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Pieces of the Action

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In Pieces of the Action, Vannevar Bush—engineer, inventor, educator, and public face of government-funded science—offers an inside account of one of the most innovative research and development ecosystems of the 20th century. As the architect and administrator of an R&D pipeline that efficiently coordinated the work of civilian scientists and the military during World War II, he was central to catalyzing the development of radar and the proximity fuze, the mass production of penicillin, and the initiation of the Manhattan Project. Pieces of the Action offers his hard-won lessons on how to operate and manage effectively within complex organizations, build bridges between people and disciplines, and drive ambitious, unprecedented programs to fruition. Originally published in 1970, this updated edition includes a foreword from Ben Reinhardt that contextualizes the lessons Pieces of the Action can offer to contemporary readers: that change depends both on heroic individuals and effective organizations; that a leader’s job is one of coordination; and that the path from idea to innovation is a long and winding one, inextricably bound to those involved—those enduring figures who have a piece of the action.

366 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1970

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Vannevar Bush

42 books22 followers

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5 stars
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21 (34%)
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Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews
Profile Image for Brahm.
481 reviews53 followers
January 22, 2023
4.5 stars

I loved the meandering, semi-autobiographical accounts of Vannevar Bush, a scientist, inventor, engineer, and very capable government administrator during key WW2 periods.

Another great Stripe Press book... I have seven of fourteen, and I think I need to complete the set. Only one dud so far.

Bush lived from 1890 to 1974, and this book was first published near the end of his incredible life in 1970. As a result the book suffers from the gendered language of his era: the people that Bush worked with are exclusively "men" and if women are mentioned at all they are "girls".

A great read for those interested in the intersection of history, engineering, innovation, invention, and politics.
Profile Image for Ryan.
58 reviews
November 7, 2022
This book is … so thought provoking. This is the automemoir of the man who originated the American science complex centered around universities, and who first originated the idea of our text based personal computers (which he called Memexs). If you want to understand how we got to the technology of today, and why questions of organizational and political incentives for science and innovation matter, this book is a key part of the puzzle. If you’re looking for the plan go and read the endless frontier, his report to Congress in the postwar years about how science would become the engine of our growth (fair warning nobody has ever actually read this report in its entirety today, me included).

One thing that struck me (not deep philosophy wise but style of writing wise) is how Bush describes the other scientists and civil servants he worked with throughout his career. People who helped us win the war and who then set up the apparatuses of our industry afterwards, but whose names and contributions may be overlooked by the annals of history. He gives them space, as if he were still mentoring them, in his memoir to say that we should appreciate their contributions. There are very obviously issues with this work in terms of where and when he is writing from, but the introduction by the new editor covers well how to approach these perspectives we find disagreeable (or downright detestable) today.
Profile Image for Charles.
30 reviews1 follower
June 9, 2023
An authentic first person account of how many of the political personas during WWII shaped and crafted defense funding and science policy. While many know Bush for his Endless Frontier memo, the opinionated policy paper that designed our current science funding infrastructure, I think his autobiography reveals the more personal virtues requisite in a leader: humility, trust, and communication. An insightful read into a leader, teacher, and mentor. Kudos to stripe press for bringing another lost classic back to print
Profile Image for John.
1,608 reviews37 followers
January 19, 2015
I had never heard of Vannevar Bush before reading this book. That is why he wrote it, I think. He did so many things during his years as a scientist, inventor of the Bush differential Analyzer which was the start of modern computer analysis, Dean of engineering at MIT, president of Carnegie institution, advisor to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman and only winner of the Atomic Pioneers Award given by Nixon.

In this book, he gave opinions and advice on everything anyone could ever come up with. I think some very good advice which our military and government leaders of today are in sore need of.

First few chapters were a bit dull as he described The set up and functions of different government agencies.

I was quite surprised at his positive thoughts about Hoover which he backed up with facts.

This was no autobiography . It was what he saw and thought about the actions of those he was involved with and he wanted to make sure the world new about his contributions during WWII. He invented a fuse which changed the war.
Profile Image for Anusha Datar.
167 reviews3 followers
April 25, 2023
This autobiography tells the story of Vannevar Bush, an engineer who was a key player in the room for many pivotal moments in American political and technological history. A lot of his ideas about computing, personal technology, and the way that we should manage organizations and scientific research are compelling and important, and it’s clear to see his impact (and the pitfalls he pointed out!) in retrospect.

That being said, I found this book a bit hard to get through - he meanders quite a bit, he is both too technical and not technical enough, and it was a bit repetitive. That being said, I’m glad I read it, and I am grateful to have a more complete appreciation of his influence and work from a more personal point of view.
199 reviews
November 13, 2022
Not what you might expect from a key player in what became the military-industrial-scientific complex: some memoir mixed in with a lot of discursive musings about education, science and business and youth these days versus the past (1970).

Two of seven chapters are more directly about the war years (anti-submarine effort, proximity fuze, DUKW, a passing mention of the Manhattan project), but the last chapter is well worth reading for impressions of Churchill, Roosevelt and Truman.
Profile Image for Jurijs.
11 reviews
April 20, 2023
I'm probably not ready for this book, advices land on my deaf ear. Not surprisingly, the man was advising 7 US presidents, and he was very kind to tell ask about that with personal stories, which are quite nice and enlightening. I was looking for some actionable wisdom, or at least comprehensive account of of science worked during and around WWII, but found none of that.

Besides that, the book is written using incredibly gendered language, probably the mark of 70's.
Profile Image for Tony Thelen.
Author 2 books8 followers
November 25, 2022
A nice read that has good personal narrative of historical events from a person who was in the room. Also helpful and informative about how decisions were made in historical events, how to get things done with bureaucracy, and how to use science as a driving force for good in the world.
33 reviews
December 13, 2022
Really interesting summary of Vannevar bush's career. Truly unique individual who was not only an innovative engineer but also a good manager and statesmen. Good stories on both engineering and navigating bureaucracy.
291 reviews2 followers
February 2, 2023
Maybe a bit dated and not as much technical detail as I would have liked but an engaging account written by a fascinating man who was at the center of American scientific R&D during WWII and after.
Profile Image for Matthew.
Author 1 book39 followers
August 1, 2023
Incredible book that I’m so thankful was re-published.
Profile Image for Peter.
321 reviews
April 11, 2023
An engaging autobiography, with many surprising insights into wartime research in the United States. Bush relates fun anecdotes, making observations about how people and organizations function that still apply today.
283 reviews6 followers
March 10, 2016
This is a fascinating 1970 book of memories by Vannevar Bush. Bush should be famous, but is hardly remembered. He made major early contributions to computers (differential analyzer, Memex); he headed the scientific and weapon invention unit during WWII reporting directly to FDR; he was a principal promoter of the development of the atomic bomb, and he is the post-WWII architect behind the creation of the National Science Foundation, the main US basic research agency. Bush rambles along, so the book is not particularly well-written, but he left me with lots of memorable ideas. About organizations, he talks about the necessity of a strict hierarchy in military command which is inimical to the democracy conducive to creative scientific and inventive advances. Given this difference, how then can new weapon systems be created and introduced? About teaching, he says a teacher must not only enjoy teaching but also like students. He says that he retired because it was important to get out of the way of the young. His criticism of the gasoline internal combustion engine led to his proposing electric or even electric gasoline hybrid engines for cars. This is 1970! The book is a memorable hodgepodge.
Displaying 1 - 15 of 15 reviews

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