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The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit, and the Birth of Television Hardcover – May 7, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This is a lively and engaging account of the conception and invention of both television and the system of network broadcasting in the United States. Schwartz (Digital Darwinism, Webonomics) tells the stories of Philo T. Farnsworth, who essentially invented television before he was 30, and David Sarnoff, the founder of NBC, who essentially invented the business of broadcasting before he was 30. These two men were at tremendous odds with each other for decades, and the nature of their conflict helped determine the shape of the U.S. broadcasting industry. While many other works document the beginnings of broadcast media, they tend to be overviews, offering less of a personal story. This book complements D. Godfrey and C. Sterling's Philo T. Farnsworth: The Father of Television, which takes a drier, more academic approach to the inventor's life and work and should be of interest to academic libraries, particularly those with a technology or engineering department. Schwartz's well-researched biography is sure to appeal to anyone who has ever dreamed of coming up with "the next big thing." Recommended for public libraries and academic or special libraries with a media or technology focus. Andrea Slonosky, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This story of the invention of television is essentially the biography of two men. Philo T. Farnsworth was a genius who envisioned the concept of television at the age of 15 while plowing the family potato field and patented the device only five years later in 1927, creating the technology that is still used today. David Sarnoff was a poor Russian-Jewish immigrant who rose to fame in the radio broadcasting industry and as head of RCA became obsessed with stealing Farnsworth's invention so that he could go down in history as the man who brought television to the world. In this age of burgeoning corporations, the lone inventor was a dying breed, as big companies began to be the only ones with the resources needed to research, develop, and market new inventions. The teams hired by corporations would give up all patent rights to the organization, however, with very little compensation. Farnsworth, determined to control his patent rights, ultimately faced a showdown with Sarnoff and powerful RCA in this suspenseful account of the unknown man who influenced the world. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (May 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066210690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066210698
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,459,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Evan I. Schwartz tells tales of invention and imagination. A former award-winning editor at BusinessWeek, he is also the author of THE LAST LONE INVENTOR, named one of the 75 best business books of all-time by Fortune. He lives in New England. The idea for FINDING OZ came to him while reading L. Frank Baum's classic novel out loud to his daughter at bedtime.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Scram Voyager on June 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a story of good vs evil, of innocent lone inventor (not 'last' surely?!) versus the best (commercially) and worst (morally) of corporate USA. It is very much an American story for an American audience, and reads as yet another vehicle for the Farnsworth family's cry for recognition.
Schwartz though does not place Farnsworth so much on a pedestal, but rather creates the same relative effect by diminishing all opposition, in particular the efforts of the international TV scene and of the other US pioneers.. and this lack of balance and objectivity is the book's main failing and the reason for not awarding a higher rating.
One example: Ask yourself how good was the quality of the picture on the Image Dissector compared with the Iconoscope? You won't find an answer in the book. In fact Schwartz ignores the official 'bake-off' competition in Britain in late 1936 by the BBC between Marconi-EMI's version of the Iconoscope (EMItron) and the Baird Company's technologies including Farnsworth's Image Dissector. The official result was Farnsworth's device was no match for the EMItron in a studio environment.
Looking at the references gives the game away - there are no primary references for the non-Farnsworth, non-RCA material. The international scene is mostly dealt with by references to recent American popularist books. What about Kalman Tihanyi (inventor of Iconoscope, patented 1928)? Boris Rosing (Zworykin's teacher in Russia)?, Campbell Swinton (specified the electronic approach in 1908 and 1911)? Takayanagi (electronic television display demonstrated in 1926)? to name but a few. More balance please!
The American audience will love this highly readable popularist book. This is flag-waving entertaining stuff. Enjoy it, but please try to understand that this is not the whole story.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John Bruesch on September 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In The Last Lone Inventor, Evan I. Schwarz shares the birth, growth and maturity of a great mind, and lends some insight into the television industry in its seminal stage.
To borrow against another famous inventor's metaphor, Schwarz effectively captures the wonder of inspiration, which is but a small percentage of the process of invention as a whole. From Filo Farnsworth's potato field vision as a mere grammer school teen, to his post-war struggles against competing (and much better financed) visionaries, we see that he posessed one of those rare intellects that is capable of seeing solutions long before "normal" technically inclined people, and with far greater clarity. Farnsworth handily out-classed almost all his TV pioneer contemporaries.
Schwarz' story is engaging and hard to put down until the final chapters, where the story loses its momentum a bit (the author provides follow-up on Farnsworth's less spectacular later years, which is interesting but not as intriguing as the discovery of electronic television). The book is also a fine "period piece," in that it reveals picturesque vignettes of the subject's personal life outside the laboratory. And to the author's point (and hence the book's title), it illustrates well the struggles faced by a poorly funded independent inventor, as compared to a well-paid corporate lab engineer working with far better resources.
Getting back to Edison's metaphor, while the book amply portrays inspiration, it (wisely perhaps for commercial reasons) ignors much of the "perspiration" that lies between a visionary and his grail. To have explored this deeply would have rendered mundane the main theme of breakneck competitive struggle.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alan Alper on December 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Looking for precedence in the desktop PC operating system wars? The battle for television standard supremacy is exhibit ABC!
Similar to Microsoft's grab for OS hegemony in the 1980s and 1990s, RCA outmaneuvered archrivals AT&T, Westinghouse, Philco to capture the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of the American public. And while the battle was fought by the best minds Corporate America could muster, it was a lone inventor by the name of Philo T Farnsworth who gave RCA all it could handle on the innovation front, but was eventually outgunned by RCA honcho and master marketeer David Sarnoff, who perfectly played the courts to outlast the brilliant but business-challenged entrepreneur.
In fact, the story is reminiscent of IBM's early 1980s investigation for a PC operating system. Computer geeks might remember that at that time Digital Research's CP/M was considered the best of breed PC operating system, and Big Blue was desperate to have it power its fledgling IBM PC. IBM execs, however, couldn't get a meeting with CP/M's inventor Gary Kildall (IBM had arranged to meet him at home, but Kildall was off flying his plane, leaving his wife Dorothy to negotiate a deal but she wouldn't sign a non-disclosure agreement.). So Big Blue sought alternatives, eventually striking a deal with Microsoft for an operating system the then infant company didn't yet have rights to (which was eventually called MS-DOS). And the rest, as they say ... is history!
Sarnoff bluffed, licensed and marketed his way into the television space. Farnsworth like Kildall, was almost too bright for his own good. He thought the game would be decided by the technical merits of his product. That wasn't the case then -- nor is it now.
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