Folks, this review will be a little different. I gave this book a try, even made it to the third disc, and couldn’t get into it. A lot of the historical references and technical talk were unfamiliar to me (I’m a biologist, not a computer scientist), so the significance of much of the book was lost on me. However, My Main Man (M3) is a computer scientist and was totally caught up in this book. He kindly wrote the following review for my blog.
M3 here with a review of The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.
Walter Isaacson has put together a compelling story of the people responsible for creating computers and the internet. He starts early with Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in the mid-1800s and takes the reader on a biographical tour that includes Alan Turing, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and, of course, Al Gore. But Isaacson explains throughout that it’s not only these visionaries and geniuses we should thank for the digital revolution. Rather it was collaboration and team work that allowed for the big leaps, or more often, grinding progress that brought forth the computer age. Isaacson also shows how important the different “ecosystems”, as he calls them, were for innovation. Places like Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, Stanford University, and Silicon Valley along with the venture capitalists that kept things moving when big companies weren’t willing to take risks on early technology, were key as well.
20 minutes in, I was hooked. I have a Computer Science degree and had heard of many of the players Isaacson covered during my studies, but his book really brought them to life. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who works in a computer related field or is a technology entrepreneur, or who simply wants to learn just how wacky Gates, Jobs, and the rest were before they got famous. While lots of concepts and tech were covered by Isaacson, I think it will be accessible for the non-Geek too.
Why I read this book: Road trip with Nrlymrtl and she threw the audio book in the CD player. Just about every time we travel she’ll play an audio book that I probably wouldn’t have chosen otherwise and this one turned out to be a winner, for me at least.
Narration: Dennis Boutsikaris narrates the majority of the book and keeps things interesting by doing great impersonations of the various hackers, geniuses and geeks when reading their quotes. Unlike most non-fiction audiobooks I’ve listened to, The Innovators was far from boring. Boutsikaris’s vocal skill and Isaacson’s pace made it more fun for me than a serial biography about computer nerds probably ought to have been.
What I Liked: Learning about the personalities involved – most of these innovators were very colorful characters and the author did a great job making them real to me.
What I Disliked: Since several different innovators and teams were working on the same thing but at different ecosystems, some of the latter chapters started to feel repetitive – though it was interesting to see how different factors allowed one person or team to get ahead.