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Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century Paperback – June 11, 1999

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

FDR's director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, a gifted mathematician and engineer, a prophet of the Manhattan Project and the Internet, a founder of the Raytheon Company, soul of the modern organization man?Vannevar Bush firmly established and maintained the seminal linchpin between the resources of the civilian scientific community and the needs of an ever-hungry military backed by the largesse of the federal government. Zachary, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, labors extensively to reconstruct the prodigious life of this "patron saint of American science, 'one of the most important men in America,'" in light of the puzzling truth that his subject is virtually forgotten today. Cloyingly praiseful, Zachary uses extensive detail to create an apotheosis of a hero who brought science and the centralized organization to bear on winning the war and establishing the modern public-private partnership. With over 70 pages of end notes, bibliography, abbreviations, and index; recommended for academic and large public libraries.?Robert C. Ballou, Atlanta
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Bush's seminal essay "As We May Think," which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1945, may seem quaint today, but not too long ago it was required reading for budding library and information scientists. In it Bush envisioned automated information retrieval and a complex device called the Memex, and for that he has gained a place in history. Zachary is a Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Show-Stopper (1994), an account of Microsoft's efforts to create Windows NT. He has been researching Bush's life for more than 10 years, and his effort has paid off here. Zachary calls Bush "the most politically powerful inventor since Benjamin Franklin." He documents Bush's many inventions and patents and his contributions at MIT and the Carnegie Institution. He details Bush's roles with the National Defense Research Committee and the Office of Scientific Research and Development, where Bush helped create what has become known as the military-industrial complex by heading the research effort that united science with the military and helped win World War II. David Rouse --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1st MIT Press ed edition (June 11, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262740222
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262740227
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This is a very well written and entertaining book about a scientific administrator who played a major effort in organizing the technical responses required to anticipate and successfully meet the challenges of WWII. His skillful analysis, technical comprehension and political astuteness not only provided outstanding leadership at the time but shaped the intractions of goverment, industry and the academic community in such a fashion as to remain intact to this time. One comes awawy with an enormous respect for Dr. Bush. He must have been one tough character and difficult to deal with but he got the jobs done. It is a pity that his battles with Admiral Ernest King have, to my knowledge, never been documented. The issues they disagreed about were not trivial and their interactions must have been awesome. I read this book shortly after completing Tycho's Island and the similarity between the two men and the administrative issues they dealt with is both striking and illuminating.
Good men are hard to find and good books about them deserve our attention.
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Format: Paperback
Zachary deserves great credit for writing a book that offers many virtues and lessons of lasting relevance. Because the author's commitment is worthy of his subject, this book should have timeless value. The roles for science and technology and how best to harness them for prosperity and for security to enable the preservation of peace are questions which transcend any particular time.

The subtitle, Engineer of the American Century, is justified. Bush contributed to American society in many ways. He was a fecund, tireless inventor, helping launch Raytheon Corporation. He was dedicated to boosting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and thereby strengthening society through teaching and seeking practical knowledge. He was a pioneer and convenor of advances in computing.

Clear-mindedly appreciating the gathering evil of Nazi Germany, Bush decided to do something, as typical. He left MIT and got to Washington as head of the Carnegie Institution. Though a Republican, he persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt that those who were technically educated needed to be harnessed within a National Defense Research Committee, in service to their nation's needs. By helping harness the extraordinary abilities of civilian and academic technologists to serve their nation in meeting the challenges of World War II, Bush helped unleash a cornucopia of inventions and advances in thinking, with extraordinary economic legacies (computing, electronics, medicine, radar).

A few words from Zachary:
--Bush's "was a life not of looking back, but of charging ahead."
--He had a "commitment to excellence and integrity that reinforced his belief in the power of one person to make a difference.
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ENDLESS FRONTIER VANNEVAR BUSH, by G.P. Zachary, is a 518 page book that includes a list of abbreviations (pages 409-410), footnotes (pages 411-484), and a generous number of glossy black and white photographs (16 pages of photos). The photos include a group pose of electrical engineering faculty at MIT (including Dr.Bush), separate photos of Dr. Bush with various inventions ((1) Profile tracer; (2) Product intergraph; (3) Differential analyzer; and (4) Hydrofoil), and photos of Dr. Bush with various luminaries, such as Karl Compton, Orville Wright, James Conant, General Leslie Groves, Robert Oppenheimer, and President Truman.

WRITING STYLE. The writing style is excellent, in that it rarely digresses into narratives of a personal nature, or to provide disclosures of popular culture of the day. However, on page 24 we do find information of a personal nature: "In the spring of 1911, he [Vannevar Bush] suffered an appendicitis. He needed an operation and missed a semester. Bedridden for weeks during one stretch, he found consolation in his imagination." Pages 47-48 provide details of the funeral of Dr. Bush's father. Page 59 details Dr. Bush's love for smoking pipes. Pages 139-141 concern Dr. Bush's wife, Phoebe. We read that, "Among strangers, Phoebe could be moody, at times, dour and aloof, but Bush excused her faults." These little tidbits are quite welcome. After all, this is a biography, isn't it?

HEART OF THIS BOOK. In my opinion, the heart of the book resides at pages 123-139 and 159-183. In my opinion, this part of the book should be reproduced verbatum (with permission of course) in standard high school history books. These pages concern the radio proximity fuse, radar, homing torpedoes, and magnetic airborn detection of submarines.
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A good biography of a complex and driven man, flaws and all. The episodes about his role in WWII are fascinating but some of the rest of his time, less so. his contribution to the warr effort is stunning. He was stubborn and often right but when wrong was terrifically so. He was a believer in the able should rule and it proved his downfall post WWII. A good read for those interseted either in modern US funding of research or WWII history on the home front.
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