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The Chip : How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution Paperback – October 9, 2001


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The Chip : How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution + The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley + Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age (Sloan Technology Series)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Revised edition (October 9, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375758283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375758287
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

They're everywhere, but where did they come from? Silicon chips drive just about everything that sucks power, from toys to heart monitors, but their inventors aren't nearly as widely known as Edison and Ford. Journalist T.R. Reid has thoroughly updated The Chip, his 1985 exploration of the life work of inventors Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, to reflect the colossal shift toward smarter gadgets that has taken place since then.

Satisfying as both biography and basic science text, the book perfectly captures the independence and near-obsessive problem-solving talents of the two men. Though ultimately only one of them (Noyce) ended up with legal rights to the invention, they shared a respect for each other that persisted throughout their careers. Since Kilby won the 2000 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work, the story is all the more compelling and intriguing over 40 years after the invention. Reid's work uncovers human dimensions we'd never expect to see from 1950s engineering research. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

In 1958, "before Chernobyl, before the Challenger rocket blew up, before the advent of Internet porn or cell phones that ring in the middle of the opera," when "`technological progress' still had only positive connotations," Jack Kilby had a good idea, but wasn't sure if his boss at Texas Instruments in Dallas would let him try it. In 1959, in what would become Silicon Valley, Robert Noyce had the same idea about overcoming "the numbers barrier" in electronics: "in a computer with tens of thousands of components... things were just about impossible to make," says Noyce. In his completely revised and updated edition of The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution, Washington Post reporter and columnist T.R. Reid (Confucius Lives Next Door) investigates these underappreciated heroes of the technological age and the global repercussions of their invention. The enormity of their accomplishment was fully recognized only in 2000, when Kilby won the Nobel Prize. 3-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


More About the Author

T. R. Reid is a longtime correspondent for The Washington Post and former chief of its Tokyo and London bureaus as well as a commentator for National Public Radio. His books include The United States of Europe, The Chip, and Confucius Lives Next Door.

Customer Reviews

I really enjoyed reading this book on the history of the chip.
A. Saikali
An engineer's drive is to solve problems, to make something work. . . . Reid has elegantly interwoven the biographies of Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce.
Eric C. Welch
This book was very interesting, and the author did well at explaining things in terms that all could understand.
K. J. R.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
The writing is reasonably engaging and does its best to attract general interest to a technical subject. However the tactics with which it does so are more National Enquirer than New York Times. The author decides to choose sides in the debate over who invented the microchip, and delivers pages of invective to support his position. The industry, in contrast, recognized both Kilby and Noyce as inventors and paid royalties to both companies they worked for. In short, the author tries to retroactively arrange a boxing match between the inventors, while the co-inventors in reality cordially shook hands and agreed to split the profits. The intensely partisan presentation of the story in this book is a gross offense to the characters of the inventors.
In addition, the text is littered with errors. "A diode is a dam that blocks current under some conditions and opens it to let electricity flow when the conditions change" is a mighty vague way to say that diodes let current flow one direction and not the reverse. "Materials that have proven the best insulators are indeed those with eight outer electrons" flat out does not parse. Does the material have eight electrons? Is he trying to say that noble gases are the best insulators? "Elements with three or fewer outer electrons are conductors, and those with five or more are insulators" would come as a surprise to metals such as arsenic, antimony or selenium. "Shockley had a reputation for getting the most out of the people who worked for him". I won't even touch that one. "The process that eventually proved best - the process still used today in semiconductor manufacture - was a Bell Labs discovery called diffusion" has so many inaccuracies in one sentence it's hard to know where to start.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Eric C. Welch on January 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
Technophobes might as well move on to the next review. I loved this book. It explained in clear, precise language how innumerable barriers were overcome by innovative and insightfully brilliant individuals to create a device that revolutionized our lives. I've always been fascinated by electronics, built my own radios and earned an amateur radio license in 7th grade, just because the subject and theory of how electrons move around to perform useful functions is intriguing. Reid has captured much of that fascination and translated it into a great story.
Before integrated circuits could be produced, the transistor had to be invented. Before that time, switching mechanism, required a vacuum tube to control, amplify and switch the flow of electrons through a circuit. It was the discovery that some semiconductor materials could be doped to have an excess of positive charges or negative charges that provided the breakthrough. A strip of germanium could be doped at each end with differing charges leaving a junction in the middle. The junction worked like a turnstile that could control the flow of current when connected to a battery. Variations in current across these junctions connected in the transistor formation could rectify (prevent current from flowing in both directions) and amplify. That's all that's needed to make a radio (I'm oversimplifying obviously) and hundreds of other devices. Transistors required vastly less current than vacuum tubes, were almost infinitely stable, were cheap and gave off little heat.
But, transistors required thousands of connections to the wires coming in order to make a useful circuit, and as demands for more complex circuitry arose the wiring became infinitely complex.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By lector avidus on September 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
TR Reid, who studied ancient Greek and Latin at Princeton, has written an excellent short history of integrated circuits, or microchips, which is accessible to any high school student. The basic concepts and main figures, such as Kilby and Haggerty at Texas Instruments, Noyce at Intel, and others are described extremely well in language that is easily understandable, interesting, and enjoyable to read. On top of that, it is good pointers to other, more detailed books at the end.

If you have a PhD in electrical engineering, or are a veteran of the industry, you may, on the other hand, feel that this book is too short for your liking.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By James Studer on May 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
I found this book to be helpful and informative. It does a good job of explaining the Ideas, thoughts, history, and science behind one of today greatest enigmas the micro chip. Things like why did we have to switch to integrated circuits? Who came up with the idea? I found it to be an excelent source on the co-inventors Kilby and Noyce. The author does a good job of making the history lessons engaging. Few people have even the slightest idea what really goes on in the electronic devices we take for granted. This books goes a long way toward filling that gap of knowledge, and I encourage any one that is even slightly curious to read it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul Eckler on April 6, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution," by TR Reid, Random House, NY, 2001. This 309 page paperback provides a highly readable account of the invention of the integrated circuit. It begins with the discovery of the Edison effect and carefully explains the various technologies in a non-technical way as it goes along. The heros of the story are Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce of Fairchild Camera and later Intel. Both invented integrated circuits and received patents for them. Interferences were filed to resolve the issue resulting ultimately in a cross licensing arrangement. Kilby also invented the pocket calculator.

Along the way the book describes the work of Edison, Fleming and DeForest in invention of the vacuum tube, and later the invention of the transistor at Bell Labs. Other technologies are also mentioned including development of radar and television, the first Altair computer, and the Intel microprocessors. The transition from magnetic core memory to semiconductor RAM is described. The story of the pocket calculator, digital watches, and some early computers are mentioned. Apple is mentioned but not Motorola. And little is said of Microsoft. Strangely absent are Radio Shack and their TRS-80, Commodore, Atari, Sinclair, TI-99-4a, and CP/M.

The book was originally written in 1985, and then revised and update in 2001. Not surprisingly it devotes considerable space to the Japanese conquest of digital memory chips. It notes that when shortages forced domestic customers to use Japanese chips, they found those made in Japan were of higher quality. This discovery was a major factor is the quality programs initiated soon after.
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