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Jon Gertner's 6 favorite books about science and tech
The esteemed author and editor recommends histories of the atom bomb, circuitry, and Silicon Valley
Jon Gertner, an editor at Fast Company, is the author of "The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation."
Jon Gertner, an editor at Fast Company, is the author of "The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation."
T

he Chip by T.R. Reid (Random House, $16). An incredibly lucid history of the integrated circuit — an essential component of the computer revolution—invented almost simultaneously by Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby in the late 1950s. Reid has a remarkable gift: He seems able to explain in a few paragraphs what takes lesser writers many pages.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes (Simon & Schuster, $21). Rhodes describes America’s Manhattan Project in deep, deep detail. But this nonfiction masterwork moves briskly anyway — from the origins of the idea for nuclear reactions (on a London street corner) to the apocalyptic explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16). A free-ranging history of late-19th- and early-20th-century American thought that incorporates fascinating portraits of Oliver Wendell Holmes and William James. Though not a technology book, it’s a compelling study of how ideas evolve and spread.

Collapse by Jared Diamond (Penguin, $18). Mayan culture, Easter Island, the Soviet Union. Diamond ranges far and wide across global history in this profoundly sobering book about what happens when societies enter periods of rapid decline — and how some have averted disaster by making wise choices.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen (HarperCollins, $18). Even if you haven’t read this 1997 book, you’ve likely absorbed its lessons, now woven deeply into contemporary thinking about how companies succeed or fail. Its description of how the computer hard-drive industry evolved has become the gold standard of technology case studies. Yet even more intriguing is the story of how the hydraulic steam shovel conquered the construction industry. 

The New New Thing by Michael Lewis (Penguin, $16). If the only Michael Lewis book you’ve read is Moneyball, you’ve missed out. This book, focused on the exploits of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jim Clark, is better — funnier, more elegant, and more insightful.

Jon Gertner, an editor at Fast Company, is the author of The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.

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