Reviews: May/June 2018

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Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age
Leslie Berlin ’91
Simon & Schuster, $30
Reviewed by Alex Beam ’75

Alex Beam ’75 is author of The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship.

You may have read some of the superb journalism written about the rise of Silicon Valley—by authors such as Steven Levy, Katie Hafner, and others who furnished the first rough draft of the computer industry’s history. Now Leslie Berlin ’91, project historian for Stanford University’s Silicon Valley Archives, has written one of the first genuine histories of this dramatic tale. With panache and authority, Berlin explains how Americans invented five major industries—biotech, advanced semiconductor logic, venture capital, video games, and personal computing—in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

By 1971, the San Francisco peninsula was known as Silicon Valley. America’s computer chip makers, such as Fairchild Semiconductor and Advanced Micro Devices, planted roots there; Berlin demonstrates that almost all of the tech upstarts that followed sprang from the fertile ground prepared by the previous-generation innovators. Also essential to the entrepreneurial explosion were Stanford and the University of California, which each year graduated hundreds of counterculturally inclined engineers who landed their first jobs at the cool new tech companies. Genentech, America’s first and arguably most successful biotech company, was founded on patents belonging to Stanford and UC.

Berlin embodies the best of two literary genres. She writes real history, fluidly, with footnotes and all the attendant paraphernalia. But she also trains a connoisseur’s eye on enlivening details. She quotes verbatim, for instance, Step Two of the first Apple I computer operating manual: “Type- 0 :A9 b 0 b AA b 20 b EF b EF b FF b E8 b 8A b 4C b 2 B ) (RET).” Yikes! Eye-openers like that make Troublemakers a book that is both fun and informative to read.

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