From Library Journal
In rich detail, Riordan (The Hunting of the Quark, LJ 1/88) and Hoddeson (history, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) unfurl the development of the transistor (whose 50th anniversary will be December 1997) and the lives of its three principal discoverers?John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley. Of course, redoubtable scientific achievement is rarely engendered by a small cadre over just a few years, and one of the salient features of this book is its parallel exposition of the progress of the physics of the electron dating to the late 19th century, led by a host of well-known pioneers?Bohr, Heisenberg, and so many others. Standing on the shoulders of these giants while harvesting the fruits of their own astonishing research, the triumvirate of the transistor created the device that has revolutionized life today, making possible television, computers, and other electronic devices. Crystal Fire strives for the fast-paced feel that the subject deserves but often succumbs to pedestrian and cliche-ridden writing. Overall, however, this is a fine work, rounded out by an extensive bibliography and inexhaustible endnoes. Recommended for general collections.-?Robert C. Ballou, Atlanta
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The solid-state amplifier, whose coinage as "transistor" is one of many intriguing stories the authors include in this history of the device's invention, merits comparison to the wheel, if only by the criterion that every person relies on both every day. The mother of invention was the vacuum tube, bulky, electricity hungry, and breakable, and physicists at Bell Labs furrowed their brows to come up with something more reliable. The solution involved the interaction between electric fields and solid materials of varying electrical conductivity, in which lies the engaging tale involving serendipity, professional competition, and theoretical breakthroughs culminating in the moment of Eureka in late 1947. The three principals who received the Nobel Prize for the transistor were not the best-oiled machine in history, and their biographies, which the authors intertwine with the technical developments, demonstrate the action of scientific ambition and hope for future riches in the creation of revolutionary inventions. The authorial team, a physicist and a historian, combine their strengths to present an accessible work worth most libraries' attention. Gilbert Taylor