Further and further back I go to find out why things in computing today are the way they are. The latest book I have read on computing history is actually a bit away from computing and is about the development about the transistor, microchips and finally, microprocessors. One person that significantly stands out in this story is Robert Noyce and Leslie Berlin’s book ‘The Man Behind The Microchip‘ is a fascinating biography of a man who’s ideas have changed the world in a big way with something very little.
A couple of months ago I already reviewed ‘Troublemakers‘, another computing history book of Leslie Berlin and I came away just as fascinated after reading her book about Robert Noyce which she wrote much earlier in 2011. The story starts with young Bob Noyce growing up in rural America in a poor family, his days in college when he became interested in the transistor, his days at MIT, then working for Shockley and ‘defecting’ from his company as the de-facto leader of the ‘Traitorous Eight‘ to found Fairchild Semiconductor. From there, Leslie describes how Noyce moved on to found Intel, together with the equally legendary Gordon Moore and Andy Grove. And once Intel was past its startup phase, he again moved on to do many other things. Always careful to tell the personal stories and interactions with other well known people in Silicon Valley from young Steve Jobs to early venture capitalists like Arthur Rock and Mike Markulla to get a feel for Noyce as a human being, I went trough the book exhilarated about his successes and being saddened when live turned the wrong way for him which did not only happen once.
Famous in his days, only few people in our industry still remember Robert Noyce today. After reading this book I wonder a bit why, as, like Seymour Cray, he was a tech-rock-star of his time and was known and revered by everybody in the industry. It’s almost an irony of history that the names of other people such as Gordon Moore who were not so well known at the time because everybody looked at Bob Noyce, fared much better. Today, only few people in computing have not heard about Moore’s law.
A wonderful book about the history of semiconductors and computing on the one hand and Bob Noyce the person on the other, fully recommended! Despite being initially published in 2011, both paper edition and ebook can still be bought and a copy of the book is also available for online reading or as protected PDF download at the OpenLibrary. Like in a ‘real’ library, however, only one person can read the book there at a time.