GraphicThe Cult of Mac Book ReviewThe Cult of Mac Book

The Cult of Mac
Publisher: No Starch Press
Retail Price: $24.95
ISBN: 1593271220

The Cult of Mac, by Leander Kahney, is a beautifully designed book clearly meant as a "coffee table" volume. It has tabbed covers (to mark your place, of course), two column pages chock full of photos, creative use of color and font, and a glossy, sleek design (in contrast to the less than glamorous Mac GUI shots that highlight each chapter page).

The book is separated into five parts running the gamut from Mac fanatics (Macintosh Madness) to iPod world domination (New Frontier). In between, the author takes the reader for a stroll through weird and wonderful examples of Mac devotion and the influence Apple products have had on society.

Macintosh Madness chronicles the obsession most Mac users have come to experience: the desire for newer models (no, we don't need them) as they're introduced, the admiration for Steve Jobs for energizing Apple and lifting the company out of the Dark Ages, physical displays of Mac love (tattoos, haircuts), the act of Macspotting (Macs on CSI!!!), Mac evangelists like Guy Kawasaki, and the highly addictive nature of Apple rumor sites.

Part 2, Gatherings of the Clan, describes the need for Mac fans to come together in a group hug at MacWorld. The author gives a realistic portrait of the conference, the myriad personalities that attend, and the atmosphere of anticipation and excitement. Included in this part is a very entertaining chapter on Japanese Mac fanatics. Kahney laces his description of the Japanese love affair with the Mac with a number of fascinating cultural references and oddities.

Modding the Mac is the topic of Part 3: Incessant Tinkerers. The venerable Macquarium is described in its many iterations along with a variety of hardware mods and the unusual paper Macs. Kahney also includes a beautiful photo array of fantasy Macs, many of which have appeared on the Internet as fake "leaks" prior to major hardware announcements. Although gorgeous mock-ups, when comparing some of these to actual released models, it's clear the Apple design team has the edge on originality.

Part 4 details the hoarders and collectors in the Mac community. The author highlights the habits of several Apple collectors who have dedicated huge amounts of cash and time to their obsession. The ease with which they were consumed by their addiction to all things Mac is only a little surprising. Any Mac fanatic would feel sympathetic to the cause.

Also included in this section are chapters on antique Macs like the Color Classic, SE/30, Plus, and the Apple I. OH! And the Newton. This book would not be complete without a discussion of the Newton and those who still use the handheld device. HyperCard and Mac interface revivalists are also covered here. I enjoyed the aside with Bill Atkinson, the developer of HyperCard, who muses about the potential of his software and how he "missed the mark" by not developing HyperCard as the first Web browser.

The newest part included in this edition of The Cult of Mac is New Frontiers and includes a chapter on the phenomenal impact of the iPod on technology as a platform agnostic device with universal appeal. The iPod exceeded everyone's dreams as a market success and surprised many by becoming a cultural icon.

The final chapter in the book is an amusing introspection on what makes Mac fans so loyal. It's not so much a dive into individual or mass psychology as it is a meandering stroll through the musings of a variety of gurus who make a living trying to make sense of such things. Kahney treats this lightheartedly and without bias.

While not meant to be read cover-to-cover, the reader can easily get caught up in this book by sheer virtue of the compelling nature of how extreme people can act. In many ways, the fact that so many people are driven to outlandish and creative displays of love for the Mac is a natural extension of the sheer simple beauty of the Apple product line. Where else are people moved to covet and hoard the packaging of the product? Mac loyalists are moved to admire and adore the entire experience from box to device. They have a social relationship with their computers.

The Cult of Mac is a cultural examination of a particular (and peculiar) aspect of society that is not confined to the American nation. The Mac phenomenon extends around the globe and these displays of fanaticism are very humorously chronicled in Kahney's book. Ordinary people are portrayed here. The creativity and extent of their obsession makes them extraordinary. Leander Kahney has captured the breadth of the phenomenon in a compelling and visually appealing volume without taking the subject or himself too seriously. This is not a "we are cooler than you are" book. This book will entertain anyone interested in how one corner of technology and design has influenced society. Even devoted PC users will find the Mac culture described here amusing and enlightening.


Review by NCMUG member Mary Norbury