A prodigiously researched biography of Vannevar Bush, one of America’s most awe-inspiring polymaths and the secret force behind the biggest technological breakthroughs of the twentieth century.
As the inventor and public entrepreneur who launched the Manhattan Project, helped to create the military-industrial complex, conceived a permanent system of government support for science and engineering, and anticipated both the personal computer and the Internet, Vannevar Bush is the twentieth century’s Ben Franklin.
In this engaging look at one of America’s most awe-inspiring polymaths, writer G. Pascal Zachary brings to life an American original—a man of his time, ours, and beyond. Zachary details how Bush cofounded Raytheon and helped build one of the most powerful early computers in the world at MIT. During World War II, he served as 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. After the war, his attention turned to the future. He wrote essays that anticipated the rise of the Internet and boldly equated national security with research strength, outlining a system of permanent federal funding for university research that endures to this day.
However, Bush’s hopeful vision of science and technology was leavened by an understanding of the darker possibilities. While cheering after witnessing the Trinity atomic test, he warned against the perils of a nuclear arms race. He led a secret appeal to convince President Truman not to test the Hydrogen Bomb and campaigned against the Red Scare.
Elegantly and expertly relayed by Zachary, Vannevar’s story is a grand tour of the digital leviathan we know as the modern American life.
G. Pascal Zachary is a professor of practice at Arizona State University, where he teaches on the history and future of innovation, technological change and science in society. Endless Frontier won the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ first literary award. He is also the author of Showstopper, on the making of a software program, and The Diversity Advantage: Multicultural Identity in the New World Economy.