Inventors at Work: Interviews with 16 Notable American Inventors

Inventors at Work: Interviews with 16 Notable American Inventors
by Kenneth A. Brown

Microsoft Press
1-55615123-3; 1-55615-042-3 (paper)
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This book celebrates American ingenuity and creativity. By interviewing inventors whose work ranges from Xeroxgraphy and lasers to the human-powered airplane and the plastic pop bottle, Brown seeks to reassure us that Americans are still building better mousetraps. Drawing on his geology degree and his experience as a reporter, Brown succeeds in getting his subjects to describe their major inventions in clear and simple terms and to speculate on the nature of invention. His subjects often answer with predictable responses about the importance of serendipity, optimism, perseverance, visual thinking for invention, and about how large organizations can stifle creativity; the reader is struck by how little the views of these inventors differ from the opinions of their 19th century counterparts, Thomas Edison and Robert Fulton. Occasionally, Brown's skillful questioning reveals fresh insights; his interaction with Bob Gundlach of Xerox yields several interesting observations about research in giant corporations, and the conversation with Steve Wozniak provides a surprising interpretation of partner Steve Jobs' role in the creation of the Apple personal computer. I was disappointed, however, that Brown frequently allowed his subjects to ramble about the condition of science education in America, the threat of Japanese competition, and the sorry state of the U.S. patent system without providing evidence to support their opinions. Brown might have also probed the issue of the social responsibility of inventors and engineers for their creations rather than merely implying that a society gets the inventions it deserves. Nevertheless, this book can be read by general readers with pleasure, and they should come away with an appreciation for contemporary invention. The anecdotes and stories can be used by both elementary and high-school teachers to explore the relationship of science to technology as well as the habits and ideas that can lead to creativity. Only by celebrating today's heroic inventors can we foster tomorrow's technological creativity.

--Reviewed by W. Bernard Carlson in Science Books and Films, 24/1 (September/October 1988), p. 18.