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The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovationby Jon Gertner
Synopses & Reviews
The definitive history of America’s greatest incubator of innovation, the birthplace of some of the 20th century’s most influential technologies, including the integrated circuit, the communications satellite and the cell phone.
From its beginnings in the 1920s until its demise in the 1980s, Bell Labs—officially, the research and development wing of AT&T—was the biggest, and arguably the best, laboratory for new ideas in the world. From the transistor to the laser, it’s hard to find an aspect of modern life that hasn’t been touched by Bell Labs.
Why did so many transformative ideas come from Bell Labs? In The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner traces the origins of some of the twentieth century’s most important inventions and delivers a riveting and heretofore untold chapter of American history. At its heart this is a story about the life and work of a small group of brilliant and eccentric men—Mervin Kelly, Bill Shockley, Claude Shannon, John Pierce, and Bill Baker—who spent their careers at Bell Labs. Their job was to research and develop the future of communications. Small-town boys, childhood hobbyists, oddballs: they give the lie to the idea that Bell Labs was a grim cathedral of top-down command and control.
Gertner brings to life the powerful alchemy of the forces at work behind Bell Labs inventions, teasing out the intersections between science, business, and society. He distills the lessons that abide: how to recruit and nurture young talent; how to organize and lead fractious employees; how to find solutions to the most stubbornly vexing problems; how to transform a scientific discovery into a marketable product, then make it even better, cheaper, or both. Today, when the drive to invent has become a mantra, Bell Labs offers us a way to enrich our understanding of the challenges and solutions to technological innovation. Here, after all, was where the foundational ideas on the management of innovation were born.
The Idea Factory is the story of the origins of modern communications and the beginnings of the information age—a deeply human story of extraordinary men who were given extraordinary means—time, space, funds, and access to one another—and edged the world into a new dimension.
The story of the dramatic transformation of Detroit from "motortown" to the "arsenal of democracy," featuring Edsel Ford, who rebelled against his pacifist father, Henry Ford, to build the industrial miracle Willow Run, a manufacturing complex capable ofand#160;producing B-24 Liberator bombers at a rate of one per hourand#8212;a crucial component in winning the war.
andldquo;A touching and absorbing portrait of one of the forgotten heroes of World War II . . . A. J. Baime has given us a memorable portrait not just of an industry going to war but of a remarkable figure who helped to make victory possible.andrdquo;andmdash;Wall Street Journal
As the United States entered World War II, the military was in desperate need of tanks, jeeps, and, most important, airplanes. Germany had been amassing weaponry and airplanes for five yearsandmdash;the United States for only months. So President Roosevelt turned to the American auto industry, specifically the Ford Motor Company, where Edsel Ford made the outrageous claim that he would construct the largest airplane factory in the world, a plant that could build a andldquo;bomber an hour.andrdquo; And so began one of the most fascinating and overlooked chapters in American history.
Drawing on unique access to archival material and exhaustive research, A. J. Baime has crafted a riveting narrative that hopscotches from Detroit to Washington to Normandy, from the assembly lines to the frontlines, and from the depths of professional and personal failure to the heights that Ford Motor Company and the American military ultimately achieved in the sky.
andldquo;Wars are fought on many fronts, and A. J. Baime chronicles this little-known, but terrifically important battle to build Americaand#39;s bomber force with narrative zest and delicious detail. Put simply, itand#39;s a great read.andrdquo;andmdash;Neal Bascomb, best-selling author of The Perfect Mile
andldquo;Fast-paced . . . the story certainly entertains.andrdquo;andmdash;New York Times
A Soul of the New Machine for our time, a gripping account of invention, commerce, and duplicity in the age of technology
A worldwide race is on to perfect the next engine of economic growth, the advanced lithium-ion battery. It will power the electric car, relieve global warming, and catapult the winner into a new era of economic and political mastery. Can the United States win?
Steve LeVine was granted unprecedented access to a secret federal laboratory outside Chicago, where a group of geniuses is trying to solve this next monumental task of physics. But these scientists— almost all foreign born—are not alone. With so much at stake, researchers in Japan, South Korea, and China are in the same pursuit. The drama intensifies when a Silicon Valley start-up licenses the federal laboratorys signature invention with the aim of a blockbuster sale to the worlds biggest carmakers.
The Powerhouse is a real-time, twoyear thrilling account of big invention, big commercialization, and big deception. It exposes the layers of competition and ambition, aspiration and disappointment behind this great turning point in the history of technology.
About the Author
Jon Gertner grew up in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, just a few hundred yards away from Bell Labs. He has been a writer for the New York Times Magazine since 2004 and is an editor at Fast Company magazine. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.
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