Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘The Innovators’
‘The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution’
542 pages, hardcover: $35
Simon & Schuster
Who invented the Internet?
Well, it’s a long answer. But it’s a story worth hearing, as related by Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson in his new book, “The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.” The book serves as a companion to Isaacson’s acclaimed 2011 biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and explains the digital groundwork that was laid for decades before Jobs, Bill Gates, and today’s Silicon Valley titans came along.
The book begins in the 1830s, and follows the intellectual development of the digital revolution’s surprising forbear: Ada Lovelace, daughter to the poet Lord Byron. Watching the industrial revolution take hold, Lovelace conceived of a machine that could make textiles or music or perform artistic functions according to programmed instructions. In what she dubbed “poetical science,” the beauty of the arts could be enhanced by the technology emerging from the Industrial Revolution.
Lovelace’s notion of humans supplying creativity and machines supplying automated functions to complement it echoes through the rest of Isaacson’s fast-paced narrative, as he details technological breakthroughs from the analytical engine to the transistor to the microchip, the personal computer, e-mail and the Internet.
From Lovelace’s time, the book jumps to the eve of World War II, and moves chronologically, innovation-by-innovation, to the present day. Fourty-plus people and organizations that made contributions along the way are given readable, surprisingly animated, capsule biographies that not only chronicle technical advances, but give some insight into the nature of innovation itself.
“Innovation comes from teams more often than from the lightbulb moments of lone geniuses,” Isaacson writes.
And page by page, this book hammers that point home, focusing on the collaboration and teamwork that most often led to breakthroughs as the military, universities, and private companies contributed in equal measure to the tech advances that created our connected 21st century.
For a book about programmers and algorithms, “The Innovators” is a lively, enthusiastically written tale and a worthwhile read, not only for tech-heads, but for anyone interested in how computers got into our pockets and how innovation works.
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