner last night: Pork tenderloin in a mustard crème sauce
  • What I'm cooking for dinner tonight: Nachos
  • Where I exercise: in my basement, on the elliptical machine
  • Favorite TV show: House. But I am a huge fan of football, basketball, and baseball. So actually my favorite TV show is Sportscenter
  • I play soccer in the Liga de Latina in San Francisco. I will play until I die
  • Favorite Cities: London, Hong Kong, Paris, Ronda, Verona
  • Parents: Still alive
  • Grandparents: one left. My grandmother. But I knew them all, and had lots of time with all of them
  • Favorite Beach: Todos Santos, Mexico
  • Why a name like "Po": Why not?"
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      1. Hometown:
        San Francisco, California
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 14, 1964
      2. Place of Birth:
        Seattle, Washington
      1. Education:
        B.A., Stanford University, 1986; M.F.A., San Francisco State University, 1995

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