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

Four stars

In his latest book, Isaacson offers the reader an insightful look into the world of technology and the numerous people whose insights and innovative ideas have changed the world in which we live. While not the biography of any one person, Isaacson personifies technology and offers stories related to its branches, from the early speculative ideas of Ada Loveless around a mechanical calculating device through to the dawn of Wikipedia and mass-user self-editing. Isaacson travels through time, specifically since the pre-WWII era to the present, to offer tales of innovative ideas that built on one another. Things the reader would take for granted become major events and received excellent backstories. One thing Isaacson does throughout his tome is to dispel the myths that urban legends have spun into faux-realities, including Al Gore inventing the internet. He further lays the premise that the entire book should be taken as a set of technological building blocks, one device or idea connecting to the next, such that there are not true ‘inventors’ but strict innovators who seek to add a niche to a larger conversation that takes place in an evolutionary reality. Those who seek to claim inventor status are quashed in Isaacson’s narrative and by the scores of men and women who have added to the technological quilt. Any reader with a curiosity surrounding technology should invest time in this book, though be somewhat leery of some technical jargon that can weigh down the narrative for the layperson.

As Isaacson presents in his introduction, some of these ideas came during his research on the Steve Jobs biography, the first of his that I devoured. Isaacson’s desire to downplay any one person wearing the crown of inventor, he passes out the praise to all those who played a role in their own way, and does so in an effective manner. The narrative flows nicely, even if it is weighed down with jargon in spots. This jargon is highly useful, however, as it depicts the degree to which many of the actors were ensconced in their fields. The reader can read (or listen) in awe to all that Isaacson has unearthed, proving how interconnected something as routine as internet access and application usage. Perhaps one of the best, and most varied of the biographical pieces I’ve read of his, Isaacson does a stellar job in presentation, content, and detail.

Kudos Mr. Isaacson for this great piece. I cannot wait what, or who, you tackle next for the reader to absorb.