Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century

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9780684828213: Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century

In the 20th - the American - Century, no visionary stands taller than Vannevar Bush. As the inventor and public entrepreneur who launched the Manhattan Project, helped to create the military-industrial complex, conceived of a permanent system of government support for science and engineering and anticipated the personal computer and the Internet, Bush is our century's reincarnation of Ben Franklin. Beginning with his boyhood as a turn-of-the-century tinkerer in his father's basement in Massachusetts, Bush went on to study and teach electrical engineering at Tufts and MIT. An early academic entrepreneur, he cofounded Raytheon, a highly successful electronics company, in his spare time. At MIT, during the Depression, he built what were then the most powerful computers in the world. During World War II, he was Roosevelt's adviser and chief contact on all matters of military technology, including the atomic bomb. He launched the Manhattan Project and oversaw a collection of 6,000 civilian scientists who designed scores of new weapons. When an Allied victory seemed inevitable, his attention turned to the future. In July 1945 he published his legendary essay, "As We May Think, " widely cited as the inspiration for the personal computer and the World Wide Web. In his landmark "Endless Frontier" report, published only weeks later, he boldly equated national security with research strength, outlining a system of permanent federal funding for university research that endures to this day.

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About the Author:

G. Pascal Zachary, a Senior Writer at the Wall Street Journal, is the author of Showstopper! (1994), a history of the creation of Microsoft's Windows NT.

Review:

Deeply informed and insightful, Zachary has thoroughly captured the spirit of Bush and his times. In evaluating the man's legacy, he honors Bush as a role model for his generation's engaged engineers. -- The New York Times Book Review, Thomas P. Hughes

This book provides a framework for understanding the incredible changes wrought in U.S. society by the power and influence of government-backed scientific and technological research. It does this by profiling Vannevar Bush, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineer who, as head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), oversaw all wartime military research. He mobilized the nation's scientific and technological talent by funding private research with public funds. He also had the brass to stand up to conservative military leaders and force them to adopt new hardware, such as radar. Author G. Pascal Zachary does a good job of personalizing Bush, who could be decidedly unappealing. The scientist was such an elitist that he questioned whether the United States could continue as a democracy in the post-World War II era. But Zachary also presents a portrait of a dedicated patriot who agonized over his involvement in the wartime carpet-bombings of Germany and Japan. Above all, Bush emerges as a clear thinker who knew how to seize power and wasn't afraid to wield it. This is an important book--not necessarily for the details of Bush's life, but for the view it gives us of how the science/technology establishment grew. This is Vannevar Bush's true legacy, as the person who engineered it. Zachary tells the story with stylistic grace and meticulous attention to detail. -- Upside, Cliff Barney

Vannevar Bush is best known for his 1945 essay As We May Think, which described an imaginary, automated system to link together all of humanity's knowledge. It was a system, in short, that prefigured hypertext and the Web by almost 50 years. But this visionary essay was really just a footnote to the life of a man.... Endless Frontier ... describes how Bush stamped his indelible imprint on our times. But, the ironic coda to this story is that after having helped create the military-industrial complex that defined the postwar era, Bush was deeply unhappy with what he had wrought. Here, Zachary becomes most eloquent, almost elegiacal. -- Wired, Steve G. Steinberg

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Gregg Pascal Zachary
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