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Laser: The Inventor, the Nobel Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War Paperback – August 24, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Backinprint.com (August 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0595465285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0595465286
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,759,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

History has witnessed many discoveries made almost simultaneously by competing scientists: Newton and Leibniz quarreled over who invented the mathematical system of calculus and even this year's mapping of the human genome was announced only after labored negotiations between two leading scientists. In his latest effort, the prolific Taylor (John Glenn; In Hitler's Shadow) recounts the compelling life of Gordon Gould, a young scientist who hit upon how to build a laser in 1957. Over the 30 years he spent fighting for the patent, he neither finished his Ph.D. nor attended conferences to raise his scientific credibility. During that time, he butted up against Charles Townes, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the "optical maser," as he called it, even though courts later ruled against the U.S. patent office, arguing that Townes's original design wouldn't have worked.(Under U.S. patent law, an inventor need not reach the patent office first to claim a patent, but only show priority in writing down an idea that can be realized by someone skilled in that field. Gould fortunately had had his original notebook notarized.) In Taylor's hands, Gould comes across like a hapless figure from Greek tragedy, pursued unrelentingly by a malevolent deity until a kindly one, in his case the U.S. judicial system, takes pity. While Taylor's research is thorough (though one might quibble with the precision of some of his technical descriptions), he tends to overwrite. Still, science buffs who enjoy reading about the triumph of an underdog or a good legal battle will enjoy the book, while libraries will find it a worthwhile addition to their scientific biography collections. (Nov.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Taylor's writing style makes the science of the laser, so ubiquitous now in modern science and medicine, understandable and fascinating in this account of one man's 30-year battle for recognition and compensation. In 1957, Gordon Gould, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, got side-tracked from his doctorate thesis when he became enamored with his discovery of the LASER: Light Amplification by Simulated Emission of Radiation. Gould also felt competitive pressure from colleagues on a similar scientific path. But a misunderstanding of patent law cost Gould his momentum, and he found himself in a battle for the rights after one of his professors claimed the discovery as his own. Gould's background as a dabbler in Communist organizations was used against him to deny his access to work on his own invention. Armed with notarized notebooks bearing the first conceptual drawings of a laser, Gould fought a 30-year, ultimately successful, battle for his rights. Taylor brings obvious appreciation for the drama of scientific discovery and the process of seeking credit for technological innovation to this fascinating true story. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
According to Thurber, "Man is capable of incredible feats, so long as it is not what he is supposed to be doing at the time." Here is an excellent illustration of Thurber's bedrock psychological principle.
Instead of writing up his doctoral dissertation, which is what he was supposed to be doing at the time, Gordon Gould invented the laser and wrote it up in a notebook to support a patent application. He never finished the dissertation but, thirty years later, after an epic struggle, he finally won his patent.
This is a great book, a techno-thriller and a page turner from beginning to end. It has a subtle and fascinating turning point. Long after Gould's enemies and rivals thought the fight had been wrung out of his patent effort - his patent examiner suggested that the claims might be re-written from a novel point of view. Instead of regarding the invention as an oscillator (which is precisely what Gould invented), one might instead regard his invention as an amplifier.
Gould's long time patent attorney saw immediately that this seemingly trivial change in strategy -- the adoption of a new and rather inaccurate view of the invention -- could break the dam. From this point on, the patent became a kind of juggernaut. A good thing too, because the obstacles set in its path, notably by an obviously corrupted PTO, were amazing.
A beautifully written story about the genius, determination and triumph of Gordon Gould.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy M. Harris on August 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had heard intriguing snippets about the strange story of Gordon Gould and the laser, so this book went automatically onto my reading list as soon as I learned that Taylor had written it.
If the laser were an ordinary device like the phonograph or the sewing machine, its undisputed father would be Theodore Maiman of Hughes Aircraft, who designed and built the first operational example (a strobe-pumped ruby rod) in 1960. In the realm of highly scientific inventions, however, things are not so straightforward. The line of credit, including honors and prizes, tends to favor the people who first publish guiding principles, whether or not they actually get anything to work. In the U.S. this point of view spills over into patents, and the initial winner in the race for a broad laser patent was not Maiman but Charles Townes, a distinguished physicist who had invented the maser (a coherent microwave amplifier) and published ideas for extending the concept to visible frequencies, i.e. creating an optical maser.
In 1957 a late-blooming Columbia graduate student named Gordon Gould was suddenly struck by an inspiration for solving the optical maser problem. He subsequently made a number of mistakes in judgment, but failing to document his work was not one of them. He carefully recorded his ideas in a signed and witnessed lab notebook. He even anticipated the acronym "LASER" (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). Ironically, one of the professors he occasionally interacted with was Charles Townes.
Taylor's book covers the three-decade saga of Gordon Gould's fight for recognition by the United States Patent Office. In a sense the story pits a classic "loser" (Gould) against a classic "winner" (Townes).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Edward Samuels on December 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I wrote a review of this book for Wired Magazine, December 2000, p. 370, in the Streetcred section, under the title "Flash of Recognition." I won't repeat it all here, since you can find it online.
Basically, I loved the book. I state that "As told by Nick Taylor in Laser: The Inventor, the Nobel Laureate, and the Thirty-Year Patent War, the story makes for a ripping yarn. Taylor manages to weave together the scientific workings of lasers, the intricacies of the US patent system, and the strange details of Gordon Gould's quirks and predicaments." Except for one minor quibble, I conclude that "Taylor does a great job of pulling together science, law, business, and human drama." If you're interested in those things, in a story made suspenseful even if you happen to know how it comes out, then you'll enjoy Nick Taylor's book.
-Edward Samuels, author of The Illustrated Story of Copyright (December 2000)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tom Brody VINE VOICE on February 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
LASER by Nick Taylor is a 304 page biography of Gordon Gould, inventor of the laswer. There are 8 pages of glossy black and white photos. The book will be especially interesting for readers with a background in patent law. In view of Mr.Gould's various sweeties and his adventures on his sailboat (all disclosed in this book), it seems like his story might make a suitable film (but I don't think that any biographical film has been made). Unlike other stories about inventors who are giants in the field of science Gordon Gould never saw poverty, never had a tragic ending, and was never characterized as being an oddball. This is in contrast to Edwin Armstrong whose career was bludgeoned by David Sarnoff of RCA, and to Nikola Tesla, whose eccentric qualities are emphasized by his biographers.

EARLY YEARS. We learn that Gould's father worked for a magazine called Scholastic, that his family lived in Scarsdale, NY, and that in 1937 he got a scholarship to MIT, but instead attended Union College in Schenectady, NY. At Union, a teacher named Studer inspired Mr.Gould's interest in light. In 1941, Gould enrolled in Yale's doctor program in physics (at the same time, Gould's younger brother was a Yale chemistry undergrad). Gould earned a master's degree, then dropped out in 1944 to work for the Manhattan Project (at Broadway & 137th Street). The goal was to test isotope separation, which involved passing uranium hexafluoride gas through 4,000 membranes to isolate U-235. We learn of Gould's interest in females, including Ruth at Yale, a Quaker named Caroline, Glen from Virginia (pages 21-26), and several others. Unfortunately for Gould, Glen was interested in communism, and she inspired Mr.Gould to attend meetings of communists.
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