Crystal Fire: The Birth of the Information Age

Michael Riordan, Author, Lillian Hoddeson, Joint Author
Michael Riordan, Author, Lillian Hoddeson, Joint Author W. W. Norton & Company $27.5 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-04124-8
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-393-31851-7
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-7861-1375-0
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Today, with technology and hype hopelessly intertwined, it is worth noting that the transistor's official debut by Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1948 received scant notice. The technology that would change the world was relegated to page 46 of the New York Times in the ""News of Radio"" column, for example. Such detail, far from cluttering this chronicle of scientific quests, elevates a potentially dry treatise on industrial research methodology to absorbing proportions. Riordan (Shadow of Creation) and Hoddeson (a teacher at the University of Illinois) expertly integrate science with the personal histories and larger social issues that ushered in the age of the semiconductor. This is the story of the motivations and failures of the men who inched forward in the arduous years-long pursuit of a solid-state technology that would replace vacuum tubes and pave the way for everything from transistor radios to laptops. The ever-ambitious team leader William Shockley eventually shared the acclaim--and Nobel Prize--with two team members, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, but he never achieved the personal fortune he craved. His own semiconductor firm, based in a sleepy community outside of San Francisco, was far from the financial or technological success he envisioned. The region would, however, eventually grow into Silicon Valley. Thoroughly accessible to lay readers as well as to the techno-savvy, this fine book vivifies the office politics, professional rivalries and dedication exhibited by the researchers whose work literally--and virtually--transformed the planet. Photos and illustrations not seen by PW. First serial to IEEE Spectrum; second serial to Scientific American. (July)
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