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The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  24,530 ratings  ·  1,902 reviews
The computer and the internet are among the most important innovations 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 ...more
Hardcover, 542 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Simon and Schuster
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Mark It's not technically unsound. It's just not very technical. I'm actually a statistician/programmer, but with limited knowledge of the history of…moreIt's not technically unsound. It's just not very technical. I'm actually a statistician/programmer, but with limited knowledge of the history of computers. The book is very good at giving the who/where/when but is more interested in discussing a feud between people over a patent then the logic of a full adder.

Some of the topics he has touched on have sent me out to the internet to look deeper into (for instance, "delay line memory") which is more than I can say for a lot of non-fiction. So, he's not going to go into a topic like that deeply, but he offers an appreciation of it's importance and short comings and place in computer history. That's what the book is trying to do. It does it well, in my opinion.


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Emily May
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2019
I feel bad that I joked about this book in my review of Ninth House and made it seem like a boring read all about how transistors are made. It seemed funny at the time, but it was entirely misleading. This book was not boring at all. In fact, I would say some chapters were difficult to put down!

I feel bad that I joked about this book in my review of Ninth House and made it seem like a boring read all about how transistors are made. It seemed funny at the time, but it was entirely misleading. This book was not boring at all. In fact, I would say some chapters were difficult to put down!

The Innovators is NOT a comprehensive history of all computer and Internet-related technology; I feel the need to stress that now. It takes a very specific route - from Charles Babbage to Google, by way of Turing, Hopper and Berners-Lee - a route which is about showing the major players in America's journey to the Digital Age. It is very easy to read it and think "Wait!! What about so-and-so and whatshername" and "Ohmygod, it's all about freaking America!" It's limited, is what I'm trying to say, and Isaacson is pretty open about that from the beginning. He knows he'd need a good 10,000 pages to come close to adequately portraying this history in full, so he's stuck with a few big names.

What he sacrifices in breadth, he makes up for in depth, which is personally how I like my books to be. This was a fascinating book about several fascinating people, some of them not fascinating in a good way. Though it also sent me down a number of Internet rabbit holes, it has to be said. I felt compelled to look something up and then would end up neck-deep within mathematical theory…

I find the story of how we got from a Victorian polymath to the current ever-expanding technologies of today deeply fascinating. I love how the author shows how it was such a collaborative effort. It is actually impossible to truly pin down who invented the computer or the Internet because it all relied on so many different people's inventions and ideas. I loved reading about all the different influences-- rural tinkerers taking machines apart, America's nuclear program, anti-establishment hippies... and Ada Lovelace.

Say what you will, but Ada Lovelace is a fascinating person. Whether you give her more or less of the credit for inventing computer programming, she was clearly a genius, and a kinda odd individual. But it's just a real good story, isn't it? That one of the two earliest computer visionaries and programmers was a woman called Lady Lovelace, the daughter of none other than Lord Byron. How delightful.

I definitely think sometimes the amount of time allotted to certain people had more to do with whether Isaacson could get/read an interview with them, than to how important they actually were. It is odd to me that Atanasoff (who never got his machine to work) was given more than three times as much page time as Konrad Zuse, who built the world's first programmable computer. It also reads a little strange when Isaacson skims over the Manchester Baby, the world's first electronic stored-program computer.

But I'm nitpicking. I really enjoyed reading The Innovators and learning more about all these incredible people. I was especially glad that Isaacson gave the female programmers the attention they deserved. Many people don't know this, but almost all of the first computer programmers were women (because men didn't realise the importance of "software") and, despite working hard on machines like the ENIAC, they were still excluded from men-only celebratory events. Glad to see them given names and voices in this book.

I liked this so much I think I'll read Leonardo da Vinci soon.

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[Note added 23-Feb-2017: This seems to have a lot of likes, but I want to make sure that people understand that my perspective is a bit specialized. The book is lively and very interesting. If you want to read a provocative and detailed story of innovation, this is a great choice. I think the full story requires some extra reading, which I note in the review. The book has its limitations, but it's still a "good read."]

Regrettably, I can't give this a great review.

In part,
Oct 22, 2014 rated it it was ok
I loved Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs biographies. I really, really wanted to love this one. In a sense, this book is at least a four star book because Isaacson wants to prove a point and he succeeds: no one person invented the computer or the Internet, that the digital revolution is one person building on and with the backs of others. However, it is that success that made this book not as enjoyable for me because Isaacson is profiling so many people, several each chapter, that the ...more
A masterful tour of the creative people behind the development of computers and the digital revolution using a frame that probes the relative contributions of teamwork vs. individual genius. As I continually benefitted the ever increasing capabilities of computers from the 70s onward for my former science career and I enjoyed Isaacson’s biography of Ben Franklin, I figured I couldn’t lose. Plus friends praise his skills in the history of science as revealed in his books on Einstein and Steve Job ...more
Jacob Mclaws
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
2nd read 10.8.2016-10.13.2016
Rereading this book was just slightly less entertaining than the first time through. I loved hearing the stories of collaboration, outright copying, business machinations and cool combinations of art and technology. I really like the whole Shockley, Noyce, transistor, microchip era. And then the section on the early homebrew groups contending ideologically with Gates and Jobs is good too.

Isaacson's overt theses are that collaboration, not isolated geniuses acc
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
In his latest book, Isaacson offers the reader an insightful look into the world of technology and the numerous people whose insights and innovative ideas have changed the world in which we live. While not the biography of any one person, Isaacson personifies technology and offers stories related to its branches, from the early speculative ideas of Ada Loveless around a mechanical calculating device through to the dawn of Wikipedia and mass-user self-editing. Isaacson travels through time, speci ...more
Oct 08, 2017 rated it liked it
The basic premise of this book, is that innovators and inventors do not create new concepts solo. They are almost always collaborators. But, there is not a surplus of collaboration described in this book. This was a fun, entertaining book to read. In the beginning of the book, the innovators were described in detail, in historical order. But, as the chronology approached the present day, less and less space was devoted to individual innovators, and more to the innovations.

I really enjoyed an ea
Kevin Parsons
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is going to be huge since it functions not only as a history of the computer and the internet but as a treatise on innovation and collaboration. I can imagine that it will be required reading for all kinds of people working in all varieties of business.

Unlike his bio of Steve Jobs, which was important as immediate history but was also understandably rushed, Isaacson's new book reads like a labor of love and is much better written, more focused than "Jobs" and is thought provoking on a
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
"Atlantean Shoulders, Fit to Bear," John Milton

This is a grand and gratifying overview of the innovators who have played a major role in forging today's dynamic technology and our high-tech society, with its main focus on the last 80 or so years.

Walter Isaacson, who has written bios of Jobs and Einstein, has the brilliant ability to research, comprehend and assimilate all this intriguing and highly complex information and transform it into an inquisitive and fascinating look at ou
Sean Gibson
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
4.2 Stars

Readers can infer a number of salient points from this excellent history of digital innovation, but the main takeaway for me was this: innovative ideas are like digestive systems—nothing comes from them unless they get a big push from an asshole.

Okay, so, the author would probably suggest that his REAL overarching theme is that innovation is driven not by lone geniuses, but by collaborative teams that provide an ideal mix of vision, engineering, and execution, bu
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Walter Isaacson is a brilliant writer, he after writing books on Einstein and Steve Jobs was attracted to science and tech world this time he came up with the book on the whole process of innovation. This is very interesting book and it serves two purposes simultaneously;
One is it teaches us the history of innovation i.e chronological history of development of the computers from the embryonic concept of computing machine of Charles Babbage and Lady Ada to the sophisticated personal compute
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson was a well-researched and delightfully told beautifully as only Mr. Isaacson can do. I am not a scientist, nor do I even pretend to understand the complex technological science that is encompassed in this meticulously researched book, but I get the thrust of the history of the digital age and all of the people that made most important contributions. I would be remiss if we didn't start with how Is ...more
2.5 Starts

This book was okay. It covers a lot of history and people and therefore makes it somewhat difficult to rate. It begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who helped pioneer computer programming in the 1840s. It ends in 2014. That is a lot of history. At times it becomes confusing. There are times when there were developments taking place in multiple locations and usually each involved a team of people. Some of the names were familiar such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Bill
Frank Naitan
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is the only way to go! Any other book just tells you what to do, this book teaches it to you in an entertaining way.
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who invented the 'computer'? Many of the early calculating machines were quite specific in the type of calculations they could perform. It was a term once applied to a bunch of (mostly) women math majors using mechanical adding machines to figure out parts of equations during WWII. Mechanical 'computers' (The name wasn't applied to the devices until either late in or after WWII.) were a number of independent mechanical devices including the abacus & Babbage's device in the early 1800s. Babba ...more
Oct 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2015
Almost everything we do these days has some link to the world wide web, or involves interacting with some sort of computer, but how did these things become so pervasive and essential? In this book Isaacson writes about the people that made the companies, that made the products that we all now use.

Starting on the earliest computer, the Analytical Engine conceived by Charles Babbage, which he made with Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace. It was a purely mechanical device, made at the very l
John Blumenthal
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
I must confess that I did not finish this book—the technical stuff did me in. This has happened several times before. (Note to self: do not try to read books involving motors, cathode tubes, quantum mechanics or how to screw in a lightbulb.) Science has never been my forte, although I am fascinated by it so I buy these books (Innovators, Tesla, Einstein) and always regret it.

I did learn a thing or two though. For example, I discovered that a woman named Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, an Englis
Joseph Sciuto
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Walter Isaacson's "The Innovators: How a group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution," is the most IMPORTANT book I have read since I read "Emperor of all Maladies: A biography of Cancer," by Siddhartha Mukherjee. What is unusual about that statement, is that I have been very critical of internet during different stages of my life, but Walter Isaacson is one of my favorite historians and so I decided to read the book

Mr Isaacson's biography on "Einstein" allow
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-sci-fi
2.5/5 First things first - This is the book to recommend to your CA friends if they have recommended you a book filled with economics/accounting jargon that made it frustrating for u.
This is a history of the computer industry - both hardware and software. Picked it up a year or so earlier, found it too dry and gave it up. This was my second attempt at reading the book. Loved Steve Jobs' biography by the author recently and so decided to read the book in reverse order, with the latest techn
Aman Mittal
Nov 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
There is no doubt that the computer and the internet are one of the most important innovations of our era. Without them, I would not have written this, and you won't be reading this either. In spite of that, computers should be considered only the second most important innovation, as important as Gutenberg's wooden printing press. Accessible to most, easy to learn, part and parcel of everyone's life nowadays.

Walter Isaacson's recently published THE INNOVATORS takes a reader back in t
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The 'Digital Revolution' has been a long journey which continues moving forward even today, which has had innumerable number of heroes, some of them crossing paths and some of them working alone. There is an underlying interconnection amongst each of the great achievements in the digital age, which can only be seen when someone takes a step back and looks at the whole big picture. That is what Walter Isaacson has bravely attempted to do in his book The Innovators. To try to capture this complex and huge st ...more
Executive Summary: A very well written and fascinating look at the rise history of computers and the internet and those who helped to shape it.

Audiobook: For any nonfiction book I simply want a narrator who reads at a good pace and tone and is mostly unremarkable. Dennis Boutsikaris was that for me. He did a good job at keeping me focused on the history and not his narration.

Full Review
I added this book to my list after listening to Mr. Isaacson better know work: Steve Jobs. Jobs was fascinating and th/>/>
Vivek Tejuja
Oct 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I remember reading, “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson with great trepidation. I thought I would get bored. I thought I would not be interested in it for long. I thought these things and a lot of other things before I invested time in the book. I loved the book at the end of it, so much so that I thought there was not any need to pick up anything on “Steve Jobs”, since this book was most comprehensive. Walter Isaacson does it again this time with “The Innovators”.

There have been countle
Sarju Shrestha Mehri
Walter Isaacson is such a great writer and a researcher. Coming from none technical background, this book really gave me the bigger picture of technology world; its beginning and its future. How devices we use in our daily lives are the products of many creative genius, visionaries and restless ambitious minds. Also, many of these work are the contribution of collaboration, respect and stealing the best ideas from each other.

I am very impressed how Isaacson credits and acknowledged t
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Another wonderful work from Walter Isaacson, a legendary of digital revolutions, full of amazing stories of innovators who made a dent in the computer history. A must read , I'll buy one to keep it at home for sure.
Hussein Nasser
Dec 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
An excellent book reach on history of the great innovators
Shreya Joshi
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I recommend this to everybody.

I love how detailed, how interesting and how smoothly this book is written. With every chapter, I felt indebted to every single eccentric geniuses who have contributed in making this digital world. I have nothing but gratitude to everybody.
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Fun! ... or was it such a fun because i listened to this audiobook while making my very successful cardboard/brass fasteners project? Symbiosis effect? Whatever. Fun. Favourites shelf.
Jaanika Merilo
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Intesting, historic, good to know.
I can't say I enjoyed this books as much as Isaacson's biographies of Einstein and Steve Jobs. I guess I would have liked to stay on each story/innovation for a longer period of time, but then the book would have been too long. Considering all of the information he crammed into a single book, I say, Well Done! I would read anything by Isaacson. He is a fantastic writer.

Innovators provides a history of the many important figures in technological history. He covered those who helped us create the
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Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of "Time" magazine. He is the author of "Steve Jobs"; "Einstein: His Life and Universe"; "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"; and "Kissinger: A Biography," and the coauthor of "The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made." He lives in Washington, DC.
“progress comes not only in great leaps but also from hundreds of small steps.” 13 likes
“But the main lesson to draw from the birth of computers is that innovation is usually a group effort, involving collaboration between visionaries and engineers, and that creativity comes from drawing on many sources. Only in storybooks do inventions come like a thunderbolt, or a lightbulb popping out of the head of a lone individual in a basement or garret or garage.” 12 likes
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