Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

Title: The Innovators:  How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Author: Walter Isaacson

Read by: Dennis Boutsikaris
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Length: Approximately 17.5 hours (15 CDs)
Source: Simon & Schuster Audio Review Copy – Thank-you!

The Innovators really only needs one word to describe such an intriguing book:  fascinating.   I loved listening to this audiobook as I traveled to work and back.  I couldn’t wait to hear what I would discover next.  Author Walter Isaacson has spun a wonderful tale of the invention of the computer and the internet.  His main thesis is that it was not just one person working alone in a garage that invented the computer or the internet, but collaborative teams that built off the ideas of others coming up with new and ingenuous ways to get the job done.  The book starts off with Ada Lovelace, the grandmother of computing and Lord Byron’s daughter.  He describes many fascinating individuals and teams including Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page, AT & T’s Bell Labs, Xerox Corporation, amongst others.

I loved learning about the individuals, the teams, and the ideas.  I am an engineer, not a computer scientist so a lot of this information was new and very interesting to me.  In truth, I want to learn more.  I really want to read Water Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.  I loved the discussion of math behind some of the ideas, especially in Ada Lovelace’s story. It brought back a lot of college to me, but it also made me sad that I didn’t learn more about computer programming in college.  I had a terrible teacher that only taught those that knew how to write programs, and not those that were just starting.  I really wish I could program.

I also loved the discussion of women in the world of computing. Ada Lovelace’s story is fascinating in itself, but I also loved the story of how in the WWII era, women were the people programming computers.  Although after the first functioning computer was built and shown to run, these same women were not invited to the party celebrating that fact after spending sleepless nights making sure it didn’t work.  I think the ramifications of this are still seen today in the lack of women in computer science.

I also loved Isaacson’s conclusion that humanities and math/science cannot exist without one another.  Most mathematical and computer geniuses also had a strong love of art and/or music.  Isaacson stated that both humanities and science/math should be considered important.  I’m paraphrasing here, but he stated that the same professor of humanities who would think someone was an idiot for not understanding Hamlet would shrug off not understanding a differential equation.  Both are difficult to understand and both are beautiful, but it someone acceptable in our society to laugh off math as “too hard” while expecting everyone to understand the equally hard concepts behind Hamlet.  I very much agree and thought this was an excellent point.

I listened to the audiobook version of The Innovators and it kept me fascinated on my drive.. I loved listening to each story of an individual or team, but also liked that it moved on to a new story to keep things interesting.  Dennis Boutsikaris was a great narrator.

Overall, The Innovators is an excellent book and audiobook.  I highly recommend it to anyone that is looking for a fascinating read about the technology that we take for granted today and the people behind its invention.


  1. Laura, I'm glad you enjoyed this audiobook. It does sound very interesting to me as well. I hope there will be more women in the field of computer science before too long. Happy New Year!

  2. Nice post, things explained in details. Thank You.

  3. Happy New Year to you too! It was a very interesting audiobook!