John Jr.
John Jr. asked:

Material derived from this book that was published in the October 2014 Vanity Fair (where I work) suggests that Isaacson is inclined to gloss over messy, complex details for the sake of a smooth, clear story. Are knowledgeable readers finding this book technically sound?

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 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.

Werner Friedrich I agree with your assessment. Technical details can be utterly boring. Do you want me to treat you to the details how back in the late '60's it was a technical nightmare how to get from a round 1" silicon wafer into to a square ic which fit into a plastic package with "legs" to solder into a pc-board?
The importance is the clear story that cooperation and bootstrapping are the keys to the computer age inventions.
Shirley I'd consider it a high-level framework from which one should derive jumping off points for further reading. For instance, I hadn't understood the crucial role Bell Labs played in the development of early communications technology, and how the interplay of their requirements and early transistors and chip requirements led to the development of routers.

I found it useful for getting a sector overview. As I have time available, I intend to dig through the book's bibliography and reference list.
Lindsey I agree with Gary--the author does not go into the technology other than to briefly say what was invented and why it was relevant. The book is more focused on the inventors than the inventions, so the author does not focus on how things work so much as who made them and with what resources and/or materials. I didn't notice anything wrong, but it is simplistic. For what the author is trying to accomplish it works, but if you're looking for a more technologically-focused narrative this book is not what you're looking for.
Nippy Katz It's a pop history. It's not supposed to be a reference manual. I'd call it chronicle with anecdotes more than historiography though.
Matt Tomaso Technically sound?... sure - to the extent that it needs to be. Theoretically, less so. But it is designed to be a journalistic history (i.e. a coffee-table book), not an academic contribution, so I do not see this as a problem.
Gary Beauregard Bottomley It's not that I found the book not technically sound, I found it not very technical at all. He got into the details with Lady Loveless and gave the interested reader technical details about her and her approach to math and thinking machines at a technical level (and even used her as a recurring character through out the whole book), but in general and almost everywhere else I was really disappointed in the technical behind the scene story that the author didn't seem interested in telling. He seemed to be more interested in giving breadth at the expense of depth. I thought his Einstein biography transcended the biography genre since he went beyond Einstein's life and got into the details of what Einstein created. I felt like I didn't learn anything I didn't already know after having read this book, in contrast to the Einstein biography were I learned a lot of things about the physics of Einstein. I probably won't read another of Isaacson's books because of my disappointment in this book.
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by Walter Isaacson (Goodreads Author)
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