Executive summary: Idea Man

A peek into the life of the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen.

IDEA MAN: A Memoir by the Co-founder of Microsoft
(Portfolio Penguin)
Paul Allen

Bill Gates was the most public face of Microsoft, but of course the company started as a partnership with the kid Gates met one day in a group of students crowded around a teletype machine in a Seattle high school. Gates and Allen were kindred spirits from the start, but if both were driven to get under the hood of the earliest computers, Gates was the more strategic thinker, while the title of this memoir best describes Allen’s role in the partnership. And if the two shared an extraordinarily unified vision for their company, they also shared an often fraught relationship.

Allen makes an engaging storyteller, and the book’s best passages capture the thrill of discovery he experienced at the fore of the burgeoning personal computer industry, or the behind-the-scenes tensions inevitable when two teenage friends grow into the twin heads of a multinational corporation. And if the latter half of the book is in some ways the more extraordinary part of the story, dealing with Allen’s life after leaving Microsoft—pro sports franchise owner, private spaceflight pioneer, backer of neuroscientific breakthroughs and multimedia rock ’n’ roll temples—it’s the inside take on Microsoft’s growing pains that will be most tantalizing for business readers.