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The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation | [Jon Gertner]

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

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 the1980s. 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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

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4.1 (210 )
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  •  
    Clement 01-23-14
    Clement 01-23-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    "Long Pauses"
    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    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


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John P. Tynan Santa Barbara, CA USA 07-24-13
    John P. Tynan Santa Barbara, CA USA 07-24-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Slow talker"
    Would you try another book from Jon Gertner and/or Chris Sorensen?

    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.


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    Yes.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher Florida 01-29-13
    Christopher Florida 01-29-13 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great story -- horrible pauses"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jon Cambridge, MA, United States 05-06-12
    Jon Cambridge, MA, United States 05-06-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Singularly one of the best books I have read/heard"
    What did you love best about The Idea Factory?

    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.


    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    Have you listened to any of Chris Sorensen’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    This is my first of Sorensen's readings, but hopefully not my last. The performance is very well done.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    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.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 09-29-13
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    "A great "biography" of Bell Labs"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas AMENIA, NY, United States 03-25-13
    Thomas AMENIA, NY, United States 03-25-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Great Ideas and How they changed our lives."
    Where does The Idea Factory rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Right up there with some of the others. Not the top of the list but interesting just the same.


    What does Chris Sorensen bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Peter San Francisco, CA, United States 01-31-13
    Peter San Francisco, CA, United States 01-31-13 Member Since 2011

    peterb_sanfran

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    "Good history, but a little slow"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    zhifei Cambridge, MA, United States 07-30-12
    zhifei Cambridge, MA, United States 07-30-12
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    "Good book, good stories"
    Where does The Idea Factory rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I think it's among the best autobiography I've ever read.


    What other book might you compare The Idea Factory to and why?

    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.


    What does Chris Sorensen bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His sound is quite good, and worth the price.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, it's too long.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John North Jackson, Ohio, United States 07-17-12
    John North Jackson, Ohio, United States 07-17-12 Listener Since 2009
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    "A Good Listen"

    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.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Portland, OR 07-02-12
    Amazon Customer Portland, OR 07-02-12
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    "very interesting stories ..."

    heard it first from NPR and bought it and ENJOYED this book! Would recommended it to others

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
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