• Console Wars

  • Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation
  • By: Blake J. Harris
  • Narrated by: Fred Berman
  • Length: 20 hrs and 41 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (4,345 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video-game industry.

In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the video-game industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But all that would change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a former Mattel executive who knew nothing about video games and everything about fighting uphill battles. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat, and bold ideas of his renegade employees, completely transformed Sega and led to a ruthless, David-and-Goliath showdown with Nintendo. Little did he realize that Sega's success would create many new enemies and, most important, make Nintendo stronger than ever.

The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and school yards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the United States against Japan.

Based on more than 200 interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the tale of how Tom Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punch line into a market leader. Blake J. Harris brings into focus the warriors, the strategies, and the battles and explores how they transformed popular culture forever. Ultimately, Console Wars is the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, give birth to a $60 billion industry.

©2014 Blake J. Harris (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Console Wars

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Was hoping for so much more...

The rise and fall of Sega of America during the 16 bit era under the leadership of Tom Kalinske, is a fascinating underdog story. Granted, it probably helps if you are a gamer, even more so if you had been one during that time period, but who doesn't love the story of a scrappy group of ragtags who take a nothing and make it something? Unfortunately, as anyone who knows the gaming business knows, this story doesn't have a happy ending, which I won't spoil, even though it's pretty much common knowledge how the whole thing went down by now.

I hate to repeat what so many other reviewers have written, but I can't get around it. This book reads like a cheesy novelization of a movie, which is no surprise considering it's author, Blake J. Harris is a screenwriter who is co-directing the movie of this book which, if I'm not mistaken, was already in planning before this book was even published. Harris admits in the introduction he may have take some poetic license here and there and it shows. Everything that happens in this book is so dramatic!

It doesn't help that Fred Berman is performing the heck out of the text. I'm not sure how else one could do it, but he matches groan worthy dialogue with clipped, Comic Book Guy cadences and almost gets to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany's level when reading Asian characters. The audiobook performance really emphasizes how annoyingly this thing was written.

So why didn't I just stop and hit the "return" button? Because the story is that fascinating to me. While I knew some of the details from years of reading retrogaming magazines and the book about Nintendo, Game Over, this was still very informative. I learned a lot of things, especially when it came to the origins of Sega's entry into the 32 bit era, and that was what kept me coming back.

The problem is, I have to wonder how much really happened and how much was that aforementioned poetic license. Certainly some things are a matter of record, but so many events happened behind closed doors and out of the public eye. Though I know Harris is said to have interviewed 200 people, the heavily dramatized style of writing causes me to instinctively question what I am hearing.

It would also have been really great to have seen more involvement from Sega of Japan. I haven't any idea how much Harris reached out to them and, if he did, it wouldn't be a shock to learn he was rebuffed. Still, without getting into too many spoilers, there are a lot of unanswered questions that only the people at Sega of Japan could answer, although it sounds like Tom Kalinske and all his team are probably still looking for those answers too.

The bottom line is, there's a great story here, it's just unfortunate the wrong person chose to write it. If you can stomach the unnecessary cinematic tone, and the audiobook performance to match, there's some good stuff here. It's just a shame that Harris couldn't have just written a book rather than trying to simultaneously make it into a movie.

16 people found this helpful

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Extremely disappointing

The early days of game consoles could be such an interesting subject. The pre-publication excerpt from this book I'd read (about the creation of Donkey Kong) was a great example of that. Unfortunately that excerpt was not representative at all, and mostly the book doesn't do justice to the subject. There are a number of minor problems, but two main ones.

First, the book is largely written in the form of cheesy reconstructed scenes with overly dramatized dialogue that just feels incredibly fake. Even the more factual parts are written with absurdly purple prose. It's just embarrassing to read.

Second, the book is bloated. This is only partly due to the dialogue-based storytelling method. The other issue is that the author hasn't been anywhere near sufficiently selective with what events to include. It feels like 50% of the book is detailed descriptions of the preparation of chickenshit marketing stunts with little apparent impact (as an example there was probably 20 minutes of detailed description of some kind of a Sega advertising event in 20 malls). Another 25% is human interest fluff with no relevance at all to the main story (often of bit players who really did not need to be fleshed out, so no reason at all for their inclusion).

Fred Berman does a good job as a narrator, but the original text is not salvageable.

13 people found this helpful

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My Childhood: Explained

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this audiobook to anyone who grew up playing video games in the 80s and 90s. I used to own a NES and an SNES and my cousin owned a Genesis (I later moved on to the PlayStation). This book does an excellent job answering all the questions I ever had about this awesome time in the Home Video Console eras.

What did you like best about this story?

I loved how the story played out like a drama and not like a history.

Which character – as performed by Fred Berman – was your favorite?

Fred Berman did an excellent job on all the characters. No one stood out as being exceptionally better (which I think is a good thing)... but I really liked the way he personified the geeky nature of Howard Phillips.

11 people found this helpful

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Just a bit too much Hero-worship

Any additional comments?

Ok, so normally I'm they type of person not to even bother with a review, but I feel this one needs a bit of a warning.

Let me preface with, I liked this book, and would read it again.The preformance is excelent, and even the over-the-top dialog is fun.

That said, This is one exceedingly biast book. The author seems to have a love affair with Tom Kalinske, and the hero worship can get a little grating.

"Hey guys, remember when Tom Kalinske predicted the coming of violent video games years before they happened? Remember how cool he was when he helped create the Nintendo 64 to spite SoJ? He helped cure AIDS y'know!"

I don't know how historically accurate any of the book is, but if you were to tell me that the author was Tom Kalinske himself using a pen name, I would not be surprised.

I do recommend this book, especially in the audio version.The performance is quite enjoyable. However, expect to be hit over the head every few chapters with how amazing Kalinske is and how SEGA's downfall was Japan's fault entirely.

8 people found this helpful

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If you love video games...

If you could sum up Console Wars in three words, what would they be?

Classic underdog story

What was one of the most memorable moments of Console Wars?

The ongoing battle between Sega of Japan and Sega of the US

Have you listened to any of Fred Berman’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Moments of laughter

5 people found this helpful

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Mostly Dramatized

What disappointed you about Console Wars?

It's told from an obviously biased (for the sake of story) point of view. Sega good. Nintendo bad. America good. Japan bad. Not only that, but this book is 20 hours long because of all the tiny dramatized, obviously fictional details. Which makes for good fiction, but bad history. This book describes the looks on people's faces and passing thoughts that supposedly happened over 20 years ago.

Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

Nothing technical here.

Which scene was your favorite?

The fact that this is asking about scenes says a lot.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from Console Wars?

I would cut the fluff and fictional drama. The actual story without the fluff is good enough on it's own.

Any additional comments?

I wouldn't necessarily not recommend it… It just annoyed me that this book is a hybrid. Part fiction, part non fiction. It made it hard to know what was accurate and what wasn't.

5 people found this helpful

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Racist voices, unbelievable dialogue

had to give this one up half way through. did not enjoy the attempt at Japanese-influenced English (actually heard the performer substitute an R for an L), and stilted, fake dialogue between people had me asking myself, "is this how you think people talk to each other?" before finally turning it off.

skip this for the Wikipedia articles.

4 people found this helpful

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Hampered by hamfisted writing and fictionalization

For the most part, console wars a top-down board-room look at the console war, following former Sega CEO Tom Kalinske's short run, where the scrappy upstart challenges the behemoth of Nintendo. It chronicles how Sega of America actually for a short period, bested Nintendo in its largest market despite being a failure in Japan. The book posits, if the console was the same in both countries, the deciding factor is/was marketing and thus gives a blow by blow plays of Sega's ad-campaigns. Along the way, we're treated to asides at Nintendo, Sony, Silicon Graphics, the controversy over video game violence, and so on. Often these are paired down, focusing on detail over dialogue and serve the book well. The tension or antagonism revolves around Nintendo vs Sega, and more so, East vs. West, with the predictable clichés that one would expect around it.

It's easy to criticize boardroom drama as it downplays the importance of proper titles, without Sonic being a good game (delivering unique and well-crafted gameplay) or EA, the Sega Genesis probably would have sunk. Instead, We're mostly treated to market survey data about Sega's perception by young gamers

Sadly the Blake J. Harris has taken the opportunity to create fictionalized conversations around events that happened, and often with stilted dialogue, especially revolving around Japanese businessmen. This might have worked to novelize the events with fabricated conversations if it wasn't jilted by amateurish writing. There's a painful contrivance around it, take for instance:

“Look, I know that I’ve already thanked you a million times,” Kalinske said, speaking more like a friend than a boss, “but you deserve every one.”
“Thank you, Tom,” Toyoda said, sounding more like a friend than an employee.”

The worst are offenses are corny and often cringe-worthy metaphors that plague the book, here's a small selection of some of the many (and I repeat many) recounts.

"Like an actor onstage who remembers his line just in time.”
“like a proud papa bear whose cub has just swiped his first fish out of the water.”
“like a band-aid that’s lost it’s sticking power”.
"like a bar mitzvah, graduation party, and wedding all rolled into one."
“like a child’s artwork on the refrigerator of life: kind of pretty, but also kind of pitiful."
“like a toy poodle barking in the face of a Great Dane.”


It adds an air of unbelievability to the whole affair which serves to discredit some of the more fantastical reveals. Was Sonic indeed a cross-culture creation? Did Kalinske truly entertain Silicon Graphics for Sega only to be squashed by Sega of Japan? Did Sega really blow a partnership with Sony? Was Kalinske responsible for sending Silicon Graphics to Nintendo? These reveals are fascinating but also marred by Blake's desire to create drama.

Lastly, the narration is mostly good although Fred Berman's Howard Phillips is god awful, sounding like a reject impersonation of 30 Rock's Kenneth Parcell character. It'd been intolerable but fortunately Howard "gee golly awshucks" Phillips is a bit player in the larger fray.

Perhaps in defter hands by treatment in movie format, the board-room drama might be hammered into something more palatable.

4 people found this helpful

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Great performance of a great book

I'm a huge fan of video game history and I've read a few books on the subject. This is easily one of the best. A must-read for those interested in the subject, especially those with a soft spot for Sega. Bergman does a great job narrating the book and actually manages to deliver a pretty decent Japanese accent, even if the few other accents he occasionally brings out aren't great. I enjoyed it from start to finish. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the subject matter.

4 people found this helpful

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90% Fiction

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

This book is for someone looking for a great story, not a factual recounting of events.

What was most disappointing about Blake J. Harris’s story?

The author was constantly trying to sensationalize every interaction. Sega Employees = Top Gun Characters; Nintendo Employees = Blind Japanese Corporate Loving Caricatures

Did the narration match the pace of the story?

Yes... the story.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment. So much dramatization of obviously mundane events.

Any additional comments?

The author very loosely bases this book on facts. The story was painful to listen to. It is kind of like how Fox News treats political debates.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Mendo Shutaro
  • 06-21-14

An interesting tale, poorly told

Growing up in the 1990s I was very familiar with the intense rivalry between Sega and Nintendo (I was a Sega kid), especially as Sega went from virtually no market share (5%) to the biggest selling console maker (50%) in the space of a few years. The story behind this incredible turnaround is indeed interesting, but made less so by this book.

The two main issues I have with it, are that conversations (and the book is absolutely full of them) are written as they would be in a novel. Nobody could remember every word to such detail, which makes the book feel fictionalised to a fairly large degree. The author also seems to turn the main players in the story into caricatures.

The other problem is the reader. He mostly sounds like movie trailer voice over guy, except when reading those over the top characterisations, at which point he puts on a variety of camp or silly pantomime voices. It's just too much, and makes the already difficult to swallow text even less believable.

The book also ends very abruptly. This is very much the story of Sega's rise, not its fall, with the launch of the Saturn and the collapse in market share barely mentioned. This is really a shame, as this could potentially have been as interesting a story, especially if it had also included the brief lifespan of the brilliant yet unsuccessful Dreamcast.

A tepid recommendation then, but this should have been so much better.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Thomas Moore
  • 09-01-15

A bit over done.

As someone who grew up during the console wars, I lived the life of a fanboy to its full. So I was excited to get a chance to hear the story in depth of one of the main contenders.

Im sad to say I was left disappointed, the book was full of over the top drama and hyperbole. Many of the anecdotes felt straight out of bad made for TV movie and felt like they written with a target audience of young teenagers in mind, which given the subject matter felt very misjudged.

3/10 would not bang.

2 people found this helpful

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  • RevPhillipJ
  • 10-22-14

Console Wars- The True Hollywood story

It is no surprise that this book has recently been picked up to be developed into a feature film; It is written that way all the way through the book.

I was expecting more of a documented history, similar to that of the excellent History of Marvel Comics by Sean Howe, such as: Articles from the time, accounts from the people involved, and an even handed view of each company's actions throughout the book.

What we're instead presented with is mainly the story of Tom Kalinske, who takes over as the head of Sega of America after the launch of the Genesis (Megadrive in the PAL region) before the release of Sonic the Hedgehog. The book is apparently based on some 200 interviews of employees of both Sega and Nintendo, but is presented as a through narrative, with an omnipotent narrator. I often found myself thinking "How can he possibly remember glancing across a bar and seeing the transfixed look of a waitress when first seeing a Sega gamegear which put him in mind of his early days at Mattell when he reinvented the Barbie franchise--" etc etc. This was my main problem with the book; what is fact, what is opinion, what is embellishment? It's not clear. I was about 9 hours in before I heard an actual quote of a newspaper headline.

That said, it is an interesting book, part docu-drama, part marketing handbook, part historical text. Give it a go if you're an avid video game enthusiast. However, if you're a Nintendo Fanboy- this book is mainly about Sega, painted as the plucky underdog to a stagnant Nintendo, which I felt was a little unfair, but a smart choice for a story.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Ethan
  • 09-01-20

BLAST PROCESSING!

Great performance by Fred Berman, aside fro a few questionable accents. a fascinating and riveting account of the console wars in the 90s by Blake J. Harris. can't recommend enough to fans of Sega/Nintendo, or games in general. I can see why this has been discussed for an adaptation into a film/TV show!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-22-20

Disappointing Stuff

By the halfway point of this audiobook, it truly began to feel like a slog. Although promising a wide ranging panorama of the video game industry in the 90s, make no mistake, this is the Sega story, and not only is it limited to Sega, its only really the story of Sega of America.
Sega of Japan, where the Genesis that is the focus of this book was made? Barely mentioned apart from unfairly scathing and xenophobic comments recounted by the author.
Nintendo, the major competition and half of the console scene? They get about 3 chapters.
If all of this was in service of a particularly in depth story, focusing on Kalinske's stewardship of SoA, that would be excusable. Unfortunately, it really doesn't go more than skin deep. The characters we spend our time with in SoA are almost universally unlikeable and sometimes written with weird sitcom inflections and TV movie dialogue. Maybe that's what they were actually like? Who knows, but if that is the case, maybe it was a bad idea to focus on such an awkward bunch.
The performance is dreadfully grinding by a few hours in. The voices the narrator uses to speak as various characters are grating in extremis, ranging from weird Chandler Bing impressions to truly awful mock Japanese accents.
It's a shame, because there's a lot of interesting tidbits in here, but it's just very difficult to stick with.

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  • Ruairi Coleman
  • 07-02-20

Wait for the documentary or film adaptation.

The story of the Console Wars of the early 90s is a fascinating one: many commonplace marketing and retail strategies were innovated in this era - in this very conflict between Sega and Nintendo - that should make this an interesting tale even for those who weren't caught up in the Sonic Vs Mario furore of the day.

It's just a shame that the person who was granted access to some of the people involved in the titular war, compiling a comprehensive background to this fascinating time in pop culture history, is such a terrible writer.

Blake J Harris has tried to compose his extensive, if narrow, research into a non-fiction novel full of smart people, witty banter and entertaining anecdotes but his skills as a writer fail him completely. For a start, all of his characters speak and act alike, depending on which trope/demographic they fit into: American man; woman; Japanese person. His attempts at humour are clichéd, awkward and embarrassing and his handling of women and, particularly, the Japanese is offensive.

The men all talk like characters from an amateur screenplay written by somebody who's consumed too much Aaron Sorkin, the women are reduced down to such stereotypes that they refer to themselves (un)humorously as "witches" and "crazy" and the Japanese characters get the shortest shrift of all; painted routinely as stiff, alien and untrustworthy.

There's no doubt that Sega of America (SoA) and Sega of Japan (SoJ) had different visions for how Sega games should be made and marketed but rather than present this as a conflict of ideologies about marketing and development between two intelligent and successful companies, Harris takes the lazy road to lean heavily on outdated tropes about Japanese people and paints SoJ as an arch-villain: some kind of looming evil, ready to cut the legs from under SoA.

While the book persistently presents a negative view of the Japanese, it veers headlong into racism from time to time. One Japanese member of the SoA team is described by an American co-worker in the book as a "Banana: yellow on the outside and white on the inside." This slur isn't challenged by Harris, who instead allows the American to validate his transgression by saying "I'm not a racist" and the act is forgiven. It's atrocious.

All of Harris' shortcomings as a novelist are amplified by the failures of Fred Berman (and whoever directed this audio adaptation) as a narrator. All of his characters sound the same: to his credit, he can manage two types of American male impression, but the women all sound exactly alike (making it difficult to know who's talking on the very rare occasion two women are having a conversation together) and his impression of Japanese characters is outright offensive. He adopts a very, very outdated, stereotypical accent and mannerisms when voicing the Japanese characters that is probably the most uncomfortable thing of all to listen to in this pretty egregious book.

And it's not to say that Harris' shortcomings as a novelist end at his flirtations with racism, his inability to create fully-realised characters, craft believable dialogue or his tendency to substitute trope and cliché for compelling narrative; the book is routinely boring, weighed down by stretches of wikipedia like exposition that he was unable to fit in narratively so just pauses whole scenarios to drop a biography of some new character or other. It feels like padding and stretches what could probably be a 12 hour audiobook out to over 20.

Through all of the mess Blake J Harris has made of this story, the fascinating facts about the Console War remain and if you can fight through all the uncomfortable dialogue and racism, you may come away with a modicum of admiration for what was achieved, even if you can't stomach the representation of the people involved.

I'd recommend you skip this book, however. It's been reported that Console Wars is being adapted not only into a movie but also a documentary. You should wait for these, in hopes they give a better representation of the people involved, rather than reward Blake J Harris or Fred Berman for their work on this book by buying it.

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  • D L.
  • 05-17-18

Good

Bloated and somewhat one sided but overwise an enjoyable book. Dialogue was a bit too cheesy.

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  • Gianpiero
  • 04-18-18

Fascinating dive into vgs history

Simply brilliant! I loved it and I hope that the supposedly upcoming movie will be on par with this great book.

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  • Matt
  • 04-01-18

Brilliant and informative book

I 100% intend to follow this book with more gaming history. It genuinely captured my attention and I enjoyed reading about how the consoles I loved as a kid came to be. The only disappointment is it ends in 96, I genuinely wanted it to continue to the present day

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  • Mr. Matthew T. Hadfield
  • 02-05-18

Entertaining and Informative

Easy to listen too. Good narration and an informative, interesting insight into an important period in video game history.

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  • Bilbo Swaggins
  • 12-03-17

Interesting section of history

Overall this is an interesting retelling of the history of early EA, Nintendo, and Sega. it's informative and shows an interesting perspective. However, I struggled a little getting through the midway of this book. Its strong points are the start and end. How it's written comes off a little pretentious and egotistic in sections where it is slightly tiresome to keep on pushing on listening.

There are golden parts retold within this audiobook that are really interesting for management and game development and clever ways sega got the upper-hand. But there is also a lot of over the top descriptions and sentences that overcompensate what's required as a viewer/listener that water down what you are hearing.

Overall it's a once-off book to listen to, I probably wouldn't review it again. good for history and story behind the consoles that many grew up with for their childhood and that's about that.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Raymond
  • 11-28-16

Wow!... just... wow!

What made the experience of listening to Console Wars the most enjoyable?

I can remember being a kid in this era, I remember being the target demo for Sega and Nintendo, and hearing the story from the other side was amazing.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Console Wars?

I loved as Tom and the Sega team came up with sonic and stuck it to Nintendo.

Which character – as performed by Fred Berman – was your favourite?

Tom kilinski

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Omg so much yes

Any additional comments?

Anyone even remotely interested in marketing or gaming, this is a must.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-27-17

fantastic

great story of the true beginnings of the modern. gaming industry. even if not interested in gaming, this story of rises and falls is worth the 20hrs

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  • David
  • 09-04-17

One of the best books I've read

This perfectly encapsulates the 90's and my childhood. It really takes you in deep to the overwhelming task Sega had and the people who made it happen.

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  • steven
  • 04-19-17

Brilliant

Brilliant from start to end. If you have any interest in gaming history you will love this book.