The Cryotron Files: The Untold Story of Dudley Buck, Cold War Computer Scientist and Microchip Pioneer

Iain Dey and Douglas Buck. Overlook, $29.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4683-1577-6
This fascinating, if at times overly speculative, biography of Dudley Buck (1927–1959) from Dey, business editor for the Sunday Times, and Buck, the subject’s son, marks the first biography of this undeservedly obscure computing pioneer. Their detailed account depicts a man whose interest in how things work dated to childhood. His technical skills led to the military sponsoring his college education. Buck’s achievements won him entry to MIT for grad school, where he joined Project Whirlwind, a military initiative to increase computer data-processing power. His work there led, in turn, in 1952, to his assisting the National Security Agency in the eventual development of the NSA’s first supercomputers. Buck’s most important invention was the cryotron, an early version of the microchip. The authors don’t idealize him, noting, for example, his sometimes mean-spirited penchant for practical jokes. The book overreaches in its final chapter by theorizing that Buck’s sudden, unexplained death in 1959 at the age of 32 was actually a KGB hit. Since no autopsy was ever performed, such a hypothesis is unfounded by facts. But even without a dramatic Cold War coda to Buck’s life, the authors more than make their case for the significance of his contributions to current technological breakthroughs. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/27/2018
Release date: 10/09/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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