Review: The big scoreEditorial Review - Kirkus Reviews
Silicon Valley, a crowded corridor of look-alike industrial parks at the foot of California's San Francisco peninsula, is home for many leading suppliers of microcircuits, minicomputers, and allied equipage. Malone, a sometime reporter for the San Jose Mercury, provides a wide-angle overview of this high-tech haven and its denizens, which is entertaining as well as enlightening. The author traces the history of Silicon Valley (which takes its name from the semiconductor material that permitted miniature solid-state designs which obsoleted vacuum tubes) to a decision by two graduates of Stanford University's electrical engineering department--Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard--to set up shop in Palo Alto in the mid-1930s. Before, during, and after WW II, their partnership prospered, attracting other entrepreneurs who made the region a world-class electronics center. Malone punctuates his chronological chronicle with incisive profiles of the area's VIPs--e.g., the Varian brothers (of microwave fame), Nobelist William Shockley (co-inventor of the transistor), Robert Noyce (holder of a basic integrated-circuit patent as well as a founder of Intel Corp., which developed the microprocessor), Charles E. Sporck (savior of National Semiconductor), and Steven P. Jobs (who almost single-handedly created a personal computer market with the Apple line). In the course of his narrative, Malone provides briefings on the fundamentals of semiconductor chips and computer systems that put the fast-moving state of the electronic art into accessible perspective for technical greenhorns. He also covers darker aspects of Silicon Valley's emergence. Cases in point include industrial espionage, the serf-like status of assembly-line personnel, grey markets, and predatory pricing policies that produce cyclical busts as well as booms, plus conspicuous consumption, drug abuse, and an atypically high divorce rate among upwardly mobile engineers in constant pursuit of a fast buck. Not always a pretty story, then, but one well told by a knowledgeable observer who has looked into the future and wonders whether it works.