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The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation Paperback – February 26, 2013
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“Riveting . . . Mr. Gertner’s portraits of Kelly and the cadre of talented scientists who worked at Bell Labs are animated by a journalistic ability to make their discoveries and inventions utterly comprehensible—indeed, thrilling—to the lay reader. And they showcase, too, his novelistic sense of character and intuitive understanding of the odd ways in which clashing or compatible personalities can combine to foster intensely creative collaborations.”— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“One of the best innovation-focused books I've read: It's a wide-ranging, detailed, and deeply fascinating look at the New Jersey lab which has been churning out useful discoveries since the early 1900s.” — The Boston Globe
“Fascinating history . . . the research behind The Idea Factory is astonishing.” — Slate Book Review
“Compelling . . . Gertner's book offers fascinating evidence for those seeking to understand how a society should best invest its research resources.” — The Wall Street Journal
“An expansive new history . . . does an impressive job of illuminating many of Bell Labs’ key technological triumphs.” — Wired.com
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Top Customer Reviews
Gertner's book about this great American institution excels in three ways. Firstly, it describes in detail the genesis of what was then an unlikely research institution. Until then most communication related work was considered to be squarely within the domain of engineering. Bell Labs arose from a need to improve communications technology pioneered by its parent organization AT&T. But the real stroke of genius was to realize the value that basic scientists - mainly physicists and chemists - could bring to this endeavor along with engineers. This was largely the vision of two men - Frank Jewett and Mervin Kelly. Jewett who was the first president of Bell Labs had the foresight to recruit promising young physicists who were proteges of his friend Robert Millikan, a Nobel Prize winning physicist and president of Caltech. Kelly in turn was Millikan's student and was probably the most important person in the history of the laboratory. It was Kelly who hired the first brilliant breed of physicists and engineers including William Shockley, Walter Brittain, Jim Fisk and Charles Townes and who would set the agenda for future famous discoveries. During World War II Bell gained a reputation for taking on challenging military projects like radar; at the end of the war it handled almost a thousand of these.Read more ›
I write this review also having heard the author present his work in Madison, NJ to an audience almost totally filled with hundreds of former Labs staff and also as one who spent a great deal of time at the Labs from 1964 through 1972, while going back and forth to MIT, plus over fifty years in the industry.
The author presents the often told tales of Shockley and the transistor, Shannon and information theory, as well as all the management types who formed, directed, and molded the Lab like Kelley and others. Many of these people I knew firsthand and as any observer the view is all too often colored by one's position at the time.
The driving presumption of the author is best stated in his introduction where he says:
"Some contemporary thinkers would lead us to believe that twenty-first century innovation can only be accomplished by small groups of nimble profit seeking entrepreneurs working amid the frenzy of market competition. Those idea factories of the past, and perhaps their most gifted employees, have no lessons for those of us enmeshed in today's complex world. This is too simplistic. To consider what occurred at Bell Labs, to glimpse the inner workings of its invisible and now vanished "production lines" is to consider the possibilities of what large human organizations might accomplish.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is one of the most interesting non-fictions I've read recently. I never knew how much AT&T's research labs contributed to present day technology. Great credit must be given. Read morePublished 4 days ago by planosue
An unusually well written book that I've gone back to time after time for over three years. Bell Labs was unusual in that it operated under the auspices of two government protected... Read morePublished 18 days ago by David Murphy
Great book for anyone interested in electronic engineering, telecommunications, and, more importantly, technological creativity and innovation. Read morePublished 22 days ago by David
I learned a lot of great history in this book. The understanding of how these monumental innovations came to be was fascinating. Read morePublished 23 days ago by Christopher Bailey
Product arrived quickly before Christmas. My brother in law loved it. Thank you!Published 1 month ago by lauren leduc
I got this book for my husband as a gift and he thoroughly enjoyed it! It has since been passed on & recommended to many! It's a book that men will enjoy... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Deb H.
Having been involved with electronics since 1967, and living near Bell Labs for 20 years, I found this book to be utterly fascinating.Published 1 month ago by John D. Bartram