Book: Crystal Fire

Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson

We live in the age of the transistor. One estimate is that humanity has made over 2.9 sextillion transistors (sextillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). This number is amazing, though whenever I think about counting numbers, I remember, Agravados number and am humbled by complexity of biology.

Crystal Fire is a history of the development of the transistor. As such it focuses on the three who won the Nobel Prize for this discovery: Bardeen, Braittain, and Shockley. The book is well done, and a good introduction to the story. I guess because I’ve read a lot about the early history of the transistor I was, however, a little bit disappointed. The book doesn’t delve into the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld’s early patent (though it is mentioned as a motivator for the speed with which the transistor was patented), a story which I find fascinating. It also doesn’t discuss the “second” invention, the Transistron. It also doesn’t give as thorough accounting of Shockley’s wild time after the invention of the point contact transistor in which he needed to make his own ideas real. I did learn a bit more about Braittain, probably the most famous graduate of Washington state’s Whitman college (and definitely the most famous person from the Okanogan valley).

Recommended for a good introduction to the early invention of the transistor.

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