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Review #15: The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

It is always difficult to describe a book that makes you lose track of time. Unfortunately, in my case it wasn’t the kind wherein you can’t let go of the book till you read it cover to cover but quite the opposite. I have no recollection of when I had started off with the book and doesn’t say anything bad about it. In fact, the book affords itself to discontinuous reading because of its chronological nature.

The elaborate subtitle of the book does a good job of describing what the book is all about. It is largely the evolutionary tale of computing driven through the stories of revolutionary characters. But as the book tells you repeatedly, nothing great came out a single mind. It is all about standing over the shoulders of giants and looking further ahead.

In that frame of reference, the book does a very good job of bringing in to the spotlight some obscure characters whose contribution has otherwise been forgotten. Anyone acquainted with technology would know of machines like Difference Engine, ENIAC, UNIVAC as well as personalities like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. However, this book fills in the blanks that most people tend to oversee when attributing greatness to singular minds.

The most promising among these is the chapter on Ada Lovelace and her groundwork on the foundations of general purpose computing. It is by far the best chapter of the book together with the last one which again evokes Ada for an argument on Artificial Intelligence vs Augmented Intelligence. It very well might be that I am biased towards it for the novelty it brought about within an otherwise predictable story. After all, you cannot change history (not at least in this day and age unless you have a monopoly on Wikipedia articles) and its course which results in one knowing almost all of the details on the more prominent personalities.

On the whole, the book lends itself to some good reading. The technical details can be a hit or miss depending on where you are coming from. As a person with an engineering degree in electronics and telecommunication, most of the details seem superficial. At the same time, I can imagine the frustrations of a reader who is more concerned with the story rather than the technical details which they can do without. In that context, the book does a good job of balancing between extremes, but it is bound to lead to dissatisfaction amongst some reader groups. Nevertheless, the book will certainly ignite an entrepreneurial spark for bringing about a revolution, even as mundanity lurks around the corner. A real life story well told is never wasted.

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