The Idea Factory

Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
Narrated by: Chris Sorensen
Length: 17 hrs and 28 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (739 ratings)

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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

Average Customer Ratings

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Performance

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

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

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I learned so much

I'm a creative technologist. I know the basis of technology history. this filled in so many gaps and connected so many dots for me. I definitely recommend it. I think it could be an excellent TV series. it's a very compelling read.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Impeccable narration of interesting facts

This accounting of Bell Lab's geniuses is for those who want to understand grand technology

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Much too long and repetitive

Much too long winded and repetitive. Too reverent. Also should be called history of Bell Labs and it’s people

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great inspirational book

Great , inspirational book.
However I wish the author had spent a little more time on the software innovations at Bell labs other than a brief mention of Unix

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • B
  • 06-08-19

Sciencistory!

It's a good read. A combination of science and history. I wish I had this background when I learned about these theories in courses or textbooks. The conclusion is strong and educating.
What could be better: The storyline, it covers several years and different technologies. It has an episodic nature that could be formed either around technologies or characters from Bell Labs or guest stars such as Edison or Moore. In some sections, it's hard to follow the lines or remember the characters. Part of this issue is due to a major shortcoming in the audiobook: Chapters are no in synch with the book chapters; there are several more than the book and with no title.
I wish there were figures and drawings for the concepts although I did a search for several.
It sees the world from Bell Lab "fanboys" or leaders. While I agree they contributed to several technologies, they were not the inventor in several cases.
It touches a little bit of how corporate culture was in Bell Labs but cautiously.