Review of The Innovators

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  • Innovative


Walter Isaacson, the former managing editor of Time magazine and former chairman of CNN, attempts a linear history of innovation. He begins in the 18th century and details every significant player from that era until 2014 – when this text came out. He fully proves his overarching theme: that history produced a continuum of innovators whose efforts built on the efforts of those before them and culminated in computing, artificial intelligence, the Internet, mobile technology, and more. That steady stream still rolls forward as today’s innovators absorb and expand the work of their forbearers. Isaacson regards this diaspora as its own culture, with its own heroes, mythologies, and notions of right and wrong. He makes a convincing, if long-winded case. Isaacson writes in the Time magazine mode: simple clear sentences that attempt to make a complex world comprehensible. getAbstract admires Isaacson’s true passion for his subject – as is evident in his biographies Einstein, Henry Kissinger and Steve Jobs – and his apparent research and understanding of this universe is impressive.

About the Author

Walter Isaacson is CEO of the Aspen Institute, former chairman of CNN, former managing editor of Time magazine and the bestselling author of Steve Jobs. He also wrote Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; Henry Kissinger: A Biography. He co-authored The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.


Isaacson’s long, dense account features an endless parade of names and events and connections and ideas and theories and rivalries and battles-for-credit and factional disputes and factional alliances as well as genius breakthroughs, lucky breakthroughs, dogged breakthroughs and breakthroughs that combine all three. Isaacson explains many of these tales with great verve and a concision that makes obscure technical points quite clear, like the stories of author and LSD pioneer Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. Isaacson presents other aspects of this history without fully explaining – at least for readers who lack affinity for mathematical formulas or abstruse science – the theories, ideas and processes various people pursued and the implications of those pursuits.


As he states on page one, Isaacson’s goal is to teach and inform readers of the rich, vital history of collaboration that fueled and continues to fuel meaningful innovation. He cites his book Steve Jobs as one of many biographies that reinforce Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Man” approach to history. This perspective holds that notable individuals – through their foresight, will and determination – make history. Instead, in this group shot, Isaacson glorifies “teamwork” and points out that the original purpose of the Internet was to “facilitate collaboration.”

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