The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Walter Isaacson. Simon & Schuster, $35 (544p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0869-0
The history of the computer as told through this fascinating book is not the story of great leaps forward but rather one of halting progress. Journalist and Aspen Institute CEO Isaacson (Steve Jobs) presents an episodic survey of advances in computing and the people who made them, from 19th-century digital prophet Ada Lovelace to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. His entertaining biographical sketches cover headline personalities (such as a manic Bill Gates in his salad days) and unsung toilers, like WWII’s pioneering female programmers, and outright failures whose breakthroughs fizzled unnoticed, such as John Atanasoff, who was close to completing a full-scale model computer in 1942 when he was drafted into the Navy. Isaacson examines these figures in lucid, detailed narratives, recreating marathon sessions of lab research, garage tinkering, and all-night coding in which they struggled to translate concepts into working machinery. His account is an antidote to his 2011 Great Man hagiography of Steve Jobs; for every visionary—or three (vicious fights over who invented what are ubiquitous)—there is a dogged engineer; a meticulous project manager; an indulgent funder; an institutional hothouse like ARPA, Stanford, and Bell Labs; and hordes of technical experts. Isaacson’s absorbing study shows that technological progress is a team sport, and that there’s no I in computer. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/04/2014
Release date: 10/07/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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