The Idea Factory
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation was published in March, 2012 by Penguin Press. The paperback was released in February, 2013.
In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called The Idea Factory “riveting,” and wrote: “Mr. Gertner’s portraits of Kelly and the cadre of talented scientists who worked at Bell Labs are animated by a journalistic ability to make their discoveries and inventions utterly comprehensible — indeed, thrilling — to the lay reader.” In The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Walter Isaacson noted that the book was “a well-researched history of Bell Labs, filled with colorful characters and inspiring lessons. . . . ‘The Idea Factory’ explores one of the most critical issues of our time: What causes innovation? Why does it happen, and how might we nurture it?” The Economist concluded that “the men of Bell Labs . . . are brought to life by Jon Gertner in The Idea Factory, his wonderful history of the most influential corporate-research lab the world has seen.” And the Boston Globe described The Idea Factory as “breathtaking,” with reviewer Josh Rothman calling it “one of the best innovation-focused books I’ve read: It’s a wide-ranging, detailed, and deeply fascinating look at the New Jersey lab which has been churning out useful discoveries since the early 1900s.”
Note to readers: The paperback edition includes several dozen corrections from the hardcover. The last name of the physicist Dean Wooldridge has been corrected, for instance; and the launch date of the Telstar satellite has been fixed. One significant alteration is a more precise explanation of the Unix operating system and C programming language. While working on the original manuscript, I had come to the conclusion that the computer work at Bell Labs was a book unto itself, and that The Idea Factory, with its emphasis on the contributions of an earlier generation of Bell Labs scientists and engineers, was not the right venue for a treatment of Bell Labs’ computer innovations. Many readers made to me a convincing argument that such an approach rendered the book incomplete. Without question, Bell Labs’ computer work still awaits its own full-length chronicle. Meanwhile, the new edition offers more than a passing mention.
All of these fixes were identified by helpful readers and sent my way. I’m grateful for the opportunity to make the new version of this book slightly less imperfect.