The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner
Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

76%

14 Critic Reviews

Packed with anecdotes and trivia and written in clear and compelling prose, this story of a cutting-edge and astonishingly robust intellectual era—and one not without its controversies and treachery—is immensely enjoyable.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

The definitive history of America's greatest incubator of technological innovation
 
In this first full portrait of the legendary Bell Labs, journalist Jon Gertner takes readers behind one of the greatest collaborations between business and science in history. Officially the research and development wing of AT&T, Bell Labs made seminal breakthroughs from the 1920s to the 1980s in everything from lasers to cellular elephony, becoming arguably the best laboratory for new ideas in the world. Gertner's riveting narrative traces the intersections between science, business, and society that allowed a cadre of eccentric geniuses to lay the foundations of the information age, offering lessons in management and innovation that are as vital today as they were a generation ago.

 

About Jon Gertner

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JON GERTNER has been a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine since 2004, where he writes about business, technology, and society. He has also served as a senior editor for Money and The American Lawyer. A graduate of Cornell University, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and their two children.
 
Published March 15, 2012 by Penguin Books. 446 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, History, Computers & Technology, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Education & Reference. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Idea Factory
All: 14 | Positive: 11 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Excellent
Mar 15 2012

Packed with anecdotes and trivia and written in clear and compelling prose, this story of a cutting-edge and astonishingly robust intellectual era—and one not without its controversies and treachery—is immensely enjoyable.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Walter Isaacson on Apr 06 2012

Gertner draws smart insights from the successes at Bell Labs...

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Mar 19 2012

Mr. Gertner’s portraits of Kelly and the cadre of talented scientists who worked at Bell Labs are animated by a journalistic ability to make their discoveries and inventions utterly comprehensible — indeed, thrilling — to the lay reader.

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Wall Street Journal

Good
Reviewed by Bob Metcalfe on Mar 17 2012

...Mr. Gertner's book offers fascinating evidence for those seeking to understand how a society should best invest its research resources.

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LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by Michael Hiltzik on Mar 25 2012

Although Gertner does not overlook Bell Labs' failures, he might well have extracted some lessons from what may be AT&T's worst technological oversight: The company not only declined to participate in a project by the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, to develop a data network known as ARPAnet, but actively interfered with the effort by claiming that data transmissions would foul its phone lines.

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Slate

Excellent
Reviewed by Dave Tompkins on Mar 31 2012

As Gertner may attest, it’s hard scaring up clear living minds from the vacuum-tube generation, and the research behind The Idea Factory is astonishing, drawing from interviews as well as collections and declassified material.

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NJ.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Jonathan Lazarus on Mar 19 2012

Thus, "Idea Factory" connects on all levels about a company that based its existence on connectivity.

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Wired

Below average
Reviewed by Geeta Dayal on Apr 04 2012

The Idea Factory also noticeably lacks strong female figures; when women appear, they tend to be the devoted wives of the Bell Labs men.

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Business Week

Excellent
Reviewed by Daniel Grushkin on Mar 22 2012

At its core, the book asks: Can we build an American Idea Factory for the 21st century?

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The Seattle Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Curt Schleier on Mar 23 2012

Gertner has done a remarkable job in re-creating this era.

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The Verge

Excellent
Reviewed by Jesse Hicks on Mar 21 2012

Obviously Bell Labs had a rich vein of talent, but Gertner's history takes care to explain how the organization developed that talent.

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PC Mag

Below average
Reviewed by Michael Miller on Apr 04 2012

His interest is clearly in the communications industry and the lab itself, so it's a bit disappointing to find only passing mention of Bell Labs' crucial computer science innovations in the late 60s and early 70s, such as Unix and C.

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Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms

Good
Reviewed by Ted Lehmann on Apr 13 2012

Through profiles of key Bell Lab scientists and leaders, Gertner builds a picture of the work and character of Bell Labs while keeping his story human and highly readable.

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The Curious Wavefunction

Good
Reviewed by Ashutosh Jogalekar on Mar 21 2012

Gertner's book about this great American institution excels in three ways.

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Reader Rating for The Idea Factory
83%

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