THE NEW ALCHEMISTS: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution by Dirk Hanson

THE NEW ALCHEMISTS: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution

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The titular comparison of microelectronics to alchemy is a clinker. The first three, pre-Edison-to-computers-to-transistors chapters read like a crude pop survey: a mix of historical ""color,"" criss-cross themes (one, the Edison-Westinghouse rivalry, is meant to foreshadow Silicon Valley), and overelaborate, unhelpful explanations. But with the start of semi-conductor manufacturing in California's Santa Clara Valley in the mid-1950s, Hanson settles into a relatively straightforward, coherent account of developments there. Partly this is orthodox business history: Fairchild's start-up (by seven ""Shockley dissidents""); the Fairchild-Texas Instruments rivalry over integrated circuits; late-'60s Fairchild spinoffs (easily capitalized: ""major semiconductor innovations had a way of stemming from the newer, smaller companies""); the rise of Intel--and the advent of the integrated circuit. Betimes, it touts the marvels of microelectronics. Less routinely, Hanson discusses technical problems special to miniaturization; the Silicon Valley ""corporate style"" (more traditional than you might think); and, of late, the foreign competition. Even: ""the threat of industrial espionage."" Nothing sensational emerges, but the hows-and-whys are pertinent. In subsequent sections: ""the digital watch debacle""; Atari's pace-setting Ping; Apple Computer; the VDT radiation scare. Then, out of Silicon Valley proper, Hanson ranges around from telecommunications to electronic funds transfer to artificial intelligence. Between the inept and the oft-told: a moderately interesting close-up of the Silicon Valley action.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown