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The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great…
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The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

by Jon Gertner

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We wake up in the morning, turn on our televisions and computers that stream digital information everywhere, check our cell phones to see what has bounced off of towers and satellites, and we don't think about any of it. We don't think about how long that cell phone has been in the hands of human kind, we don't think about how television has changed, we don't think about how the satellites got put together to do what they do or where they get their power from. It's all just there. This book will make you realize what amazing things man has accomplished since the beginning of Bell Labs.

Well written and thoroughly enjoyable, this isn't your average book on technology and invention. There is no dry rambling here, everything is entertaining and engaging, bringing the reader into history so perfectly that you feel as if you were inside one of the buildings, or out in the fields on a picnic with the families of the workers. One can't help but wonder how much we could accomplish if more places of invention and progress were set up the way Bell Labs had been arranged, creating environments of free invention.

Being of the generation who was young just as the first computers were coming around, there were parts of this book that I was able to relive with a new, adult perspective, but there were also elements that came before my time where I found myself surprised at what had once been and how quickly times had changed. I think this will be a wonderful book for anyone of any age, whether the reader wants to relive their past or learn from something that happened before their time. You won't often hear this said about books dealing with invention and technology, but this one was a real page turner. I couldn't put it down. ( )
  mirrani | Mar 30, 2014 |
This is one of the better books I have read in a long time. Great characters. Great storytelling. Jon Gertner does an excellent job of telling us what the former Bell Labs meant to both innovation and American business. He gets inside the culture of Bell Labs, he explains how it was a patent machine that was forced to share its intellectual property and how Bell Labs was essentially financed by the Bell System, a government sponsored vertically integrated monopoly. Bell Labs provided key advice during WWII and after the war was was home to such innovations as the transistor, a development that laid the groundwork for the modern semiconductor. What makes this book so delightful is not just the characters, but how Gertner does an excellent job of staying focused on the bigger picture. He tellls us why the Bell Labs era came to an end and why it probably wouldn't succeed in today's business world, a venue where the emphasis focuses on earnings per share and short-term profits. www.tellingdigitalstories.com
  Mtatge | Mar 16, 2014 |
Excellent, well-written work about the amazing scientists and engineers at Bell Labs. ( )
  hvanwillegen | Mar 3, 2014 |
Highly readable history of Bell Labs and the many brilliant scientists and technicians who worked there to develop the transistor, the solid state circuit, fiber optics, satellite and wireless communications, and other technologies that made modern telecommunications not only possible but affordable to the masses. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Aug 23, 2012 |
The _only_ mistake gertner makes is calling Unix a "programming language". and the omission of his neighbor, dennis ritchie. i'll not be overstating it when i say history's view will put ritchie in the same circle of shannon and shockley.

Unix is an operating system, "C" is the programming language. Information theory and the transistor don't make C and Unix inevitable, rather, they make them necessary. In gertner's view, ritchie would be but an "implementor", and not a discoverer nor an inventor. while physics and chemistry made bell labs and bell labs made the 20th century, the current century will be the software century, and let's be clear about this; the great penetration into the human condition this century promises, those who do will credit not the hardware platform but the software and what it allows them to imagine.

this is a fine book; i need to write my own personal retrospective where my connection picks up, in chapter 16 -- competition. ( )
  applemcg | Jul 18, 2012 |
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Where is the knowledgewe have lost in information?

--T. S. Eliot, The Rock
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For Liz, Emmy, and Ben
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The first thing they tended to notice about Mervin Kelly was his restlessness.
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This work highlights achievements of Bell Labs as a leading innovator, exploring the role of its highly educated employees in developing new technologies while considering the qualities of companies where innovation and development are most successful. The author how Bell Labs served as an incubator for scientific innovation from the 1920s through the 1980s. In its heyday, Bell Labs boasted nearly 15,000 employees, 1,200 of whom held PhDs and 13 of whom won Nobel Prizes. Thriving in a work environment that embraced new ideas, Bell Labs scientists introduced concepts that still propel many of today's most exciting technologies.… (more)

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