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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Right up there with some of the others. Not the top of the list but interesting just the same.
Some of the text was pretty technical and probably would have been hard to understand if I read it. Chris made it clear to even the most non technical person.
Takes you through the invention of the telephone to cell phones. Explores the lives of the men that brought ideas to life. Makes you understand how important these devices are what they meant to the world. Listening was probably better than reading it. I would have found the technical side boring. Having it read allowed me to understand and enjoy the 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.
I think it's among the best autobiography I've ever read.
May be the Google's story, In the Plex. But it's still different. The Idea Factory focuses mainly on the genius persons in Bell Labs, while In the Plex centers on the innovations that make Google successful.
His sound is quite good, and worth the price.
No, it's too long.
A very interesting listen that has just enough detail, but it is not technical. I was very interested in the early scientists and this touched each of the critical people with sufficient detail.
The history of Bell Labs was mostly new to me and I was not disappointed. It was pretty incredible to read about the plethora of revolutionary patents, ideas, and theories as well as the people behind them. All of this was well written, well read, and well researched, but at times I felt that the telling of the story was a little biased and could have benefited from a more critical approach, e.g. many pages were used to describe Bell Labs important collaborations with the military but none were used to discuss the role that AT&T played in the violation of privacy rights by cooperating with the the government to illegally eavesdrop on American citizens. This is not to say that the author wasn't critical at all - he did analyze the ugly sides of some of the labs innovators and did give some great analysis of how Bell Labs might operate in today's world - but there were a couple points where I thought he could go further. Nonetheless though, this is a recommended listen, especially for those new to the topic.
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