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

This book, which I mentioned in a post a while back, is out today and available from Amazon and Powells:

“New York Times Magazine writer Gertner provides a view of American research and development that will take engineers, scientists, and managers back to the golden age of invention in the U.S. ‘To consider what occurred at Bell Labs…is to consider the possibilities of what large human organizations might accomplish.’ Tracing the lives of key contributors — including Bill Shockley, John Pierce, Claude Shannon, and Mervin Kelley — Gertner provides a compelling history that moves quickly through an era that provided many of the advancements of modern life. From Bell Labs personnel — working for AT&T as well as the government during wartime — came an astonishing array of technology, from the telephone (which originally didn’t have a ringer), to radar, synthetic rubber, and the laser. According to Pierce, the Bell Labs environment nurtured creativity by simply allowing scientists and engineers the time and money to research; its management was able to ‘think long-term toward the revolutionary, and to simultaneously think near-term toward manufacturing.’ Readers will glimpse the inner workings of the famed scientists, particularly Shannon, who ‘frequently went down the halls juggling or pogoing’ — and occasionally doing both. Gertner follows these odd and brilliant thinkers to the end of Bell Labs in the 1980s and to their own ends, providing readers with insight into management, creativity, and engineering that remain applicable today. Scientists, tinkerers, managers, and HR professionals will find plenty of inspiration here.

Looks like a good read for anyone interested in the history of engineering in the 20th century.


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