Bell Labs played a hugely significant role in shaping our world today, a role which is surprising unknown. Gertner takes a biographer's approach to recounting Bell Labs' history. Most of the story focuses on the influential people, their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, their experiences, and how they shaped the most significant discoveries, inventions, policies, and events of Bell Labs. I think the story is probably most likely to be enjoyed by those with strong science and engineering interests.
Gertner clearly conducted deep and meticulous research to write the book. This "biographer's" approach has a humanizing effect on Bell Labs by reminding the reader (listener) that behind this mammoth, influential institution were real people. However, as can often be the case for in-depth biographies, there are some dull moments when you get lost in the details at the expense of the story line.
Some of the AT&T and Bell Labs policies, decisions, and approaches are controversial and one can make arguments regarding their merits or faults. As a "biographer," Gertner generally doesn't comment much on these types of ethical issues. He seems to lay out the facts, details, and people, and then let the reader come to his/her conclusions.
Other listeners have commented on the narrator. I tend to listen at 2X or 3X, so I can't really comment on his pauses. At accelerated speeds, he was fine.
Overall, I enjoyed Idea Factory and recommend it for better understanding the important people and events around Bell Labs.
To Repair the World is an excellent collection of Paul Farmer's speeches, most of which were given at university commencements. Paul Farmer has dedicated his life to repairing the world, resolving inequality, and healing the sick no matter what their situation. He ignores common limitations, and in fact, is openly frustrated by arguments around whether care is "worth it" or "cost effective." These speeches share some of his insights and experiences. Paul Farmer deeply cares about humanity--both in the general sense and the very personal sense. These speeches were written to inspire his listeners to use their skills to go do something good to make the world a better place, and they are inspiring.
Those interested in this book should recognize that a collection of speeches is different from a typical nonfiction book. The speeches are very much related, but also independent. There are many recurring themes, but no topic is deeply investigated--after all, you can only be so thorough in 20 minute speech. You get enough to be inspired, but you certainly don't get every detail. As a reader/listener, you are left to do that on your own. His speeches tend to follow a similar pattern, which you pick up on after a few chapters. Additionally, the speeches aren't live recordings, nor are they read by Paul Farmer. The narrator reads them well, but certainly not with the same feeling and delivery as a speech.
Overall, I enjoyed To Repair the World. It is insightful and inspirational.
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