In The Idea Factory, New York Times Magazine writer Jon Gertner reveals how Bell Labs served as an incubator for scientific innovation from the 1920s through the 1980s. In its heyday, Bell Labs boasted nearly 15,000 employees, 1200 of whom held PhDs and 13 of whom won Nobel Prizes. Thriving in a work environment that embraced new ideas, Bell Labs scientists introduced concepts that still propel many of today’s most exciting technologies.
©2012 Jon Gertner (P)2012 Recorded Books, LLC
The narration was so slow that I was often left wondering whether the chapter had ended. It was hard to follow the story when the pauses were so long that it became a distraction. I ended up having the listen to the book at 1.5x the speed which made it bearable. Great book though
Narrator Chris Sorensen talks so slow I think the recording has stopped or it is a new chapter. Gertner, however, has a great and important story.
If I was going to (pause) (pause) (pause) write my review (pause) (pause) in the fashion that the reader (pause) (pause) (pause) read this book (pause) (pause) it would probably read something like this sentence.
As you can tell I'm really annoyed by this reader and his constant pausing, particularly in the first half of the book. It's extremely annoying since the guy can read well and has a pleasant voice but the pacing with all the pauses is frustrating. Either he reader got better or I got used to it since by the end of the book I didn't notice it much, but that was 10+ hours before I felt that way.
With that out of the way the book itself is excellent, with the exception of the authors comments at the end of the book -- he should stick with telling other peoples story. I don't really have much to add about the content of the book, it's exactly what it says it is and that's a great thing.
If you have the faintest interest in the subject and can get past the reader constantly pausing (and probably doubling the length of the audio) then you'll enjoy this book.
I'm an engineer, so reading about Bell Labs and some of the most exciting discoveries and technological breakthroughs of the 20th century is of natural interest to me. This book covers all the great breakthroughs at Bell Labs, through the eyes of the executives of the labs and the Nobel Prize winners who did most of the discovering. Although this is a natural vantage point, I kept feeling like I was missing the basic intensity and passion of the individual inventor and discoverer, which is what most interests me.
I never finished the book, because I'm afraid there are other works I'm more interested in, and are really more interesting to read. I wonder how the author holds other people's attention for the whole book, when an electrical engineer like me can't maintain interest.
The narrator of this book is painfully slow. He reads so deliberately, as if he's recounting some incredibly exciting event like a political assassination, as he recounts the researcher pushing a probe into a device to measure a current. My audible.com software allows me to change the narration speed, and I highly recommend "2x" or 2 times normal speed, so you don't fall asleep, or punch the dashboard in frustration.
Jon Gernter captures the very essence of Bell Labs' contributions to modern society, detailing how it was uniquely placed as an institution to event many of the technologies that we rely upon today. The story narrative is woven with enough (but not too much) dramatic flair that the listener is left constantly wanting to hear more. I found myself having to consume this book in a few days, whereas I would usually take several weeks to complete a book of this length in amongst all of the others I am reading.
The story accurately captures much of the history and provides the necessary context around major discoveries, as well as background (and postscript commentary) of the major character actors involved.
This is my first of Sorensen's readings, but hopefully not my last. The performance is very well done.
I found this book enthralling. But I did have an extreme reaction also. I found myself intensely angry at the fate that befell Bell Labs (which has always bothered me) and the state of the American education system that leads Gernter (correctly) to ponder whether we have left the age of Innovation described in this book behind us for good.
The book enlightened me about the scientific contribution coming from the Bell labs: vacuum tubes, transistor, communication theory, pulse code modulation, sampling, RADAR, LASER, fiber optics, microwave communication, Unix, C, and a plethora of other technologies. The book is well written and captivating. It makes one stop and think what real contribution means. We live in the world where the technologies invested and perfected in Bell labs have become indispensable parts of our lives. The scientists at the Bell labs in early and mid 1900s created all these technologies and they engulf us not by accident but because those scientists foresaw the necessity and impact for these technologies. They were well ahead of their time. In Bell labs, the scientists truly worked on the technology that would shape several decades to come.
As an engineer, I enjoyed the narrative. A bit dull in places and it jumped around a bit. But I am glad I listened to it and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the innovation process and/or bell labs.
Ehh... considering this book was written for a specific topic, that heavily depends on what jon writes about.
Heading back to the arena of fiction for a bit..
Performance was ok.It's not a book that needs much emotion
Umm considering this is no more Bell Labs...no.
Okay, so this review is going to be biased. I'm telling you straight forward. I've always had a fascination with the idea of Bell Labs, and admittedly, have been ennamoured with the place for years. I now work at Alcatel-Lucent (owner of Bell Labs) so I sort of achieved my goal in life. Anyway, I felt the book was a very very good review more of the people's lives who worked at Bell Labs, rather than actually focusing on the individual inventions. They glossed over a lot of big inventions such as the creation of UNIX. And the C programming language. Instead focusing on mannerisms and traits of the people who worked there. I don't mind obviously learning and reading about the great pillars of creative thought, but there are so many presented in this book.
This book is also a fun read due to the fact that I live in New Jersey, so it was like a who's who of townships, that received recognition. (even my own tiny hometown was mentioned). I enjoyed reading this, but I can see how anyone without a love of innovation, science, bell labs, at&t and such interests would be bored to tears.
I just wish they would have expanded on certain parts, especially the rivalry between AT&T and MCI.
My own score is a 3/5, but I can see anyone not interested in this may give it a 2/5.
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.
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