Book Review: ‘The Innovators’ by Walter Isaacson

Book Review: ‘The Innovators’ by Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson’s last book was the best-selling biography of Steve Jobs —the charismatic business genius of Apple Computer and one of the beatified icons of modern technology and entrepreneurship. Mr. Isaacson’s fine new book, “The Innovators,” is a serial biography of the large number of ingenious scientists and engineers who, you might say, led up to Jobs and his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak —“forerunners” who, over the past century or so, produced the transistor, the microchip and microprocessor, the programmable computer and its software, the personal computer, and the graphic interface. These in turn were among the technological conditions for the videogame, the Internet and Web, the search engine, the online crowd-sourced encyclopedia and the ability to use a touchscreen to hurl spherical birds into buildings and make them explode.

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Taken together, this is what is called the Digital Revolution, built on an originating vision of machines that could calculate but expanding to envisage digitized mechanisms handling anything that could be symbolically represented—logical operations, words, images, signals and sounds. The digital vision looked into the future and saw unimagined possibilities of representing, recombining and communicating information—and doing so fast, robustly, cheaply and globally. The Scientific Revolution of the 17th century had changed the way that a small group of elite thinkers saw the world, but most of the world’s population still doesn’t think the way scientists do. The Digital Revolution, by contrast, has changed many things for all of us. There’s no overestimating the shattering effects of these technologies on our economy, our culture, our forms of interaction and our sense of who we are.

Some people call this the Third Industrial Revolution—the first based on coal, steam and iron; the second on steel, electricity and mass production; and the last on electronic computers and information technology. Each revolution has its heroes, but Mr. Isaacson here reckons that the biographical genre exaggerates the contributions of individuals and vastly underestimates incremental improvements over time and the creative interactions that individuals have with one another. So Mr. Isaacson’s task in “The Innovators” is different from the one in “Steve Jobs”: It is to tell the story of how the Digital Revolution happened; to tell it through the accomplishments of many individuals, some of whom were immensely clever and visionary; and, at the same time, to throw cold water on heroic biography, the attempt to identify the lone geniuses who saw the future, whole and complete, just waiting to be brought into being.

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The innovators – Description

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution Hardcover by Walter Isaacson

Following his blockbuster biography of Steve Jobs, The Innovators is Walter Isaacson’s revealing story of the people who created the computer and the Internet. It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens.

What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

In his masterly saga, Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page.

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

For an era that seeks to foster innovation, creativity, and teamwork, The Innovators shows how they happen.

The innovators – Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2014: Many books have been written about Silicon Valley and the collection of geniuses, eccentrics, and mavericks who launched the “Digital Revolution”; Robert X. Cringely’s Accidental Empires and Michael A. Hiltzik’s Dealers of Lightning are just two excellent accounts of the unprecedented explosion of tech entrepreneurs and their game-changing success. But Walter Isaacson goes them one better: The Innovators, his follow-up to the massive (in both sales and size) Steve Jobs, is probably the widest-ranging and most comprehensive narrative of them all. Don’t let the scope or page-count deter you: while Isaacson builds the story from the 19th century–innovator by innovator, just as the players themselves stood atop the achievements of their predecessors–his discipline and era-based structure allows readers to dip in and out of digital history, from Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, to Alan Turing and the codebreakers of Bletchley Park, to Tim Berners-Lee and the birth of the World Wide Web (with contextual nods to influential counterculture weirdos along the way). Isaacson’s presentation is both brisk and illuminating; while it doesn’t supersede previous histories, The Innovators might be the definitive overview, and it’s certainly one hell of a read. —Jon Foro


“A panoramic history of technological revolution… a sweeping, thrilling tale.… Throughout his action-packed story, Isaacson… offers vivid portraits—many based on firsthand interviews—[and] weaves prodigious research and deftly crafted anecdotes into a vigorous, gripping narrative about the visionaries whose imaginations and zeal continue to transform our lives.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

“Walter Isaacson has written an inspiring book about genius, this time explaining how creativity and success come from collaboration. The Innovators is a fascinating history of the digital revolution, including the critical but often forgotten role women played from the beginning. It offers truly valuable lessons in how to work together to achieve great results.” (Sheryl Sandberg)

“The history of the computer as told through this fascinating book is not the story of great leaps forward but rather one of halting progress. Journalist and Aspen Institute CEO Isaacson (Steve Jobs) presents an episodic survey of advances in computing and the people who made them, from 19th-century digital prophet Ada Lovelace to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. . . . Isaacson’s absorbing study shows that technological progress is a team sport, and that there’s no I in computer.” (Publishers Weekly)

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