The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner - review by David Bodanis

David Bodanis

Conductors of Progress

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

By

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November 1947, and William Shockley is in a frenzy. He’s head of a research team at Bell Labs, just outside New York, and he’s a very intelligent man (as anyone who speaks to him is quickly informed). But somehow, two hicks – the Midwesterner John Bardeen, and the Oregon rancher Walter Brattain – look like they’re going to outwit him.

They’re on the verge of finding what many in the Labs have been seeking for years: a device that could be made out of what’s basically solid rock yet could handle electrical signals, switch them, hustle them, and – most miraculously of all – magnify them, so that what was a weak, feeble Clark Kent stream of electrons upon entering emerges as a Superman torrent.

The device, of course, was called the… well, for a while it was going to be the ‘iotatron’, then the sexy name ‘solid triode’ was considered, but finally a vote among Bell engineers decided on the ‘transistor’. The first one took over a decade to create, and cost a small

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