Morton, David L, and Joseph Gabriel. “Electronics: The Life Story of a Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. Paperback edition 2007. Pp. xi + 201. $ 19.95.
Morton and Gabriel present a history of electronic devices, from Fleming’s Valve to Josephson Junctions. Included are excerpts from the IEEE oral history archives—Nick Holonyak recalling a conversation with John Bardeen about Shockley’s contribution to the invention of the transistor, Gordon Moore on his law, and so forth. One is struck with how early the basic ideas for many inventions originated. Some examples include: a field effect transistor-like device was proposed in 1926, MEMS were proposed in 1960, Bell Labs announced development of a solar cell in 1954. One is also struck with how existing technologies continued to improve as rivals came on. An obvious example is the advances in vacuum tube technology after the invention of semiconductors. Another theme is the major contribution made by the military to development of electronic devices; a corollary is the decrease in the development effort when the cold war lost intensity. A fourth theme is internationalization—how the center of manufacturing and then product development moved away from the United States to Europe and, especially, Asia. It is not clear if really exciting developments in electronic devices are still to come; perhaps such innovation these will be related to biology and medicine. The focus is almost entirely on devices, not circuits or systems. I do not think the words “feedback” or “modulation” appear. Most of the diagrams are taken from patent documents so have historical interest but can be difficult to understand. A three-paragraph explanation of semiconductors is included, but a reader without more background would probably not understand the operations of many devices. The account would probably be easier to read without the inclusion of names of so many inventors and with fewer blind alleys—are bubble memories still being considered? Just as the use of many physical phenomena is not immediately evident, it is hard for me to recognize many readers who need this book, although a reader curious about the basics of devices might be interested.