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Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century / Edition 1

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Overview

As a young professor at MIT in the 1920s, Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) did seminal work on analog computing and was a cofounder of Raytheon, whose initial success was based on long-lasting radio tubes. But he is best known for his role in Washington during World War II: as President Roosevelt's advisor, he organized the Manhattan Project and oversaw the work of 6,000 civilian scientists designing new weapons. His 1945 report "Science — The Endless Frontier" spurred the creation of a system of public support for university research that endures to this day.Although he helped to give rise to the military-industrial complex, Bush was a skeptical observer of the interplay between science and politics. He warned against the dangers of an arms race and led a failed effort to halt testing of the hydrogen bomb. This balanced and gracefully written biography brings to life an American original and his times.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Deeply informed and insightful, Zachary has thoroughly captured the spirit of Bush and his times.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of the technocrats who shaped America's development into a world power, Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) oversaw the Manhattan Project. A mathematician and an electrical engineer, Bush became a professor at MIT in 1919 and within a decade was at the cutting edge of the calculator technology that generated the computer revolution. In 1940, FDR appointed Bush chair of the newly organized National Defense Research Council. His role there was not as an inventor but as a facilitator: while organizing the atomic-bomb project, he also coordinated other complex wartime interactions among military, political and scientific communities that had no paradigm for working together. Zachary, a Wall Street Journal reporter with an extensive background in information technology, convincingly and sympathetically depicts his protagonist as an archetype of the engineer as "public polymath," the central figure of a now postmodern nation. Bush was a man of action. Like many others of his generation, he distrusted participatory democracy, preferring an elitist model of decision-making. His insider's objections to a Cold War America dominated by large hierarchical institutions are clearly presented in this carefully researched biography, The conviction that humanity is not doomed to repeat its behaviors is Vannevar Bush's most important legacyand by no means an ignoble one. (Sept.)
Library Journal
FDR's director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, a gifted mathematician and engineer, a prophet of the Manhattan Project and the Internet, a founder of the Raytheon Company, soul of the modern organization manVannevar Bush firmly established and maintained the seminal linchpin between the resources of the civilian scientific community and the needs of an ever-hungry military backed by the largesse of the federal government. Zachary, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, labors extensively to reconstruct the prodigious life of this "patron saint of American science, `one of the most important men in America,'" in light of the puzzling truth that his subject is virtually forgotten today. Cloyingly praiseful, Zachary uses extensive detail to create an apotheosis of a hero who brought science and the centralized organization to bear on winning the war and establishing the modern public-private partnership. With over 70 pages of end notes, bibliography, abbreviations, and index; recommended for academic and large public libraries.Robert C. Ballou, Atlanta
Harvey Brooks
G. Pascal Zachary has written the first definitive and scholarly biography of Bush(1890-1974)... The work is extraordinarily well documented, with 73 pages of notes and a seven-page list of books and other sources.
Nature
Kirkus Reviews
Disproving Vannevar Bush's claim that any biography of him would be terrible, Zachary (Show-Stopper!, 1994), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, deftly follows the life and career of the single most important scientist working for the US during WW II.

Zachary relies heavily on Bush's writings as well as on interviews with coworkers and family to construct a portrait of the genius who helped create the military-industrial complex when he served as director of the Office of Scientific research and Development during the war. From Tufts University, where as a student Bush registered his first patent, to Los Alamos and the explosion of the first atomic bomb—a project with which he was intimately involved—Zachary offers a vivid portrait of his subject, warts and all. Given that Bush was arrogantly technocratic (he even questioned whether a postWW II America could still function as a democracy), Zachary wisely takes a coldly objective point of view. This is not to say that Zachary's portrait of Bush dehumanizes the man. Such details as his apparently chronic nightmares as a result of having engineered the carpet bombings of Germany and Japan, his struggles with failing health and loneliness late in life, and his growing belief that the Allies had won the war but lost the peace, are all noted here. Clearly, Zachary sees Bush's defense of Robert Oppenheimer during the McCarthy-era investigation of the Manhattan Project's principal scientist as his most noble moment. Even under the liberal administrations of Kennedy and Johnson, Bush was revered as an American institution but kept at a safe distance from the White House in a not-always- successful attempt to avoid the controversy that inevitably followed the iconoclastic scientist. Of particular interest to today's technocrat will be Zachary's discussion of how Bush's memex and rapid selector inventions prefigured today's Internet.

Bush remains, as this biography demonstrates, a complex, deeply controversial, and profoundly influential figure.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262740227
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 6/11/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 528
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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