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Idea Makers: Personal Perspectives on the Lives & Ideas of Some Notable People

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  418 ratings  ·  61 reviews
This book of thoroughly engaging essays from one of today's most prodigious innovators provides a uniquely personal perspective on the lives and achievements of a selection of intriguing figures from the history of science and technology. Weaving together his immersive interest in people and history with insights gathered from his own experiences, Stephen Wolfram gives an ...more
Kindle Edition, 250 pages
Published July 8th 2016 by Wolfram Media, Inc. (first published July 2016)
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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Santiago Ortiz
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Stephen Wolfram didn't want to wait until some journalist write a book about how his work extends or even completes the work of past luminaries. So he wrote it.

Which is actually not a problem. For one thing, it might be the case that Wolfram's results in different areas of research really extend the field of computational mathematics or even define the basis of a computational model of the universe. Who can really know.

What matters is that the book is enjoyable and offers a unique approach to li
Jul 25, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Stunningly boring and overloaded with Wolfram's self-admiration.
The book is also plagued with repetetiveness: words "Mathematica", "Cellular automata", "Universal computation", and, of course, "Wolfram" flickered fast enough to give a poor reader a seizure.

Perhaps reading these essays one at a time would be somewhat okay, but compiling them into a book was a fatal decision.
Sebastian Perez Saaibi
I think it's the fact that wolfram himself could and should be one of the characters of his book, that makes this collection of eulogies to the likes of Ada Lovelace, Solomon Golomb, Ramanujan and Marvin Minsky read in such a powerful and entertaining way.

Idea makers has quite an interesting mixture of personal anecdotes (feynman, jobs, minsky, etc...) and detail historical recollections of some of the worlds greatest doers.

Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, science-math
This is a series of short biographies of various men (and one woman) who made significant contributions to math/computer science. Unfortunately the book has two major flaws. First the author (Wolfram of Mathematica and Wolfram Alpha) inserts himself into nearly every biography. While this is sometimes appropriate, often it is not. (e.g. Think what famous-mathematician of two hundred years ago could have done if he only had had access to my tool, Mathematica). Second the discussions of specific c ...more
Nov 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm halfway through Idea Makers by Stephen Wolfram, but I think I need a break from it. The book is thin enough to finish in a day or two (~ 230 pages), and Wolfram is clearly an interesting person. But he also appears to be in love with himself, and seems out to burnish his own reputation as a (gasp) thought leader in mathematical philosophy, comparing himself favorably to Leibniz, Ada Lovelace, and even Feynman. This shameless plugging is pretty unbearable, and despite the interesting collecti ...more
Christopher Lawson
IDEA MAKERS is a fun read about many famous figures--many of whom were mathematicians. Some of them the author met, but many have been gone for years. The author is clear, right from the start, that this isn't any type of systematic overview of great men of science. Rather, it's his thoughts on people that have caught his interest for many different reasons.

Notice that the subtitle is "Personal Perspectives on the Lives and Ideas of Some Notable People." So, although this book has many discussio
Ahsan Sharafuddin
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Idea Makers was an enjoyable read. It gives a unique perspective on a number of notable thinkers in the fields of mathematics and computer science. It shows how these towering figures worked relentlessly for at least two hundred years, if not more, just to come up with a mechanical analytical machine (essentially a primitive calculator), a precursor to today's modern computers. We are indeed standing on the shoulders of giants. However, having used the author's outstanding creation, an engineeri ...more
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A few compelling stories but overall not remarkable.
Nicholas Teague
Oct 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently had the pleasure of reading a new release from the desk of Stephen Wolfram — Idea Makers. The book is structured as a collection of biographical blog posts about scientific luminaries and notables from the fields of the author’s interest including physics, computer science, and mathematics. It is a good rule of thumb to filter one’s reading material based on the Lindy effect — any book that is still talked about 10 years after publishing may only then known to be worth picking up. I r ...more
David Jacobson
Jan 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a compilation of blog posts Stephen Wolfram (of Mathematica fame) has written about various scientific personages, either as obituaries or on account of his general interest in them. The pieces are of very uneven length, and of the 15 I found three to be of interest to me.

The essay about Ada Lovelace goes into the historical records to really pin down, factually, what contributions she made to Charles Babbage's early computer, the "Analytical Engine"; it was not so much as his "pro
Soubhagya Nayak
This book captures the views of the author on the lives and work of some of the best innovators. The author has done an excellent job in selecting the innovators. He has also done good amount of research on the work and lives of the persons. Some of his insights are good.
But there are a few problems with the narrative. First it is a personal perspective and some of the views are very biased and not appropriate for wider audience. The content is full of self-admiration of the author and his work.
Mar 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: goals-2021
I rented this book from the library before the pandemic because I was doing a talk on Ada Lovelace. The chapter on Ada is by far the best compact resource I could find on her. I didn't return the book before the library closed for the pandemic, so it's been in my home and I decided finally to read it. It's a fast read and I enjoyed that most of the information is not just what would be stated in a Wikipedia article. However, most of the chapters were flat for me. They lacked enough information o ...more
John Jaksich
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An understanding of computational mathematics

Stephen Wolfram is that rare individual who possesses the insights to understand physics, mathematics, and business. His flagship product Mathematica possesses attributes that allow those who learn it well to understand deeper insights to physical phenomena.

His book, Idea Makers, is a digestible form of some of the ideas that allowed Mathematica to be one of the most powerful computational tools on the market.

The book, although slow at the start, del
Alessandro Piovaccari
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finish-in-2021
Very Interesting and enjoyable

I found this collection of short biographies very interesting and enjoyable to read. Some are much deeper and detailed, while others are more of a simple tribute to a friend. There is also a bit of over self-referencing, even if it’s always within context. As the various biographies were assemble together, it would have been better to put those self references as footnotes, and eventually dedicate a chapter or an appendix to talk about it. In any case, there is a l
Mar 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very fun to read. In places I could sense a bit of bias and sort of "boasting" about the author's areas of interest and self-promotion. But, he obviously deserves the praise, even if it comes from him himself :) I liked the proportion of technical vs. personal (sort of a story narrative) in this book. Not too boring to be a technical book and not too exciting to be a fairy tale, just the right proportion to be a realistic book about the author's take on game changing ideas and people behind them ...more
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Disclaimer: I love reading biographies, memoirs and autobiographies. So I tend to enjoy them a lot and hence they get higher rating.

I think this one is quite underrated. It is a collection of really well written essays. I wish I had read this one when I was 12 years old. Instead of glorifying individuals these essays focus on their work. Written in a very simple language this also makes some of the complex ideas and objectives of idea makers.

I also liked the fact that I could pick this book fini
Dec 17, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever wondered what various famous mathematicians would have thought of Mathematica? Or asked yourself how their work anticipated Wolfram Alpha? Or mused on how they had a rough inkling of what Wolfram was getting at in A New Kind of Science?

Well, if you haven’t wondered these things, rest assured: Stephen Wolfram has, and he will tell you.

These stories work way better as blog posts by someone showing off his (legitimately very impressive) software. But as a book? Nah.
Matt Comstock
This is an interesting book describing fascinating people. However, Wolfram consistently compares each one to himself and points out ways that he had made more progress or the wrong paths they took causing them to oh so closely miss making his own discoveries. I think Wolfram is a smart guy with good ideas but these repeated interjections are intrusive.
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Okay-ish. More interesting maybe for mathematicians maybe. Some interesting profiles (Feynman, Jobs, Tuning) but the rest to me without value. I don’t care one bit for academic achievement maybe that’s a reason why I did not really like it. Overall a waste of 15€ for me personally. And yes the author has his gigantic ego wrapped in these pages .
Ho Manh
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book brings to the readers the (human and scientific) the stories of interesting people who have done foundational work in computer science and mathematics: Alan Turing, Feynman, Jon von Neumann, Lady Lovelace, Steve Jobs, Ramanujan, Marvin Minsky, etc...

A very interesting and accessible book.
Dio Mavroyannis
Finished this book after the new year. I think it's a nice broad overview but he seems very focused on people contributing to his own field and there isn't enough pedagogy to actually learn the stuff from this book. Anyway, a quick read probably worth it if you want a quick introduction of more unconventional figures. ...more
Philipp Hematty
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book to get a glimpse of the biographies of some of the important people that shaped the field of computer science. I must say however, that I really did not enjoy the self centeredness of Steven Wolfram in this book. I don't doubt for a second his contributions to the sciences, but I find the absence of humbleness appaling. ...more
Aug 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Math personalities and some pressure to like Wolfram more

Relentlessly reframes great mathematicians' work in terms of Wolfram's computational obsessions. I loved the personal stories and eventually came around to see his point… we really can view lots of modern math was striving towards universal computation. Overall, worthwhile and interesting.
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not into biographies, but this book was a fine read anyway. I found Babbage/Lovelace chapter very interesting.
Only Wolfram throwing comments on how something relates to his Mathematica project is annoying, but if you're also allergic to self-promotion you could just ignore that.
José González
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice read. A little short and at times repetitive (Wolfram feels an obligation of mentioning the same contributions by him every 10 pages). Inessential, but sufficiently engaging for me to explore more works from the author.
It was an okay read, Wolfram has some pretty grandiose visions, and opinions about his work that might appear as delusions of grandeur.
Aditi Verma
Jul 07, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book is rubbish.
Jul 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
Interesting idea. But the author's ego ruins everything. ...more
Isaac Roberts
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of the critics seem to have stopped reading before the semicolon. These are "personal perspectives." Think less Isaacson or McCullough and more Vidal or Buckley Jr. ...more
Ferhat Culfaz
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice overview of key figures in mathematics in general as well as computing. A bit too much plugging of his book “New Kind of Science”, as well as Wolfram and Mathematic software.
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Stephen Wolfram's parents were Jewish refugees who emigrated from Germany to England in the 1930s. Wolfram's father Hugo was a textile manufacturer and novelist (Into a Neutral Country) and his mother Sybil was a professor of philosophy at the University of Oxford. He has a younger brother, Conrad. Wolfram is married to a mathematician and has four children.

He was educated at Eton College, but cla

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