Book Review: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

Book Review: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

Title: Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Author: Walter Isaacson

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd

Genre: Business, Digital Technology

First Publication: 2014

Language: English

 

Book Summary: The Innovators by Walter IsaacsonBook Review - The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

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

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

In his exciting saga, Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He then 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 creative. 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, this book shows how they actually happen.

 

Book Review: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

I’ve come to greatly enjoy Walter Isaacson. I previously read his work on Steve Jobs, and The Innovators was a very nice follow-up. Isaacson writes in a pleasant, enjoyable and enticing manner, finely riding the line between big-picture themes and ideas, and the small, intimate stories that really make history interesting.

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson chronicles the history of computing and the rise of the digital age. Isaacson covers a broad range, from the prehistoric beginnings of computing in the 1800s, all the way through the rise of Intel, Apple, Wikipedia and Google. At almost 500 pages, Isaacson still could have gone into more detail in some areas, but his pace keeps the narrative moving right along.

“Progress comes not only in great leaps but also from hundreds of small steps.”

Walter Isaacson demonstrates his ability to explain ideas and story elements to make a wonderful narrative. Isaacson begins at the beginning of computing, with the Analytical and Difference Engines by Charles Babbage, and the first programmer in the part of Ada Lovelace. It talks about how both machines were far ahead of their time, and people didn’t know what it could be used for. The technology just wasn’t there.

Throughout the history of computing and technology in general, there have been advancements that take things to a whole new level. Isaacson recounts all of it. While I do say that innovation is a collaborative effort, we do still remember the random geniuses for better or worse. Take William Shockley for example; the man was brilliant, there is no denying that. He came up with a method to make transistors that involved something entirely different in a herculean task of intense concentration and effort.

“Innovation requires having at least three things: a great idea, the engineering talent to execute it, and the business savvy (plus deal-making moxie) to turn it into a successful product.”

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson is separated into chapters that give an account of large advancements. So the first chapters talk about Babbage and Lovelace. The second chapter goes on to the rush to make tabulating machines and machines to simplify tedious mathematical calculations. During World War II, it seems that each major power had some computing power, except the Germans. The high command of Nazi Germany could not see the benefits of a computer.

Alongside the making of computers, we tend to find a number of firsts that always confused me. When talking about the first computer, we have to be very specific in what we mean. What sort of base did it use? Was it Electronic? Did it use Vacuum Tubes or Relays? Was it so secret that no one knew about it for 30 years? Was it general-purpose or only devoted to one task?

“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

In that previous vein, we eventually get to the internet, PCs, Apple stuff, and how those inventions grew organically or were controlled by corporate and personal interests. The book even has a chapter devoted to Video Games. It contains different views on things from different perspectives. For example, we have Bill Gates and the Homebrew Computer Club. They butted heads over file sharing and copyright. They both had a point as well. This was with the development of Microsoft BASIC.

This book is fantastic. I really enjoy books that delve into the history of things and ideas. Since it digs into technology, this makes it even better.


Buy Now: Books by Walter Isaacson

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