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Insisting On the Impossible : The Life of Edwin Land Paperback – October 1, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (October 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738201901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738201900
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #567,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"One of the best approaches is that adopted by Victor McElheny in his definitive account of Polaroid, a model of the genre.

For 30 years, first as a science correspondent in Washington and New York, and as director of a fellowship programme at MIT, McElheny pursued the company's founding genius, Edwin Land. Land was a private man...[and] although he and his family were always courteous to their inquiring neighbour, they steadfastly withheld all cooperation.

Land was indeed 'the Magellan of modern technology,' exploring several fields and acquiring on the way more patents than any American since Edison. Polaroid was the archetype of the modern innovation-driven company.

McElheny shows you the corporate entity, its culture, its joys and its frustrations, by piecing together the many bits of a remarkable jigsaw accumulated over decades, getting, in the process, inside the founder's incessantly creative brain.

The craft of corporate biography gets no better."

About the Author

Victor K. McElheny has been covering an age of technology and science for four decades, for newspapers (including The New York Times as its technology reporter), magazines (including Science as its first overseas correspondent), and television (including the BBC in London and WGBH-TV in Boston). He also was inaugural director of the Banbury Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. His thirty-year quest of the biography of Edwin Land began in the White House on February 13, 1969, when Land received the National Medal of Science. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Victor McElheny founded, and directed for over sixteen years, the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 5, 2000
This book contains the most detailed information I have seen assembled
in one volume about the life of Dr. Edwin "Din" Land, founder of
Polaroid Corporation. Although I long have read public accounts of
Dr. Land's work, this book greatly added to my knowledge.
those who would like to understand the rise and fall of Polaroid and
its stock price over several decades from 1937 through 1980, this book
makes fascinating reading about some of the do's and don't's of
running a high technology company that depends on developing new
technologies and an on-going stream of innovative products.
If you
want to understand the techniques employed by Dr. Land to make
scientific breakthroughs, there are many insights here into his method
of goal-oriented empiricism. Interestingly, it parallels the
approaches used by Thomas Edison, the most prolific inventor of the
20th century. Unfortunately, Dr. Land left little in the way of
writings to draw on other than patent applications and speeches, so
these insights are limited primarily to recollections by colleagues.
On the other hand, the empirical approach is often guided by instinct
based on experience, which is hard to capture. Most scientific
thinkers dislike empiricism, so those who use this method can expect
many rebukes . . . as Dr. Land received in his work on the nature of
color perception.
Those who want to understand the scientific
breakthroughs that Polaroid made will probably come away confused
unless they already have a great knowledge of optics and chemistry
related to photography. I learned a great deal from the book, but
would have liked to learn more. I graded the book down one star for
this weakness.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Shab Levy on April 13, 2001
Insisting on the Impossible by Victor K. McElheny is a fascinating account of the life of Edwin Land. While this 510 page book may not get the Pulitzer Prize for literature, it is nevertheless an interesting study of a genius who established an empire but was also responsible for much of its financial troubles. This book is often being criticized for its lack of good structure and difficulty in following the story. However, to my knowledge, it is the most complete account, in a single book, of the life and activities of Dr. Edwin Land and his Polaroid Corporation. The book is organized in chapters that at times seem to have little connection to each other. Perhaps this is the result of a 30-year research and notes on the topic taken by its author. Some of the chapters may not appeal, or be understood, by all readers because of their technical background. On the other hand, one can skip certain chapters without missing or diminishing from the rest of the story. For example, the development of the polarizer sheet will fascinate those interested in stereoscopic photography, while the heavy chapters on the chemistry of photography will appeal to anyone who has ever tried to understand how light is captured and converted to an image on film and paper. The chapters on Land's involvement in the highest military and national secrets as an advisor to Eisenhower, give a interesting glimpse on high-tech spying and are relevant today as well.
Finally, it is a story of a man who changed the world around him and others because of his passion for science and technology. It is quite possible that for Dr. Land, the impossible simply took longer to achieve.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 2000
Verified Purchase
I rarely write a review before I have completed a text, but am 250 pages into this book and wanted to warn as many others as possible. This book is clearly the weakest of the Sloan Technology Series to date for a number of reasons.
The author frequently delves into ridiculous levels of detail about trivial events, and then glazes over larger technical issues. There is no in depth explanation of the chemical and physical explanations which enabled Land to develop Polaroid into a successful company. There is no rhyme or reason to the flow of the text, and it appears largely to follow the thought stream of the notes that the author used to put the text together. There is almost no quality treatment of the business aspects of Polaroid, the author making passing references when it so suits him.
This is a very thick book, which is quite laborious to read. Unfortunately, the thickness does not translate into quality, or even quantity, of useful information located within.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Justin B-H on December 15, 2002
It's rare to read an involving account of a business leader who managed to keep his dignity and idealism intact whilst being phenomenally successful, but that's exactly what this book is.
The book not only covers Edwin Land's major technological achievements in thorough detail, but gives one a vivid feel for his visionary and practical genius that is more affirming and motivating than a dozen Robbins and Covey tomes. Land was not only prodigiously creative but also persuasively, passionately articulate with almost a Victorian missionary zeal about everything he did, and Victor McElheny's ability to balance prose and technical detail does his subject justice.
The organisation of the book into sections concentrating upon aspects of Land's work, rather than a strict historical narrative, does make sense considering the depth with which McElheny covers each topic, whether it's the political maneuverings behind the U2 project, negotiations with Detroit carmakers about polarized headlights, or colour film chemistry. It may not be considered good journalism to do it this way, but then again a "good journalist" would probably have jettisoned much of the detail so crucial to Land's work and concentrated on petty foibles, frustrations and conflicts far more than McElheny has-and McElheny's approach is ultimately more effective.
Where the book could have been better is in editing and rounding off some of the sections-for example, while there is excellent coverage of Land's involvement with classified intelligence projects under President Eisenhower, there is nothing about his subsequent working relationships with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, let alone his falling out with Nixon.
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