When I first received The Idea Factory in the mail as part of a group of book reviewers who were invited to write about the then not-yet-published non-fiction book, I had no idea what to expect. So, after reading, here’s what I think you can expect:
1. You will be a telephone history expert by the end. Author Jon Gertner certainly has done diligent research in the meticulous development of telephones. I found myself spewing random trivia to my friends about telephones. For example, did you know that in 1915, a three-minute call from New York to California cost the equivalent of $440 dollars today?
2. It’s not easy to read. The author has a background in journalism. Gertner is a contributing author to The New York Times in technology and business. His journalistic style is reflected in The Idea Factory. Each chapter could probably have fit snugly in an informational news article piece found in a section of a business magazine. Because the book is an informational illustration of the development of telephones, there are no suspenseful sequences that one would find in thrillers or even biographies. Therefore, as a reader, you have to push yourself a bit at times turn the page. There are also many esoteric language in the book that are used to describe the intricate technologies that contributed to the evolution of the telecom industry. Wikipedia is your friend when reading this book. The book is also saturated with characters that played a role in the telephone development. At some points, I was confused as to who was who. With that said, you will feel loads smarter after reading the book.
3. This book teaches valuable lessons to aspiring entrepreneurs. The book accounts the endless days of trial and error by thousands of scientists at Bell Labs. Building a successful product at AT&T meant the collision of smart people, timing, hard work, perseverance, and luck. The personal stories of each of the major characters that shaped telephones were some of the most poignant. For example, Mervin Kelly, physicist turned President of Bell Labs, grew up in a small-town that resembled the Wild West.