The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley (Anglais) Broché – 11 janvier 2007
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"Leslie Berlin's excellent new study is a welcome addition to the body of historical literature dealing with recent computer technology. The book is one of only a handful of scholarly biographies of members of the generation of inventors and entrepreneurs whobuilt the semiconductor industry and helped create the economic and cultural phenomenon now known as Silicon Valley. Berlin describes Noyce's technical accomplishments accurately and with appropriate detail, but she also makes clear that he was as much a social and economic innovator as a technical one. Berlin's portrayal of Noyce might be characterized as ironic hagiography. She celebrates his achievementsbut also makes it clear that those accomplishments came at a substantial human cost. Berlin's biography will help preserve Noyce's reputation and will serve as an important resource for future studies of Silicon Valley."--American Scientist
"Leslie Berlin does an excellent job of capturing the Bob Noyce I knew: part small-town boy, part big-time genius and always a wonderful friend and citizen."--Warren E. Buffett, Chairman, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
"A comprehensive and admiring biography.... Berlin does a fine job uncovering the details of Noyce's childhood and tracing his intellectual development.... Berlin writes convincingly.... [A] thorough and worthy retelling of his life."--Washington Monthly
"Few people had a greater impact on life in the second half of the 20th century than Bob Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit. Yet he was little known outside the field of electronics. Leslie Berlin, in "The Man Behind the Microchip," her highly readable biography of Noyce, describes how his work sparked two revolutions in the modern business and technology era."--The Boston Globe
"Bob Noyce was one of the giants of Silicon Valley. The most extraordinary thing about this book is that Berlin has been able to cut through the legend and establish that this man, once nicknamed ``the mayor of Silicon Valley,'' was also an ordinary human being." [Berlin] has brought Noyce and his role in the valley's history into focus."--San Jose Mercury News
"A well-rounded biography...excellent work."--Publisher's Weekly
"Noyce understood the transformative power of new technology as well as anyone alive.... Berlin's rigorously factual account portrays the scientific process in all its grittiness."--MIT Technology Review
"Not only an excellent biography, but also an intriguing history of the development of the digital age."--Harvard Business School Working Knowledge
"Leslie Berlin's meticulously researched biography tells the story of a talented but flawed individual whose successes and failures could serve as the raw material for a dozen business school case studies. It also paints a revealing picture of US business culture in the mid-20th century.... [An] evocative account of the birth of an industry."--Financial Times
"This is where Berlin is best: she superbly evokes the hacker inventiveness of Shockley and his gang."--Clive Thompson, The New York Times Book Review
"Bob Noyce's contributions to the development of the semiconductor industry go well beyond his inventions. He was industry spokesman, visionary, and leading entrepreneur. But this well written book does more than just chronicle his many contributions; it is a window into his complex and charming personality."--Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel Corporation
"All the busy billionaires, multimillionaires and geeks in their garages dreaming up the next big thing that will bring glory back to Silicon Valley should plunk down some loose change on 'The Man Behind the Microchip.' And anyone interested in the true creation story of Silicon Valley--in contrast to the enticing tales of the mythmakers who continue to blow bubbles of promise up and down the Peninsula--would do well to make a small investment in this terrific biography."--John Christensen, San Francisco Chronicle
"The first full-scale biography of Noyce and the first book to acknowledge his true importance. Noyce's story is a fascinating one.... The book succeeds best as a business biography, putting his impressive accomplishments in perspective. Noyce should be considered one of the most influential inventors of our time, a prime mover of the digital revolution that has changed all our lives. For that he deserves much broader recognition. The Man Behind the Microchip is a great start in that direction."--PC Magazine
"At last, the absorbing story of the most important figure in the history of the semiconductor industry! Meticulously researched, The Man Behind the Microchip is so engagingly narrated that you don't realize how much business and technology you are learning along the way."--William Aspray, Indiana University
"Exhaustively researched. Berlin's thoughtful and thorough biography is at once a celebratory and a cautionary tale."-David Kushner, The Houston Chronicle
"Leslie Berlin, in her highly readable biography of Noyce, describes how his work sparked two revolutions in the modern business and technology era."--Robert Weisman, Philadelphia Inquirer
"At the white-hot epicenter of the digital revolution was Robert Noyce. Now, thanks to this incisive and astutely researched biography, Noyce will be forever listed among those inventor-entrepreneurs of the postwar era who functioned as the Johan Gutenbergs, the Alexander Graham Bells, the Guglielmo Marconis of our era."--Kevin Starr, University of Southern California
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This review is a departure from my typical "book report" style, because I have too many things to say about it for that format to work.
Isaac Asimov called the invention of integrated circuit (IC) "the most important moment since man emerged as a life form." If you look at how ICs have changed the world, that's a hard viewpoint to argue against.
I personally own quite a few ICs and you probably do also. They are everywhere. If you own a cell phone, a computer, or an automobile, you own at least several million transistors. Transistors inside ICs have made possible many things that were not even imagined 100 years ago. Think about all of today's communications, conveniences, explorations, exchanges, transportation, information processing, productivity, and advances in medicine. None of this would exist, if not for Dr. Bob Noyce.
It's hard to imagine that the drive, intelligence, and unique personality of one man could have had so much influence on bringing this about. But, it did. The IC changed the macro culture--even our brains are wired differently because of microelectronics (see [...] It also created a micro culture we call Silicon Valley--a major engine for economic and scientific growth. The change brought about by Dr. Noyce was deep and lasting.
This book is the story of that change and of the man behind it. But if Dr. Noyce, who died in 1990, were here today, he would make it clear that every invention depends on the breakthroughs that came before it. So in The Man Behind the Microchip, you read not just about Dr. Noyce, but about the people whom he motivated and inspired.
The Man Behind the Microchip offers at least seven things to the reader:
1. A great story. I like stories where the hero faces tough odds, falls, gets back up, and prevails over one obstacle after another until he finally wins. That was the real story of Bob Noyce. He didn't come from privilege, and he didn't have instant success. He was human, and Berlin portrays him that way. Like all humans, he didn't succeed at everything he tried. Sometimes, his failures were enough to stop any ordinary man. But Dr. Noyce was no ordinary man. And therein lies the story.
2. Inspiration. Have you ever watched somebody do something much more difficult than what you are faced with? Didn't that make you feel like you could tackle your challenge and beat it? "Gosh, if he can do that, then I can do this." Understanding the heights of Dr. Noyce's super-extraordinary accomplishments is enough to inspire anyone to accomplish the extraordinary.
3. History. When we lose our history, we lose our knowledge of who we are. So, the history is important. It deepens both our understanding and our appreciation for the way things are.
4. Good writing. As an American who grew up in the United States, I often wonder if the people who write most of the books for today's market read much or ever got a passing grade in an English class. Language is a social contract that facilitates the exchange of ideas. Unlike many of today's "writers," Leslie Berlin honors that contract. But beyond simply getting the mechanics right, Berlin knows how to turn a phrase and how to convey ideas in a clear and compelling way.
5. Insight. One of the traits we engineers are known for is we don't just lead a horse to water. We tend to dunk its head in the water. We mean well, but the poor horse thinks we're trying to drown it rather than slake its thirst. Not all engineers are this way, of course, and it's not just engineers who do this. Dr. Noyce set a good example for all of us dunkers to follow. By reading how he handled things, I learned something. And it wasn't something trivial.
6. A lesson in humility. It's easy to look at your own accomplishments or credentials, and let your head get big. I remember judging applications for IEEE Senior Membership, in 2003. I was sitting next to Rick Bush, who is a long-time mentor of mine. I am not alone in being in in awe of Rick (there aren't many people who get an "awe" rating from me). But even Rick was bowled over by what we were reading. We were sitting in judgment of people with multiple doctorates, dozens of patents, and work accomplishments that seemed surreal. I put my thumb and forefinger together and told Rick, "I feel this big." He said, "Me, too." Reading about Dr. Noyce (again) brought out that same feeling.
7. A lesson in greatness. Though Noyce's larger than life self--all which was just as Berlin described--humbled me, it also elevated me. Noyce lived a life that said no individual should think he is great on his own, but that every individual can be great by respecting others and bringing out the greatness in them. (Rick does this, too).
While reviewing this book, I exchanged e-mails with Dick Hodgman (not to be confused with Dick Hodgson, who is in the book). Hodgman is another IEEE Senior member whom I hold in awe. He worked at Intel when Noyce was there, and they spoke many times. Dick helped me get some thoughts together for this review.
Form is important, as it dictates readability. Fortunately, this book scored very well on substance and on form. This book actually uses Standard Written English (SWE). This was a refreshing change from the Pidgin English that so many of today's authors slop onto our reading palettes. The care taken in writing this book shows that the author and publisher actually cared about the reader. That's a huge plus.
Warren Buffet, who "does not give endorsements," endorsed this book. After reading it, I can see why.
If you have any interest in history, human drama, or the genesis of Silicon Valley, this book is a must read. I don't say that just because I'm active in the IEEE and Bob Noyce was "one of our own." I say that because you would not be reading this review--or anything else--online if not for Dr. Noyce. Nor would there be an Amazon.com, cell phones, or any of the thousands of other wonderful things that we take for granted today.
Don't you want to know how it all came about? Read this book and find out.
that focused on chips, personal computers, venture capitalists
etcetera, but this one is the best. While there is little here
specifically about the rise of personal computers this book
fills in a tremendous amount of the early history of the
development of the chip, while also providing a very revealing
portrait of Robert Noyce. The range of information here is very
great. However, the book is focused on Noyce, its just that it
sheds light on a great number of events that are part of the
Silicon Valley lore.
Leslie Berlin has done a very thorough job here. Robert
Noyce was the subject of her Phd and she has been a visiting
scholar at Stanford while writing this book. The book has a
full set of notes so that the information she is revealing can
be traced back to the sources she has used. She has clearly had
substantial help from Robert Noyce's family as there are a
number of elements of this story that could only come from them.
It appears that she has interviewed a large number of Noyce's
colleagues including people like Gordon Moore, Andy Grove, and
Charlie Sporck and has pretty much gone through almost
everything written by Robert Noyce or about him. There is a list
of about 10 Theses she references and references to each of
Robert Noyce's testimonies before congress. Ms Berlin has even
interviewed the women who had affairs with Robert Noyce.
The small town background of Mr Noyce has been written about
before. However, it is clear that the entire family was very
well educated going back a couple generations. It is revealed
that Bob's older brothers also set a strong pace as they were
salutorian and Valadictorians of their class in high school.
One of Bob's older brothers ended up becoming a professor of
Chemistry at Berkeley. It is clear that Bob was able to have
a fairly normal social life at Grinell while amassing a record
strong enough to gain admission to MITs physics graduate school.
Clearly Noyce's interest in the transistor started early as he
and his Physics professor were beating their way through Bell
technical reports to understand this work. (probably the reports
that were enshrined in Shockley's 1955 book on semiconductors)
As Ms Berlin makes clear, Noyce struggled a little bit
at MIT, having to do some remedial work to fill in holes in
his background. Not surprising since he came from a program
with 2 physics professors. However, apparrently one of his
fellow students, went to one of the faculty members on his
behalf and without telling Noyce to ask them to give him more
financial aid as he considered Noyce one of the two smartest
guys in the physics grad program. (the other is revealed to be
Gell-Mann, not bad company) Clearly the faculty agreed to some
extent as after a year he was given a fellowship. Not bad to
go from struggling to a fellowship in a year in pretty fast
company. Ms Berlin also discusses Noyce's thesis in a bit of
detail and does it in a way that the layman can appreciate how
it fits in. For me it explains why Noyce chose to work under
Nottingham, not widely known, when he could have worked for the
far more widely known Slater. With the typical care she has
brought to this project it is clear that Ms Berlin has had
Physicists examine this thesis and discuss its contents with
her. Noyce was making measurments of surface states. As this
would be pretty relevant to his work related to the planar
process as well as the starting of the first MOS company it was
I found the section on the Shockley Semiconductor lab also
very revealing. It has always been clear that William Shockley
was a better scientist than businessman, however Ms Berlin
reveals many of the disfunctional characteristics of that group
like never before. Shockley's limitations as a people manager
are clearly mapped. I was not aware of a number of things
regarding the breakout of the Fairchild traitors, specifically
that Noyce was the last of this group to become committed and
the difficulty this group had in finding an investor.
The Fairchild era also contains a number of revelations for
me. The evolution of the planar process out of the solution
of a relability problem on the discretes is new to me. It also
becomes much clearer as to which groups had particular expertise
and went to break off and commercialize their ideas separately.
Fairchild as a source of entrepreneurs is legendary, but here
there is more detail that indicated the frustrations that
may have lead to it and the expertise of the players. I knew
that Charlie Sporck had been the manufacturing manager at
Fairchild but I didnt know he had been the Operating manager
for a period or that Fairchild's inability to recruit against
other startups because the NY gang refused to allow stock
options was a problem for them. Essentially Sporck was
Fairchild's Andy Grove. Anybody in the valley has probably
experienced this phenomenon. I'm amazed that Fairchild was
suffering from this in the early 60s.
Similarly there are many revealing insights about the
startup of Intel. In the context it becomes easier to
understand the idea behind the company. I did not know that
Ted Hoff was hired to be the computer architecture guru on the
recommendation of Stanford faculty and the Busicom project that
lead to the early Microprocessor is discussed in more detail
than I've seen before.
In summary this is an outstanding book which is done with
great care and attention to detail by a young historian. The
book reads very easily for both the person who is nontechnical
as well as someone with a tech background. There is plenty here
for all. I think Ms Berlin should get the Pulitzer prize for
biography for this one.
Being an electronic system designer in the early 60's, I was also oppressed by the "tyranny of numbers" that was becoming more difficult to deal with as systems became larger and more complex over time. I was involved with a number of efforts to defeat the tyranny by the use of various discrete construction techniques. They were all bound to fail since they could do little to minimize the connectivity problem. The appearance of the microchip on the electronic scene was a true revolution that ultimately made possible the wonders we take for granted, from the powerful little computer on which I'm typing this, to the tiny programmable DSP (digital signal processor) hearing aid I wear. We all owe a great debt to Robert Noyce, who would have shared the Noble Prize in Physics with Jack Kilby had he lived another 10 years. As I write this, memorials for Jack Kilby, who died less than a week ago, are being held world wide. Another giant has fallen!
I highly recommend Leslie Berlin's book, which is far more than just a biography of an individual, notwithstanding one as compelling as Noyce. It's also an edifying history of a technology and industry, cleverly disguised as a darned good read.
I agree with the previous reviewer, a Pulitzer for Ms. Berlin!
A striking passage describes how Noyce anticipated the observation of negative differential resistance in a tunnel diode. Some 18 months before Leo Esaki in Tokyo discovered it. Esaki would win the Nobel in Physics for his work. In one of these what-ifs, Noyce could easily have taken that for himself.
By the way, the book's explanation of negative resistance is a trifle awkward. The quantum mechanical phenomenon cannot be easily explained to a general audience. (As a grad student, I had the same problem of discussing this about my research, to laymen.) But if it puzzles you, remember that it also eluded a lot of people in the 1950s.
You might already be familiar with the broad outlines of how Noyce, Moore and others worked for Robert Shockley, and then left en masse in disgust at his management style. But Berlin furnishes here far more detail than is commonly known. About how Noyce agonised and reluctantly left Shockley.
Likewise, with the later tale of Fairchild Semiconductor and how Noyce and Moore would in turn leave that. This time to found Intel (with Grove). Berlin gives much more detail on this broad outline, that explains the motivations of Noyce and his associates.
Some readers might be amused to see that the CEO of Fairchild resisted handing out stock options to employees, in the grounds that this was "creeping socialism". Which played no small part in the exodus of its best people.
The book describes a Silicon Valley that has vanished.
From a literary point of view, I think the book raises the bar in terms of biograpical research. I've read a lot of biographies, and I've never seen one as well documented as this. Almost every sentenced can be traced back to its source. In addition, it has original research. I believe the author is responsible for discovering that Noyce's NDR diode was at least coincident with Esaki's Noble-prize winning work. Overall, an excellent read.
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