PARS Book Review: The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner

Prior to the breakup of the Bell System by the federal government, Ma Bell created the prototype industrial research organization–Bell Labs. If you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, you couldn’t miss the work of Bell Labs. 

Bell Labs teams invented the transistor (!), demonstrated the value of orbital satillites and orbited the first communications satillite Telstar. 

The people behind this remarkable list of achievements are what this book is about. Each of their stories is told like a murder mystery where the technology is the murder and the inventor(s) is the detective solving the case. It is a compelling writing style for what might otherwise be a dry, academic history. 

Maybe the names John Pierce, Claude Shannon and Bill Baker don’t mean much to you, but they will mean a LOT after reading this book. You will also get strong insight into the thinking of notable illuminaries like William Shockley, principle inventor of the transistor, and Doug Ring, who was the first to outline the design of what became our modern cell phone network–a design published in 1947!!

Sections of this book move pretty slowly. But other sections light a fire under the story and it all flows together remarkably well. I didn’t think much of the closing chapters which are dedicated to rounding out the lives of the protagonists–mostly sad and contributing nothing to the tale. 

But man alive, the bulk of this book is MUST READ if you like the history of technology. –Don Merz