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The idea factory : Bell Labs and the great age of American innovation /

This work highlights achievements of Bell Labs as a leading innovator, exploring the role of its highly educated employees in developing new technologies while considering the qualities of companies where innovation and development are most successful. The author how Bell Labs served as an incubato...

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Main Author: Gertner, Jon.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Penguin Press, 2012
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Review by Choice Review

This interesting and unique book will interest those who are studying the progress of technology and are curious about why the period between 1930 and 1960 proved to be so productive in terms of major inventions. For the sociologist, The Idea Factory can offer clues to the societal, political, and economic climates needed to foster innovation and invention. Except for one section of historic photos, the book is almost entirely text, so the reader must be motivated by a serious interest in the topic. Writer/editor Gertner traces the early history of Bell Telephone Laboratories, focusing on the role and inventions of a select group of individuals including William Shockley, Walter Brattain, "father of information theory" Claude Shannon, and communications pioneer John Pierce. The book documents the development of modern communications and the information age. It humanizes what can appear to be a very complex and (to many) boring train of events leading to major changes in our lives. As the introduction states, the general subject of the book is the life of Bell Labs, but the approach is really about life at Bell Labs. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals; general readers. M. S. Roden emeritus, California State University, Los Angeles

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Gertner, a writer and editor who grew up in the shadows of Bell Labs' campus in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, describes the beginning of modern communications primarily between the late 1930s and the mid-1970s through the lenses of several executives and scientists. Their collective stories present an extraordinary picture of a company focused on innovation. The intent of Bell Labs (Bell Telephone Laboratories) was to support the research and development of its parent, AT&T, which sought universal connectivity in the early 1900s and in 75 years realized that dream. Bell Labs became the laboratory of the future. This is where new ideas were transformed into inventions that changed the world, such as the transistor in 1947, the essential building block of all digital products in contemporary life. Other inventions included lasers and information technologies incorporated into computers, communications, factory-productivity methods, and defense weaponry. This is a worthwhile book for history buffs and for many library patrons intrigued by the origins of our technology-driven world.--Whaley, Mary Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

New York Times Magazine writer Gertner provides a view of American research and development that will take engineers, scientists, and managers back to the golden age of invention in the U.S. "To consider what occurred at Bell Labs...is to consider the possibilities of what large human organizations might accomplish." Tracing the lives of key contributors-including Bill Shockley, John Pierce, Claude Shannon, and Mervin Kelley-Gertner provides a compelling history that moves quickly through an era that provided many of the advancements of modern life. From Bell Labs personnel-working for AT&T as well as the government during wartime-came an astonishing array of technology, from the telephone (which originally didn't have a ringer), to radar, synthetic rubber, and the laser. According to Pierce, the Bell Labs environment nurtured creativity by simply allowing scientists and engineers the time and money to research; its management was able to "think long-term toward the revolutionary, and to simultaneously think near-term toward manufacturing." Readers will glimpse the inner workings of the famed scientists, particularly Shannon, who "frequently went down the halls juggling or pogoing"-and occasionally doing both. Gertner follows these odd and brilliant thinkers to the end of Bell Labs in the 1980s and to their own ends, providing readers with insight into management, creativity, and engineering that remain applicable today. Scientists, tinkerers, managers, and HR professionals will find plenty of inspiration here. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Review by Library Journal Review

Gertner's text is an in-depth, interview and research-based study of the groundbreaking inventions at AT&T's Bell Laboratories, written with a particular interest in research processes. Gertner (contributor, New York Times Magazine; editor, Fast Company) focuses particularly on six of the lab's members, from the well-known William Shockley (who shared the Nobel prize for the transistor and eugenics supporter) to lesser-known men like Mervin Kelly, who recruited some of the best scientists to the lab. The book is a celebration of basic exploratory research, which the scientists and engineers at Bell Labs managed to do despite being in a for-profit setting. The discussion of the search for semiconductor materials is particularly fascinating. Gertner takes readers from the 1920s through World War II to the AT&T break up in the 1980s. Verdict This dense but fascinating title is less accessible than it could be because lacks any illustrations, though the writing and the longitudinal biographical portraits are engaging. Engineers, physicists, materials scientists, inventors, and readers interested in research and entrepreneurship should all enjoy this detailed work.-Sara R. Tompson, Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Fast Company editor Gertner traces the history of Bell Labs through more than five decades of brilliant thinking and innovation. From the transistor to lasers to satellites and cellular technology, Bell Labs and its scientists invented machines and techniques that were consistently prescient, and ultimately presaged all of modern communications. Housed first in New York City and then on a sprawling campus in New Jersey, Bell Labs became a haven for creative and technical minds due to a unique culture of encouraged interdisciplinary research, (mostly) friendly competition and inspired leadership. Tremendously complex ideas (information theory) and intensely experimental accomplishments (fiber optics) were possible in part because of the unrivaled freedom, time and funding Bell Labs provided. In addition, pressing social, political and economic issues provided necessary infrastructures for advances in engineering and mechanics. The author describes the atmosphere as welcoming creativity rather than insisting on rigid development; intellectually, there was an indistinct line between art and science. By tracing the history of Bell Labs through the biographies of several of its founding thinkers, including Mervin Kelly, Bill Shockley and Claude Shannon, Gertner reveals the complicated humanity at work behind the scenes and provides unprecedented insight on some of history's most important scientific and technological advances. Packed with anecdotes and trivia and written in clear and compelling prose, this story of a cutting-edge and astonishingly robust intellectual era--and one not without its controversies and treachery--is immensely enjoyable.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.