How the World's Best Companies Are Using Their Research Labs to Win the Future
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Technology maven Buderi (The Invention That Changed the World, 1996) tips his reporter's fedora to the corporate laboratories that promise increasingly better living through the wonders of science. His descriptions of futuristic gee-whiz projects are enough to make next year's sci-fi look unimaginative and old-hat.

Research and development are badges of major corporate powers, but R&D is, by nature, an ambivalent enterprise. Corporate bigwigs often alternate like semiconductors between pure science and business application. Buderi emphasizes basic research, not product development, as the important part of the equation, and he maintains that (despite downsizing, and after the flush years of the Cold War) industrial innovation now in vigorous health (albeit with less interest in innovation for which there is no foreseeable commercial future). To demonstrate, he provides enticing histories and current sketches of the research operations of several corporate models from Princeton to Palo Alto to Munich to Tokyo. We visit the historic General Electric and Bell Labs (now Lucent Technologies), as well as Siemens and NEC (rehabilitated from their unfortunate WWII alliances and cited as prime employers of productive corporate research). Then there's Xerox, IBM, DuPont, Microsoft, Intel, and Hewlett Packard. The story of technology transfer is traced from the aniline dyestuffs and aspirin of 19th-century Germany to tomorrow's high-temperature superconductivity, intruder detecting paint, and atom-sized computers. From Edison at Menlo Park and Steinmetz at GE to Penzias at Bell Labs and Myhrvold at Microsoft, the story is much more than new widgets and improved gimmicks being developed by commercial wizards working three shifts around the clock and spending shareholders' billions. Buderi's research included interviews with some 375 individuals worldwide and the result is extensive and largely laudatory. He likes what he saw and what he heard.

The history and theory and practice of the business of science in business are presented in some detail. The lab coats beat the suits every time.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-83900-8
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000


NonfictionTHE IDEA FACTORY by Jon Gertner
by Jon Gertner