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Extended Audio Sample The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation, by Jon Gertner Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (490 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jon Gertner Narrator: Chris Sorensen Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In The Idea Factory, New York Times Magazine writer Jon Gertner reveals how Bell Labs served as an incubator for scientific innovation from the 1920s through the 1980s. In its heyday, Bell Labs boasted nearly 15,000 employees, 1,200 of whom held PhDs and 13 of whom won Nobel Prizes. Thriving in a work environment that embraced new ideas, Bell Labs scientists introduced concepts that still propel many of today’s most exciting technologies. Download and start listening now!


Quotes & Awards

  • “Riveting…Mr. Gertner’s portraits of Kelly and the cadre of talented scientists who worked at Bell Labs are animated by a journalistic ability to make their discoveries and inventions utterly comprehensible—indeed, thrilling—to the lay reader. And they showcase, too, his novelistic sense of character and intuitive understanding of the odd ways in which clashing or compatible personalities can combine to foster intensely creative collaborations.” 

    New York Times 

  • “One of the best innovation-focused books I’ve read: It’s a wide-ranging, detailed, and deeply fascinating look at the New Jersey lab which has been churning out useful discoveries since the early 1900s.” 

    Boston Globe

  • “Filled with colorful characters and inspiring lessons…The Idea Factory explores one of the most critical issues of our time: What causes innovation?” 

    New York Times Book Review 

  • “Compelling…Gertner’s book offers fascinating evidence for those seeking to understand how a society should best invest its research resources.” 

    Wall Street Journal

  • “The men of Bell Labs…are brought to life by Jon Gertner in The Idea Factory, his wonderful history of the most influential corporate-research lab the world has seen…Mr Gertner does a super job of making complex science intelligible to the lay reader. He frequently evokes a sense of awe at how this army of scientists made a reality of what even for them was often unthinkable.” 


Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Sam Keen | 2/19/2014

    " Found this to be only slightly insightful. The book possibly tried to cover too much so was unable to attribute a significant level of detail any given area of the history in question. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Sandy | 2/1/2014

    " A great book about a unique place in American history. Also, a warning for the future, as in "how do we pay for pure research going forward in this world of the almighty dollar?" "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Steve | 1/21/2014

    " This is a wonderful book, not only reporting on the amazing accomplishments of the people at Bell Labs (the transistor, laser, fiber optics, cell phone technology, information theory, etc.) but also discussing the nature of innovation and the conditions necessary to foster it. In some sense the achievements of Bell Labs created a new environment which undermined the very foundation of its success--the Bell System monopoly. However, from the late 1930s to the early 1970s, the technological center of the American economy was in New Jersey and our world continues to benefit from the work of Bell Labs. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by David | 1/19/2014

    " An insightful and almost loving history of Bell Labs, the people who worked there and the amazing innovations that came out of there. The book is also an analysis of the process of innovation and the contrast of the Bell Labs model (housed in a regulated monopoly with plenty of money, plenty of time and no competition) and the Silicon Valley model (businesses coming and going, engineers transferring from business to business, ruthless competition). Bell Labs gave us basic research; Silicon Valley gives us great products based on existing research. Bell Labs looked at innovation as encompassing research, development/manufacturing and the creation of a new market with the overriding desire to make things better and cheaper. For a look at what was a great American asset and to learn about innovation, this book is highly recommended. "

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About the Author

Jon Gertner has been a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine since 2004, has served as a senior editor for Money and The American Lawyer, and is currently an editor at Fast Company Magazine. A graduate of Cornell University, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children.