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December 16, 2014 / Leslie

Review: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Innovators-audioThe Innovators
by Walter Isaacson
Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster | October 2014
Format: Audio CD, 17½ hours | Hardcover, 528 pages
Audio Listening Level: Easy – Intermediate
Rating: 4½ of 5

From the Publisher

Following his blockbuster biography of Steve Jobs, The Innovators is Walter Isaacson’s revealing story of the people who created the computer and the Internet. It is destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens.


After reading, and absolutely loving, Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, his new book about the people who were instrumental in the computer revolution was a must-read for me. Unlike the in-depth biography of Jobs, this was an expansive survey of the many individuals who played a part in the development of the tech world we know today.

Isaacson begins in the mid-1800s with one of the earliest innovators, the mathematician Ada Lovelace, poet Lord Byron’s daughter, and moves through history in a linear fashion to today’s internet. I was pleased to see Ada and other women pioneers – programmers during the Enigma code breaking period – getting their fair share of time in the book. An illustrated timeline is included in the front of the book, which is a helpful reference to have as the large number of people introduced in the book can be a little overwhelming at times, especially during the early years.

This is a very readable historical account for anyone interested in the subject, and is suitable even for those with only a moderate background in tech – and that’s most of us. If you use a computer, tablet, laptop, or smartphone, you already know the basics.

Unlike people born during the 80s who have not experienced a time without personal computers, I went to school in the 70s – a world that barely had pocket calculators much less mobile phones or PCs. I am still in awe of the tech revolution and found most of the book very relatable. The first half was an enlightening history lesson to for me, but once we arrived in the 1980s, it was a fun trip down memory lane as I revisited the ‘innovations’ I grew up with – 300 baud modems, bulletin boards, CompuServe, Gopher, dialing up AOL to access the internet, and my outrageously expensive computer with its 486DX2-66 processor and 8MB RAM. Yes, that’s MB not GB, but I digress.

While the book is not 100 percent inclusive, it’s an interesting and entertaining look at the people who had the most influence on the tech we use today. [Geek disclosure: I build my own computers and love to take things apart.]

Audio production

This was an easy book to listen to. Dennis Boutsikaris did a fine job on the narration with a pleasant voice and good pacing plus his ability to relate some of the funnier stories in an entertaining manner. In particular were a few tales about Bill Gates in his early high school and college days – I’m still laughing at those.

I find nonfiction very listenable and generally choose it over print. However, I also have the hardcover version of The Innovators for my personal library because this is a subject I will go back to again. The extras that are in the book are photos, the timeline and an index.

Source: Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster
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Leave a Comment
  1. BermudaOnion / Dec 16 2014 8:00 am

    I bet Carl would love that!


  2. Lloyd Russell / Dec 16 2014 8:55 am

    Leslie, your review actually has me interested in something that I would never have thought to pick up. Because I have always lived in the SF Bay Area, I figured I knew enough about the beginnings of the technological age to satisfy my curiosity. But if it starts in the mid-1800’s, that’s an entirely different scenario for me. I didn’t read Isaacson’s book on Jobs. But, interestingly enough, Jay Eliot, who was Jobs’ right-hand man for quite a while back in the early 80’s, was a keynote speaker at a library event I attended last summer. He paints a very interesting picture of the Apple Board of Directors and John Skully’s presidency when Jobs is ousted. Elliot may have been biased, but it was still interesting to hear him talk about what he said really happened and about Isaacson’s book.


    • Leslie / Dec 16 2014 9:02 pm

      Even if you don’t like Steve Jobs – and according to the book, many, many did not! – he was a fascinating individual. My book club read the Jobs bio last year, and while most people liked the book, a few didn’t, and that made for some very lively discussion. I would have loved to hear Jay Eliot speak!


  3. Sheila (Book Journey) / Dec 16 2014 9:02 am

    I am finishing up listening tot his one today. I smiled when I seen your post. I am enjoying it as well 🙂


  4. Suko / Dec 16 2014 1:18 pm

    Leslie, I am impressed that you build your own computers–wow! I’m glad you enjoyed this audiobook. It does sound fascinating.


    • Leslie / Dec 16 2014 9:10 pm

      I built my first computer back in the early 90s. Back then it was cheaper than buying it already built and this way I got it with the parts I wanted.


  5. I’ve been intrigued by this book and am glad to know you found it well done. Sometimes topics like are that expansive can be too much of an info dump. Your comment about school with barely a calculator made me laugh. My husband was born in 1970 and I was born in 1980 and our school experiences were completely different. Great review! I’m glad to know audios a good option with this one as well.


    • Leslie / Dec 16 2014 9:16 pm

      I still have that calculator – it should be in a museum! It was a Texas Instruments SR-10. It was big and clunky and didn’t do much more than basic arithmetic – but it was the first one that was portable. And at $100, pretty expensive. It was my graduation present.


  6. WordsAndPeace / Dec 17 2014 8:52 am

    glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. Ah, I did not think of looking at the print copy after finishing the audio, thanks for mentioning, I’ll go and check. did you watch the video I mention in my own review? I think you would love it, neat to watch the author – great speaker as well : Funny we posted our review the same day!


  7. Leeswammes / Dec 17 2014 2:56 pm

    Sounds like a book for me! I totally ‘get’ why you like it. I also remember the bauds and the bulletin boards, etc. Is inconceivable that we used to do without the technology we have today!



  1. 2014 Reading Wrap-Up | Under My Apple Tree

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