I just finished reading The Idea Factory by Jon Gertner. It’s a
history of Bell Labs and its impact on modern technology. I love these
sorts of books, that talk about engineers and scientists solving
problems and discovering how the world works. Gertner’s writing moves
along at a nice steady pace, and he tells the stories with a good
balance of scientific detail – not so much that you need a physics
degree, but enough that you understand the difficulty and significance
of the work.
Most of the book talks about a different era, when attitudes about
monopolies were different and pure research was funded with fewer
expectations of immediate profit. That model no longer works in our
modern competitive environment, and I am left wondering how we will
manage to make the next fundamental leap forward (and what that leap
will be) when most businesses can’t afford to take such a long view,
and most research universities struggle for funding.