Sean Gibson's Reviews > The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
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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, but hey—that doesn’t mean that the aforementioned point is NOT true (see, for example, Jobs, Steve). In tracing the path of key digital innovations—from bulky, room-size computers that could crunch differential equations at astonishing speeds to sleek personal computers, and from proprietary, government-funded interconnected academic networks to the all-you-can-eat porn buffet of today’s Internet—Isaacson persuasively hammers home that theme.

More intriguingly, however, he suggests that these innovations were driven not by pure technologists, but by people who understood the need to balance technical proficiency with an appreciation—and application—of the arts. From Ada Lovelace (First Lady of Computing, offspring of that rapscallion Lord Byron, all-around saucy minx) to the aforementioned Steve Jobs (intuitive design genius, turtleneck aficionado, colossal a-hole), the people who have led us into the digital age have understood that both poetry and mathematical equations are equally, if differently, beautiful.

Given that I’m the type of person Isaacson gently scolds in his conclusion (that is, a humanities person who takes pride in his lack of math aptitude), this idea is what resonated with me the most. Reading this book made me yearn to pick up a physics textbook and try to crack the code of the universe, to understand the beauty of algebraic expression, to see the art that goes into a perfect line of code.

Isaacson is a tremendous chronicler of history (I strongly recommend his eloquent and insightful Benjamin Franklin: An American Life as well as his engaging Einstein: His Life and Universe), and while this hopscotch sort of narrative doesn’t afford him the same opportunity to dive deeply into his subjects as he does in his magnificent biographies, he does his themes justice even if he leaves you wanting a little bit more about certain individuals. It also makes you want Mountain Dew, candy bars, and pizza—you know, the staples of the coder diet.
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Reading Progress

January 31, 2015 – Shelved
January 31, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
June 2, 2015 – Started Reading
June 2, 2015 –
5.0%
June 5, 2015 –
8.0% "Ah, Ada Lovelace...you saucy, forward-thinking minx."
June 12, 2015 –
15.0% "Lady programmer power!"
June 12, 2015 –
20.0% "Every time I look at the title of this book, I think about Jack Donaghy "innoventing" the word "innovent" on 30 Rock. I miss that show."
June 17, 2015 –
36.0% "Science people are smart and stuff. Tree pretty. Fire bad."
June 18, 2015 –
52.0% "Turns out I may not be obsessive enough to achieve world dominance. Man. These innovator cats are hardcore."
June 24, 2015 –
64.0%
June 26, 2015 – Finished Reading

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