Cover image for The innovators : how a group of hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution
The innovators : how a group of hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution
Isaacson, Walter, author.
Personal Author:
Large print edition.
Publication Information:
Waterville, Me. Thorndike Press, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning, 2014.
Physical Description:
957 pages (large print) : illustrations, portraits ; 23 cm.
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? Beginning with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s, Walter Isaacson explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution. For an era that seeks to foster innovation, creativity, and teamwork, The Innovators shows how they happen.
General Note:
Ada, Countess of Lovelace -- The computer -- Programming -- The transistor -- The microchip -- Video games -- The Internet -- The personal computer -- Software -- Online -- The Web -- Ada forever.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Clarence Library QA76.2.A2 I87 2014B Adult Large Print Large Print

On Order



A New York Times Bestselling AuthorWhat 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? Beginning with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron's daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s, Walter Isaacson explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution.

Author Notes

Walter Isaacson was born on May 20, 1952 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He received a B. A. in history and literature from Harvard College. He then attended the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar at Pembroke College and read philosophy, politics, and economics.

He began his career in journalism at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times-Picayune/States-Item. He joined TIME in 1978 and served as a political correspondent, national editor and editor of new media before becoming the magazine's editor in 1996. He became Chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003.

He has written numerous books including American Sketches, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Kissinger: A Biography, Steve Jobs, and The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. He is the co-author, with Evan Thomas, of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* In 1843, Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, wrote in a letter to Charles Babbage that mathematical calculating machines would one day become general-purpose devices that link the operations of matter and the abstract mental processes, correctly predicting the rise of modern computers. Thus begins a remarkable overview of the history of computers from the man who brought us biographies of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Henry Kissinger. The story is above all one of collaboration and incremental progress, which lies in contrast to our fascination with the lone inventor. Here we find that in a world dominated by men with their propensity for hardware, the first contributions to software were made by women. While we have those storied partnerships of the digital age Noyce and Moore, Hewlett and Packard, Allen and Gates, and Jobs and Wozniak all of their contributions were built upon the advances of lesser-known pioneers, who are heralded in these pages. Although full biographies of the individuals profiled here have been written in spades, Isaacson manages to bring together the entire universe of computing, from the first digitized loom to the web, presented in a very accessible manner that often reads like a thriller.--Siegfried, David Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. 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. His entertaining biographical sketches cover headline personalities (such as a manic Bill Gates in his salad days) and unsung toilers, like WWII's pioneering female programmers, and outright failures whose breakthroughs fizzled unnoticed, such as John Atanasoff, who was close to completing a full-scale model computer in 1942 when he was drafted into the Navy. Isaacson examines these figures in lucid, detailed narratives, recreating marathon sessions of lab research, garage tinkering, and all-night coding in which they struggled to translate concepts into working machinery. His account is an antidote to his 2011 Great Man hagiography of Steve Jobs; for every visionary--or three (vicious fights over who invented what are ubiquitous)--there is a dogged engineer; a meticulous project manager; an indulgent funder; an institutional hothouse like ARPA, Stanford, and Bell Labs; and hordes of technical experts. Isaacson's absorbing study shows that technological progress is a team sport, and that there's no I in computer. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Isaacson (Steve Jobs) is a storyteller of the kind he admires among the people who made the bits and pieces that would become computers, wrote programs, invented games, miniaturized the computer, created the Internet, and found ways for ordinary people to access technology and build communities. The author relates the history of the computer by describing these individuals vividly and succinctly. Most were brilliant. Some were shy, others wild. Many had flaws. All are fascinating. At each crucial point in the development of the machine, explains Isaacson, there were usually several people who worked almost as one, even though their personalities differed considerably: an engineer carefully planned the steps, a manager kept people on track, and a pied piper involved others. Ada Lovelace is an example of the visionaries covered in the book; the outlook detailed in her 1843 Notes on Babbage's Analytical Engine took 160 years to be realized, but Lovelace's predictions describe our world today, where humans and machines work together in the arts and sciences to create new knowledge and solve old problems. As well as relevant personalities, Isaacson's work describes organizations and corporations with similar color and clarity. The volume lacks an index, and with many people and concepts mentioned more than once, it would be fascinating to reference these connections (a searchable electronic file would be a logical and helpful addition). VERDICT Anyone who uses a computer in any of its contemporary shapes or who has an interest in modern history will enjoy this book. It should be on the reading lists of book discussion groups and high school and college courses across the curriculum.-Linda Loos Scarth, Cedar Rapids, IA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Isaacson (CEO, Aspen Institute) follows his Jobs biography, Steve Jobs (CH, Apr'12, 49-4500), with an exceptional history of the innovations that drove the digital revolution. Besides revealing the technologies involved, he integrates succinct profiles of important individuals and corporations, emphasizing the management styles deployed that either encouraged innovation or foiled success. The collaboration between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in the 1840s launched the digital revolution. Babbage's Analytical Engine and Lovelace's accompanying commentary and algorithms were inspirational for later generations. The author discusses the transformation of the 19th-century world of human calculators into today's digital world of the web, and explains that ubiquitous computers, smart appliances, and virtual social spaces required many significant innovations. Switching circuits, transistors, microchips, microprocessors, the mouse, and memory storage were prerequisite; the conceptual shift away from single-use computers, e.g., the ENIAC for hydrogen bomb calculations, to multipurpose programmable computers was critical. The journey of innovation continued with the birth of time-sharing and ARPANET, which evolved into the Internet; the successful launch of personal computers by Gates and Jobs; e-mail, Usenet groups, and bulletin boards creating community; and operating systems like Linux becoming open and free. Isaacson concludes his engaging history with recent innovations that are building the web. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels. --Mark Mounts, Dartmouth College



Innovators INTRODUCTION HOW THIS BOOK CAME TO BE The computer and the Internet are among the most important inventions of our era, but few people know who created them. They were not conjured up in a garret or garage by solo inventors suitable to be singled out on magazine covers or put into a pantheon with Edison, Bell, and Morse. Instead, most of the innovations of the digital age were done collaboratively. There were a lot of fascinating people involved, some ingenious and a few even geniuses. This is the story of these pioneers, hackers, inventors, and entrepreneurs--who they were, how their minds worked, and what made them so creative. It's also a narrative of how they collaborated and why their ability to work as teams made them even more creative. The tale of their teamwork is important because we don't often focus on how central that skill is to innovation. There are thousands of books celebrating people we biographers portray, or mythologize, as lone inventors. I've produced a few myself. Search the phrase "the man who invented" on Amazon and you get 1,860 book results. But we have far fewer tales of collaborative creativity, which is actually more important in understanding how today's technology revolution was fashioned. It can also be more interesting. We talk so much about innovation these days that it has become a buzzword, drained of clear meaning. So in this book I set out to report on how innovation actually happens in the real world. How did the most imaginative innovators of our time turn disruptive ideas into realities? I focus on a dozen or so of the most significant breakthroughs of the digital age and the people who made them. What ingredients produced their creative leaps? What skills proved most useful? How did they lead and collaborate? Why did some succeed and others fail? I also explore the social and cultural forces that provide the atmosphere for innovation. For the birth of the digital age, this included a research ecosystem that was nurtured by government spending and managed by a military-industrial-academic collaboration. Intersecting with that was a loose alliance of community organizers, communal-minded hippies, do-it-yourself hobbyists, and homebrew hackers, most of whom were suspicious of centralized authority. Histories can be written with a different emphasis on any of these factors. An example is the invention of the Harvard/IBM Mark I, the first big electromechanical computer. One of its programmers, Grace Hopper, wrote a history that focused on its primary creator, Howard Aiken. IBM countered with a history that featured its teams of faceless engineers who contributed the incremental innovations, from counters to card feeders, that went into the machine. Likewise, what emphasis should be put on great individuals versus on cultural currents has long been a matter of dispute; in the mid-nineteenth century, Thomas Carlyle declared that "the history of the world is but the biography of great men," and Herbert Spencer responded with a theory that emphasized the role of societal forces. Academics and participants often view this balance differently. "As a professor, I tended to think of history as run by impersonal forces," Henry Kissinger told reporters during one of his Middle East shuttle missions in the 1970s. "But when you see it in practice, you see the difference personalities make." 1 When it comes to digital-age innovation, as with Middle East peacemaking, a variety of personal and cultural forces all come into play, and in this book I sought to weave them together. The Internet was originally built to facilitate collaboration. By contrast, personal computers, especially those meant to be used at home, were devised as tools for individual creativity. For more than a decade, beginning in the early 1970s, the development of networks and that of home computers proceeded separately from one another. They finally began coming together in the late 1980s with the advent of modems, online services, and the Web. Just as combining the steam engine with ingenious machinery drove the Industrial Revolution, the combination of the computer and distributed networks led to a digital revolution that allowed anyone to create, disseminate, and access any information anywhere. Historians of science are sometimes wary about calling periods of great change revolutions, because they prefer to view progress as evolutionary. "There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it," is the wry opening sentence of the Harvard professor Steven Shapin's book on that period. One method that Shapin used to escape his half-joking contradiction is to note how the key players of the period "vigorously expressed the view" that they were part of a revolution. "Our sense of radical change afoot comes substantially from them." 2 Likewise, most of us today share a sense that the digital advances of the past half century are transforming, perhaps even revolutionizing the way we live. I can recall the excitement that each new breakthrough engendered. My father and uncles were electrical engineers, and like many of the characters in this book I grew up with a basement workshop that had circuit boards to be soldered, radios to be opened, tubes to be tested, and boxes of transistors and resistors to be sorted and deployed. As an electronics geek who loved Heathkits and ham radios (WA5JTP), I can remember when vacuum tubes gave way to transistors. At college I learned programming using punch cards and recall when the agony of batch processing was replaced by the ecstasy of hands-on interaction. In the 1980s I thrilled to the static and screech that modems made when they opened for you the weirdly magical realm of online services and bulletin boards, and in the early 1990s I helped to run a digital division at Time and Time Warner that launched new Web and broadband Internet services. As Wordsworth said of the enthusiasts who were present at the beginning of the French Revolution, "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive." I began work on this book more than a decade ago. It grew out of my fascination with the digital-age advances I had witnessed and also from my biography of Benjamin Franklin, who was an innovator, inventor, publisher, postal service pioneer, and all-around information networker and entrepreneur. I wanted to step away from doing biographies, which tend to emphasize the role of singular individuals, and once again do a book like The Wise Men, which I had coauthored with a colleague about the creative teamwork of six friends who shaped America's cold war policies. My initial plan was to focus on the teams that invented the Internet. But when I interviewed Bill Gates, he convinced me that the simultaneous emergence of the Internet and the personal computer made for a richer tale. I put this book on hold early in 2009, when I began working on a biography of Steve Jobs. But his story reinforced my interest in how the development of the Internet and computers intertwined, so as soon as I finished that book, I went back to work on this tale of digital-age innovators. The protocols of the Internet were devised by peer collaboration, and the resulting system seemed to have embedded in its genetic code a propensity to facilitate such collaboration. The power to create and transmit information was fully distributed to each of the nodes, and any attempt to impose controls or a hierarchy could be routed around. Without falling into the teleological fallacy of ascribing intentions or a personality to technology, it's fair to say that a system of open networks connected to individually controlled computers tended, as the printing press did, to wrest control over the distribution of information from gatekeepers, central authorities, and institutions that employed scriveners and scribes. It became easier for ordinary folks to create and share content. The collaboration that created the digital age was not just among peers but also between generations. Ideas were handed off from one cohort of innovators to the next. Another theme that emerged from my research was that users repeatedly commandeered digital innovations to create communications and social networking tools. I also became interested in how the quest for artificial intelligence--machines that think on their own--has consistently proved less fruitful than creating ways to forge a partnership or symbiosis between people and machines. In other words, the collaborative creativity that marked the digital age included collaboration between humans and machines. Finally, I was struck by how the truest creativity of the digital age came from those who were able to connect the arts and sciences. They believed that beauty mattered. "I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics," Jobs told me when I embarked on his biography. "Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that's what I wanted to do." The people who were comfortable at this humanities-technology intersection helped to create the human-machine symbiosis that is at the core of this story. Like many aspects of the digital age, this idea that innovation resides where art and science connect is not new. Leonardo da Vinci was the exemplar of the creativity that flourishes when the humanities and sciences interact. When Einstein was stymied while working out General Relativity, he would pull out his violin and play Mozart until he could reconnect to what he called the harmony of the spheres. When it comes to computers, there is one other historical figure, not as well known, who embodied the combination of the arts and sciences. Like her famous father, she understood the romance of poetry. Unlike him, she also saw the romance of math and machinery. And that is where our story begins. Excerpted from The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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