Walter Isaacson’s book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, is a good read to provide a long view of innovators who made major contributions to bringing us the digital tools we have today. The book was published in 2014, so while it doesn’t bring us right up until today, it does bring us pretty current.
The book starts with early thinkers like Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace who first theorized about what we now know as computers. Then it proceeds through the early development of computers (punch cards, anyone?) and the first steps toward creating the Internet. The Innovators also provides a lot of colorful detail on more recent developments, such as the creation of Wikipedia and Google.
In each chapter, Isaacson gives us a lot of detail on the backstory of the innovators as well as a description as to how the innovation being addressed came to fruition.
If you take anything from reading this book, it is likely to be that important innovations are usually the result of the interplay of ideas and contributions generated by a number of innovators. In some instances, like with the development of Google, this comes as a result of a team of innovators with complimentary skills. In other cases, it is a matter of innovators building of other ideas being generated by others working in the field at the same time. In other words, Isaacson tries to disabuse us of the notion that innovations are likely to come as the result of a single inventor who has a sudden “Eureka” moment.
Occasionally Isaacson delves into technical detail that was lost on this humanities reader, but for the most part, the book is suitable to those interested in the history of innovation without requiring technical expertise.
Isaacson has written a number of other biographies about innovators. I previously enjoyed reading his book on Steve Jobs, which came out shortly after the Apple co-founder passed away.
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