Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: The Dawn Of The Electronic Age by Frederik Nebeker

The Dawn Of The Electronic Age is a fascinating book. In it, author Frederik Nebeker traces the development of electronics from 1914 to 1945. From the onset of World War I to the end of World War II, the advances made in electrical engineering have shaped our lives in countless ways.

Today, we take so many of these achievements for granted. I was born into a world without cell phones, home computers, microwave ovens, or cable TV. Yet all of the crucial steps for these indispensable accoutrements to modern existence were already in place by 1945.

As Nebeker points out throughout the book, war forces societies to be incredibly innovative. Lives depend on reliable communication. They also depend on knowing what the enemy is up to, which forced big advances in technology also.

The respite between the two wars showed the world the incredible potential for profit electronics offered. As nations moved towards wiring every household, it became obvious that besides progress, serious money was involved too.

Entertainment held the potential for even bigger dollars. Outside of the movies, mass produced programming had never existed before. Radio changed all of that. During the “Jazz Age” of the 1920’s, the “wireless” became the first mass medium, affordable to all.

The introduction of network radio shrunk the world in ways that are unfathomable to us today. So too did the widespread rise of the home telephone.

Nebeker has managed a unique feat with this book. While explaining the nuts and bolts of what went into creating the infrastructure of the modern era, he still manages to keep the story interesting.

The history of the pioneering electronics engineers is an important one to anyone interested in how we arrived at the world we live in. Yet this story has been crowded out of the bookshelves by pop biographies of computer gurus such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

The Dawn Of The Electronic Age puts things in perspective. As Nebeker shows, the real work towards things like the “information superhighway” began nearly a century ago. Although the book contains an enormous amount of footnotes and diagrams, it is by no means a textbook.

For this casual history buff, The Dawn Of The Electronic Age is simply a great read. Nebeker’s explanations of what went into the various advances during the crucial 31 year period between 1914 and 1945 make perfect sense, whether you grasp the technicalities or not.

The Dawn Of The Electronic Age is easily one of the most interesting books I have read in some time.

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