The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

If you a looking for a good history lesson on the digital revolution, or ever wondered how we got to here, The Innovators is a fantastic read for thought provoking perspective and great candid quotes.  If you have read “Steve Jobs” authorized biography, you are not a stranger to Isaacson’s style.  His in-depth style in well served to this book, as it is presented in almost a epoch style of the digital age.

Starting with foundation of Charles Babbage and Lord Byron’s only daughter Ada Lovelace, and the Analytical Engine, he works through the initial dreams of a machine that never that quite worked in their life.

The book next delves into the early stages of programming that was inspired and driven in the lead up to World War II, and the early development of the computer and programming.  The tale gives a parallel view of the development on both sides of the Atlantic with a good bit discussed about the tragic tale Alan Turing, but also the introduction of names that often get missed.

Names like Vannevar Bush who headed up U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development and later helped push to fund the National Science Foundation. John Mauchly and J. Eckert  who together worked on the team that built the ENIAC.  And the early programmers who were almost exclusively women, with such amazing pioneers like Grace Hopper.  The beauty of the book is the anecdotes that get beyond the facts and instill a humanity of the people behind the science. The human side of the work is what keeps the creative interest within the writing the could be quite dry and dragging.

The transition of the post war innovation within government and education institutions outlined as the transition began to move more the the private market and subsets that developed. The topics include the starting of  Intel, Xerox innovations, HP, and the transition to from the corporate contract of computers to the homebrew startups and the fabled and often mythicized stories of Jobs, Wozniak, Gates, and Bushnell at Atari.

The coverage of the 80’s into the 90’s attempts to give perspective of the Gates / Jobs competition, as well as the battles of Compaq and IBM. From that soup, the book takes a pause and returns back in time to prepare for the third wave with the rise of the internet and the online world.

The book has its weaknesses, one being if you get a copy be sure to get a more recent copy as it gives a more balanced perspective on Microsoft from both Allen and Gates points of view verse a very Bill Gates mirrored universe.  Also, it feels that the approach to Jobs is softened in the perspective over some of the more direct critiques of others. I realize that the factor of his interaction with Jobs himself and the family may have shaded some of the his perspective and style.

If you are looking for a book with technical and deep analysis of the science behind the innovation, you will probably find this book lacking. I can say that the book does give a nice overview of the development and innovation over the last 150 plus years.  Worth the read, and easy way to know on a deeper level our history within the development of technology, and to give perspective of what still may lay ahead.


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