In English, Kidder has as fascinating a subject as one can imagine ... Kidder knows a good subject when he sees it. The ambitious and troubled English gave the author nearly unlimited access to his world, both professional and personal...So the book has an absorbing fly-on-the-wall feel ... Kidder’s prose glides with a figure skater’s ease, but without the glam. His is a seemingly artless art, like John McPhee’s, that conceals itself in sentences that are necessary, economical, and unpretentious.
Tracy Kidder’s achievement in this biography is matched by the ease of his storytelling. Kidder takes on a hugely complicated man – brilliant, troubled, obsessive, a charismatic team leader, dutiful son and 'monster coder,' as English might say – and he paints a rich, three-dimensional portrait. He also gives a sense of the wild start-up culture in which English thrived. That Paul English comes across as a shrewd, appealing character, not a saint, reflects Kidder’s success.
...a book about a software guy and software culture in 2016 isn’t nearly as novel as a book about hardware guys and hardware culture in 1981, and Mr. Kidder is not in the same command of his material. He seems much more like a fellow who’s stepped off a cruise ship for an afternoon than like someone who’s spent many months inhabiting Mr. English’s world ... Mr. Kidder’s portrayal of living with manic depression is as nuanced and intimate as a reader might ever expect to get ... [the conclusion] feels a bit arbitrary, much like the book itself. But you can’t help admiring Mr. English and cheering for him.