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Reviewed by Brian Pankuch

This 'book is an intriguing mixture of the history of technology and science with personal insights about some of the scientists who have made important discoveries. extensive background material about many Bell scientists, beginning with their early research interests and continuing to the current work they are doing at Bell Labs. I was struck by the diversity of these individual stories. While some scientists seemed to move directly into their main resea.rch others knew what they wanted to do but found it difficult to pursue their chosen field at the appropriate level until arriving at Bell. A great deal is said about academic freedom in higher education, but one can't help but be impressed by the freedom many of these scientists feel they have. The combination of basic research, technology, development and the freedom to pursue personal interests is not only satisfying to the individual but also very successful approach. Seven Nobel Prizes in Physics alone have been won by Bell Lab scientists.
The four main parts of the book are mostly concerned with the solid state and fiber optic areas, but considerable chemistry and material science seep in. Many sections of the book offer impressive descriptions of the latest technology. Bell is testing fiber-optics which transmit 420 million bits/sec. Using these techniques, a thirty volume encylcope4ia could be transmitted in one second, making a mistake in only a single letter.
Among the computer sagas is the story of Belle, a very capable chess playing. computer who beats 99 out of 100 human players and is providing insight into how people think when they play chess. It seems that part of what grandmasters do is to see the entire chess board as a single entity. That strikes me as being a bit like thinking of NaCl as a chemical with many properties, i.e., a whole entity. It isn't just a group of letters that are laboriously put together following a bunch of rules to make a compound. In otherwords, this research may give us insight into the learning process and how it can be improved.
The stories of some of the major discoveries are especially interesting. Some researchers identified their major interests quickly; others seem to be continually searching for new areas, whether in the area of computer identification of human speech or the photovoltaic effect in silicon. The latter discovery occurred by chance when Russel Ohl placed a cooling fan in front of a bench light, chopping the light. The voltage shown on an oscillosocpe followed the chopped light. Instead of just moving the light, he began to study the effect, and fifteen years later the first solar battery resulted from the research begun in this way.

Many other discoveries resulted from the same combination of inspiration and hard work. Shockley and Bardeen were able to work on the transistor because of a technological breakthrough. They combined new physical insights with an improved mathematical theory to produce greater understanding and further technical breakthroughs. 
Managers at every level at Bell Labs have very strong backgrounds in science and technology but very different attitudes toward their jobs. Addison White comments on his position at Bell " ••• the jobs that management people should be doing are fairly dull. So the higher my responsibility became, the duller the work was." Another manager, Arno Penzias, Nobel Prize winner in Physics and Director of Research, has a different slant. "The nice thing about each of the administrative jobs that I have had is that the previous occupant retired, so that I was able to redefine the job. In each case I became convinced that I had the best conceivable job, not just in Bell Laboratories but probably in the world of science ••• Each new job turned out to be marvelous."
Some of those interviewed expressed concern that the break-up of AT&T may create more pressure for short term results and less emphasis on basic fundamental research which has a longer term payback. As might be expected, some individuals are mostly concerned with continued funding of personal interests, but others have a general anxiety that the strange magic that makes Bell Labs what it is may not continue. With the freedom at Bell and a Director of Research with an attitude like that expressed by Penzias, one feels that Bell Labs will continue to do very well in the future.
This gives some of the flavor of the book, good science and technology laced with interesting personal anecdotes. In many ways, these scientists and engineers come across like the rest of us. They have a great deal of uncertainty as to the future and are seeking balance and satisfaction in their work. The difference is that much of their work is literally at the frontiers of current science. Bernstein's book not only suggests that this fantastic group of people will continue their balancing act in the future but gives the reader some very positive feelings about what science and technology are creating.
*Chemistry Department
Union County College
Cranford, NJ 07016


07/02/85 to 07/05/85