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The Idea Factory Audiobook

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

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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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4.3 (450 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Clement 01-23-14
    Clement 01-23-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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


    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rodney 01-29-13
    Rodney 01-29-13 Member Since 2017
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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.

    5 of 5 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
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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.


    4 of 4 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 2015

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jonathan C. Masters Cambridge, MA, USA 05-06-12
    Jonathan C. Masters Cambridge, MA, USA 05-06-12 Member Since 2009

    Linux kernel engineer and author

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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
  •  
    Jim Fuqua Hendersonville, TN United States 02-02-17
    Jim Fuqua Hendersonville, TN United States 02-02-17

    Jim

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    "Extraordinary innovation by a monopoly!"

    Bell labs changed the world! Without Bell labs world technology would probably now be back like it was forty or fifty years ago. This book is about an extraordinary bunch of people operating intellectually and doing basic scientific research paid for by a self-righteous monopoly with a goal of destroying all competition.

    This book causes cognitive dissonance because of the good and great achievements achieved by an unscrupulous monopoly that even today still has great monopolistic powers often used against society in harmful ways.

    Would society have achieved as much if the government had maintained ownership of the infrastructure located on public rights of way and licensed all competing companies to use it, or did the monopoly by Bell accelerate innovation faster than any government owned infrastructure could? Are we all better off now because of the monopoly?

    If you believe a monopoly business is always better than government you will like this book and have ammunition to support your view. Once most of the roads in the USA, as well as water systems were owned by private monopolies. This proved unworkable and stifled innovation and quality because the public had no choice. Bell Labs may have made the Bell monopoly the exception -- or did it? Look at the communication infrastructure in the USA today and compare it to the far better systems in Korea, Singapore, and Japan and one would wonder. Similarly, the monopoly status of the railroad in the USA vs the railroads run by western European governments.

    All in all, this history of Bell Labs shows how much a lab with unlimited funds can accomplish. Bell Labs clearly changed the world. Who knows where we would be without their inventions such as transistors.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David United States 11-15-16
    David United States 11-15-16 Member Since 2012
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    "Oh my (pause) God! Just take a (pause) Hacksaw"

    and chop my (pause) head off. The ponderous pauses are a painful distraction. The book was well written, but the reader using the same inflection over and over and over made this an emotional struggle to complete.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Luis M. 10-20-16
    Luis M. 10-20-16 Member Since 2017
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    "Disappointing book"

    The book is highly focused in name the individuals that worked on Bell Labs. Too many names to distract. I was expecting much more history, innovation and leadership than knowing the favorite shirt colors of some of the company managers. I don't recommend. The small part about the real ideas and innovation is good.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason Jones 09-24-16
    Jason Jones 09-24-16 Member Since 2015
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    "Good partial story"

    For the most part, this was a terrific book. Covering what built The Network was wonderful to hear. I can remember going past some of the buildings/campuses in NY/NJ. I wish they had also covered some of the software that lives on in surprising ways and has contributed as much: Unix, C, S...these have changed the world too!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    hector centeno 05-13-16 Member Since 2012
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    "Important insights into U.S. industrial culture."

    This book fleshed out legends I heard over 35 years as a broadcast technician. It also implies questions about the character of individuals who will carry the legacy of Yankee engineering into the future.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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