14 November 1997

Book Review: Phoenix (2nd Edition) (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

In 1994 Leonard Herman wrote a first-of-its-kind book called Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Home Videogames. It simply covered, one chapter per year, the entire history of home video games through to 1993. He has recently released a second edition titled Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames (ISBN 0-9643848-2-5), which covers some coin-op history in addition to the original history of home consoles. I had the pleasure of being among the earliest ones to receive it.

First, let's get the most important part of the book out of the way: the acknowledgments. Near the end, Mr. Herman includes me in the list of people thanked, even though I'm not entirely sure what I did for him. Nevertheless, let me state that I have no financial arrangements with Mr. Herman or Rolenta Press and receive absolutely nothing for any sales made. Therefore, I will do my best to keep this review unbiased.

This edition is largely unchanged from the first. The additions primarily consist of more information on arcade games, three new chapters (covering 1994, 1995, and 1996) and black and white photographs throughout. The photos definitely add much to the book and I am glad Mr. Herman added them for this edition.

As for the book itself, I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. Only those that have a bit of interest in video games will find it fascinating, but that is the audience it was written for! The book is somewhat dry as it simply relates the facts of video game history. It's hard to build much suspense for the reader when he already has an idea of what's going to happen. In a few places, Mr. Herman attempted to have some suspense by describing a system or game before actually naming it. I found this annoying, but perhaps that's because of my familiarity with video game history.

While the book is a bit dry to read through, it is an excellent reference for video game history. The index is incredibly complete, plus there is a separate photo index. Mr. Herman also makes excellent use of comparisons between new systems and those that came before. This ensures the reader, or even the casual browser, doesn't forget facts such as that the Game Boy was not the first programmable, portable system. (Regardless of what Nintendo would like you to think.)

There are other books written on the history of video games, notably David Sheff's Game Over and J.C. Herz' Joystick Nation. I haven't read the latter (only read negative comments about it from other collectors), but the former is focused on Nintendo, its business dealings, and the people behind them. Phoenix, on the other hand, focuses on the actual systems, peripherals, and games that people enjoy playing. If you want to know about a specific slice of video game history, you might try another book, but Phoenix is the best at covering the whole pie.

In the final analysis, I give Phoenix three stars out of four. It is the best overall history of video games you'll find. You'll be amazed by some of the things you learn reading it. Quite frankly, if you're a classic video game collector, you can't do without it.

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Copyright 1997 i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.
[2013-04-29: You can currently order the third edition of Phoenix directly from Rolenta Press. Mr. Herman is currently busy working on the fourth edition.]

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