Book review: The Innovators


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

The Innovators
In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this audiobook for free in exchange
for a fair and honest review.
I was in no way compensated for this post
as a reviewer,
and the thoughts are my own.

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

By Walter Isaacson
Narrated by:

Dennis Boutsikaris

Publication Date: October 7, 2014
at Simon & Schuster Audio

Duration: 17:28 hours
ISBN: 978-1442376236

Genre: nonfiction / technology

Source: Received
from the publisher for review


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This has to be the best nonfiction audiobook I have listened to this year. The title says it all: with a topic like that, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution would you be able to resist? I could not, and this has been an amazing listening experience.

Starting by the 19th century and reaching to now, Isaacson tells the story of computers, how they all started, how one invention led to the other. So doing, he presents biographies of giants in the field, starting by so-far-I-am-afraid-to-say-unknown-to-me Ada Lovelace, basically the first programmer, who was none other than Lord Byron’s daughter. Incidentally, lost of women were very instrumental to reach the level of digital technology we have today.

I really enjoyed a few points Isaacson highlighted:

  • he demonstrated in many ways that lone geniuses did not manage to go very far. The important thing to achieve great results in that domain is team work. That’s how inventions and different machines led to our modern computer. You need for instance to have someone super good at maths, at programming, on the software side but also someone good for the hardware, to fit the brain in a box if I may use this image, and if you have someone on your team good at marketing, you will go far!
  • first while presenting the life and work of Ada Lovelace, but also the one of Steve Jobs and others, Isaacson showed that many of these amazing people were attracted by both art and maths, technology and humanities, they could see beauty in numbers and technology.
  • and finally I really liked his final idea, that the future is not to artificial intelligence (meaning, computers replacing humans) but to augmented intelligence: he proved by many examples that combining both what’s best in a human brain and what’s best in computers, together, is what will help us discover new ways of improving what we have right now. In fact, some smart companies are currently investing lots of money for research in that precise direction. This symbiosis man-machine is really fascinating.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Dennis Boutsikaris was fabulous as a narrator. His tone was very engaging, and he made me want to keep listening all the time. Not one second did I find it boring, which can be a feat for an over 17 hours nonfiction audiobook. With a neutral though very warm voice, he excelled at making me follow with eagerness the gems presented by Isaacson.

I had already listened to Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin, so now it’s finally time to listen to his biography of Steve Jobs.

Shortly after I finished listening to this book, I discovered that Isaacson was coming to Chicago to give a lecture on his book, I was not able to go, but realized the event was going to be live in streaming. So I listened, and I discovered this man is just as good at talking than at writing (alas, this is far from being always the case!). If you missed this fascinating lecture where he presents the main ideas of his book (with no notes at all, but with humor and in a very engaging way, you can watch it now here (NB: be patient, nothing happens during the first 22 seconds). If you are interested in our digital world, you really need to watch this. He has a strong statement near the end about our current system of education, related to the technology/humanities point he makes in his book.

VERDICT: Superb audiobook, the best nonfiction I have listened to this year. A brilliant author and a just as brilliant narrator combine their kills to present the roots of our current digital world and the men and women who worked together to give us what we have today.


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.

What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

In his masterly saga, Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page.

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

For an era that seeks to foster innovation, creativity, and teamwork, The Innovators shows how they happen. [provided by the publisher]



Photograph by Patrice Gilbert


Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute,
has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine.
He is the author of Steve Jobs;
Einstein: His Life and Universe;
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life;
and Kissinger: A Biography,
and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.
He lives in Washington, DC.



10 thoughts on “Book review: The Innovators

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  2. I totally agree… this was a fascinating book. Thanks for the link to the video of Isaacson’s lecture. I saved it to watch later. I highly recommend the Steve Jobs biography, especially if you liked this book.


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