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

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The definitive history of America’s greatest incubator of innovation and the birthplace of some of the 20th century’s most influential technologies

From its beginnings in the 1920s until its demise in the 1980s, Bell Labs-officially, the research and development wing of AT&T-was the biggest, and arguably the best, laboratory for new ideas in the world. From the transistor to the laser, from digital communications to cellular telephony, it's hard to find an aspect of modern life that hasn't been touched by Bell Labs. In The Idea Factory, Jon Gertner traces the origins of some of the twentieth century's most important inventions and delivers a riveting and heretofore untold chapter of American history. At its heart this is a story about the life and work of a small group of brilliant and eccentric men-Mervin Kelly, Bill Shockley, Claude Shannon, John Pierce, and Bill Baker-who spent their careers at Bell Labs. Today, when the drive to invent has become a mantra, Bell Labs offers us a way to enrich our understanding of the challenges and solutions to technological innovation. Here, after all, was where the foundational ideas on the management of innovation were born.
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About the author

Jon Gertner grew up in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, just a few hundred yards away from Bell Labs. He has been a writer for the New York Times Magazine since 2004 and is an editor at Fast Company magazine. He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
Mar 15, 2012
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Pages
432
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ISBN
9781101561089
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Corporate & Business History
History / United States / 20th Century
Technology & Engineering / Inventions
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The computer age is over.
After a cataclysmic global run of thirty years, it has given birth to the age of the telecosm -- the world enabled and defined by new communications technology. Chips and software will continue to make great contributions to our lives, but the action is elsewhere. To seek the key to great wealth and to understand the bewildering ways that high tech is restructuring our lives, look not to chip speed but to communication power, or bandwidth. Bandwidth is exploding, and its abundance is the most important social and economic fact of our time.
George Gilder is one of the great technological visionaries, and "the man who put the 's' in 'telecosm'" (Telephony magazine). He is equally famous for understanding and predicting the nuts and bolts of complex technologies, and for putting it all together in a soaring view of why things change, and what it means for our daily lives. His track record of futurist predictions is one of the best, often proving to be right even when initially opposed by mighty corporations and governments. He foresaw the power of fiber and wireless optics, the decline of the telephone regime, and the explosion of handheld computers, among many trends. His list of favored companies outpaced even the soaring Nasdaq in 1999 by more than double.
His long-awaited Telecosm is a bible of the new age of communications. Equal parts science story, business history, social analysis, and prediction, it is the one book you need to make sense of the titanic changes underway in our lives. Whether you surf the net constantly or not at all, whether you live on your cell phone or hate it for its invasion of private life, you need this book. It has been less than two decades since the introduction of the IBM personal computer, and yet the enormous changes wrought in our lives by the computer will pale beside the changes of the telecosm. Gilder explains why computers will "empty out," with their components migrating to the net; why hundreds of low-flying satellites will enable hand-held computers and communicators to become ubiquitous; why television will die; why newspapers and magazines will revive; why advertising will become less obnoxious; and why companies will never be able to waste your time again.
Along the way you will meet the movers and shakers who have made the telecosm possible. From Charles Townes and Gordon Gould, who invented the laser, to the story of JDS Uniphase, "the Intel of the Telecosm," to the birthing of fiberless optics pioneer TeraBeam, here are the inventors and entrepreneurs who will be hailed as the next Edison or Gates. From hardware to software to chips to storage, here are the technologies that will soon be as basic as the air we breathe.
A riveting, urgent account of the explorers and scientists racing to understand the rapidly melting ice sheet in Greenland, a dramatic harbinger of climate change

“Jon Gertner takes readers to spots few journalists or even explorers have visited. The result is a gripping and important book.”—Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction

Greenland: a remote, mysterious island five times the size of California but with a population of just 56,000. The ice sheet that covers it is 700 miles wide and 1,500 miles long, and is composed of nearly three quadrillion tons of ice. For the last 150 years, explorers and scientists have sought to understand Greenland—at first hoping that it would serve as a gateway to the North Pole, and later coming to realize that it contained essential information about our climate. Locked within this vast and frozen white desert are some of the most profound secrets about our planet and its future. Greenland’s ice doesn’t just tell us where we’ve been. More urgently, it tells us where we’re headed.

In The Ice at the End of the World, Jon Gertner explains how Greenland has evolved from one of earth’s last frontiers to its largest scientific laboratory. The history of Greenland’s ice begins with the explorers who arrived here at the turn of the twentieth century—first on foot, then on skis, then on crude, motorized sleds—and embarked on grueling expeditions that took as long as a year and often ended in frostbitten tragedy. Their original goal was simple: to conquer Greenland’s seemingly infinite interior. Yet their efforts eventually gave way to scientists who built lonely encampments out on the ice and began drilling—one mile, two miles down. Their aim was to pull up ice cores that could reveal the deepest mysteries of earth’s past, going back hundreds of thousands of years.

Today, scientists from all over the world are deploying every technological tool available to uncover the secrets of this frozen island before it’s too late. As Greenland’s ice melts and runs off into the sea, it not only threatens to affect hundreds of millions of people who live in coastal areas. It will also have drastic effects on ocean currents, weather systems, economies, and migration patterns.

Gertner chronicles the unfathomable hardships, amazing discoveries, and scientific achievements of the Arctic’s explorers and researchers with a transporting, deeply intelligent style—and a keen sense of what this work means for the rest of us. The melting ice sheet in Greenland is, in a way, an analog for time. It contains the past. It reflects the present. It can also tell us how much time we might have left.
Life is getting better—and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down — all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people’s lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years.

Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization—which started more than 100,000 years ago—has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair.

This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the twenty-first century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.

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