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The Idea Factory: Learning to Think at MIT

3.74  ·  Rating Details  ·  172 Ratings  ·  23 Reviews
This is a personal story of the educational process at one of the world's great technological universities. Pepper White entered MIT in 1981 and received his master's degree in mechanical engineering in 1984. His account of his experiences, written in diary form, offers insight into graduate school life in general--including the loneliness and even desperation that can res ...more
Paperback, 328 pages
Published October 12th 2001 by MIT Press (MA) (first published 1991)
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Lauri Zag
Nov 02, 2010 Lauri Zag rated it really liked it
I liked this book. The narrating voice was approachable and interesting, even when explaining or ranting about an advanced mechanical engineering problem I had no background on. The pacing of Pepper's grad school experience was well thought out and allowed me to immerse myself in the story. He explains that a lot of the characters are composites; even so, they feel three-dimensional and emotional(i just really enjoyed that we get a play-by-play of what in this nonfiction has been fabricated). It ...more
Jan 21, 2009 Matty rated it it was amazing
What a great book. The geek in me was totally into hearing about how people become engineers at MIT. He kept up the comic relief throughout the book, which is appreciated when the more serious issues rear their head. The reality of Pepper's experience hits you pretty hard. He has the great ability to relate his story well. His conclusions (closure chapter) pretty much erased any inclination that I had to go back to school at a place like MIT or UCB, etc.
Aug 21, 2014 A rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the technical descriptions, problems and proposed solutions! There are lots of things I identified with having had similar experiences in grad school. The talk of suicides is disheartening though.

This was definitely not the best book to have read 3 weeks before my own PhD quals... I suppose my time would have been better spent studying instead. Now I plan to redouble my efforts for sure.
Thierry Uwilingiyimana
May 18, 2015 Thierry Uwilingiyimana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: math, education
I just finished this book today (4/27/2015) and would like to quickly jot down my thoughts. I'll revisit this review to clean it up.
I've always been curious about the institution that is MIT. Pepper did a fabulous job walking me through the halls of MIT and into the classrooms, sharing the problems sets and the little insights through which he learned to think like an engineer. As he shares in the notes at the beginning of the book, he delivers an uncensored recounting of his experience during
Aug 26, 2012 Peter rated it it was amazing
This book chronicles the experiences of Pepper White, a mechanical engineering graduate student at MIT during the early '80s. I found this to be a compelling and entertaining read - I brought it with me on vacation and couldn't put it down.
Apr 11, 2016 Nadia rated it really liked it
The book that introduced me to M.I.T's Infinite Corridor, Suicide point on a cliff and Pepper White has a very casual familial open voice.

Dec 06, 2009 Sarah rated it liked it
Who new that fluid dynamics could be so interesting....I've actually now spent some time trying to figure out what the heck 'entropy' actually means. Thus far I've deduced that it's related to Newton's principles as well as one of the first principles of thermodynamics. It has something to do with the chaos that results when energy is added to a system??? There was a picture that showed a pile of bricks and a neat stack of bricks; if the bricks fall off a truck then they are going to fall in a d ...more
I would like to read this book, as it seems to be the best experiences of pepper in MIT.
Aug 10, 2012 Brian rated it really liked it
(4.0) Makes me glad I didn't end up going... ;)

In the tradition of One-L and Ahead of the Curve (actually reading that now ;) ), first-hand account of what it was like to be a course 2 (mechE) grad student at MIT in the eighties. Good anecdotes, well-told, though some of the early conversations just feel way too condensed to have been real. I was surprised at how focused everyone (at least in the eyes of Pepper) was so focused on grades. That's very surprising, especially if everyone is as brill
Aug 31, 2012 Wendy rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-adult
Interesting to read about MIT since I went to engineering school at SUNY Buffalo because I got a much better aid package than at MIT. Also, interesting to know that he struggled with one of the same problems (tank filling a balloon), that I remember! Unbelievable that he went without funding as that was the primary reason for my college choice.
Apr 25, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it
If your life revolves around technical or complex problems then the ability to think and reason clearly, accurately, and precisely is all important. This books is an easy read describing the experiences of a graduate student at MIT who "learns how to think" - which is what graduate school, and life, is really all about.
Juanita Baltz
Nov 24, 2011 Juanita Baltz rated it liked it
This is a really cool book about what it is like to attend MIT. It is a small book and I thought it was a fast read. I read it a very long time ago and am glad to learn it is still available. I recommended it for a pre college read and was told it was horrible. Perhaps it is a book that only works in retrospect.
Luis Angel
Jul 28, 2014 Luis Angel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has useful insights on the inner working of MIT, its doctoral application process, and it gives you a well depicted idea of how is it like to study there. even though there were boting parts, this is a great book and a very informative one.
Jul 10, 2012 Y.r.sashikumar rated it really liked it
Pepper White, Inspiring Hero. Made me think to uplift my potentials. Real sync - can easily correlate his words to your imagination. Loved the way he projected scenarios in different phases. Best inspiring book i ever read...
Jun 06, 2008 Charlene rated it did not like it
i think this guy has a chip on his shoulder and is clearly insecure. written from the perspective of a graduate student, pepper white does not give an accurate view of what it is to learn to think at MIT.
Nick Black
Dec 23, 2009 Nick Black marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-acquire
Referenced at, "Everything I wanted to know about C.S. graduate school at the beginning but didn't learn until later."
Dec 20, 2008 Edward rated it liked it
MIT is not unique in teaching 'how to think' rather than 'regurgitative' learning. An interesting book ... recommended.
Jun 25, 2009 Ethan rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
As an MIT alum, I figured I would enjoy this book, but couldn't get past White's whining. It was hard...enough already.
Tom Olmsted
May 04, 2013 Tom Olmsted rated it really liked it
Takes place in the 80s but still gives you some idea of being a grad student at the best engineering university in the world.
Ted Way
Sep 05, 2007 Ted Way rated it really liked it
Engineering graduate school experiences I'm familiar with, but his is on steroids.
Nicholas Wang
Too much whining and too much elitism for my tastes.
Nov 24, 2008 Don rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. I found it very interesting.
Oct 30, 2010 Jonathan rated it really liked it
Very entertaining read. Relatively insightful.
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Emre Sevinç rated it it was amazing
Apr 22, 2016
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