Idea Makers: Personal Perspectives on the Lives & Ideas of Some Notable People by Stephen Wolfram
IDEA MAKERS is a fun read about many famous figures--many of whom were mathematicians. Some of these figures the author met and know personally, but many of them have been gone for years. The author is clear, right from the start, that this isn't any type of systematic overview of great men of science. And it's certainly not a book on mathematics or physics. Rather, IDEA MAKERS presents his thoughts on people that have caught his interest for many different reasons.
Notice that the subtitle is "Personal Perspectives on the Lives and Ideas of Some Notable People." So, although this book has many discussions on mathematics, it's not so much a science book, as a PEOPLE book.
Dr. Wolfram makes an interesting autobiographical point about his interest: He's not just interested in the science--he's also interested in the people themselves: "There's a stereotype that someone focused on science and technology won't be interested in people. But that's not me. I've always been interested in people." True to this statement, the author gives quite a bit of detail about the person--not just the science, in each of these essays.
The author has also grown in his appreciate of history. Sometimes for selfish reasons, he admits: "What can I learn from historical examples about how things I'm involved with now will work out. How can I use people from the past as models for people I know now. What can I learn for my own life from what these people did in their lives?"
The author offers some unique insights on the subjects of this book. On Steve Jobs, Wolfram suggests Jobs was exceptional for his "clarify of thought. Over and over again, he took complex situations, understood their essence, and used that understanding to make a bold definitive move, often in a completely unexpected direction."
Wow--I would never have associated "clarify of thought" with Steve Jobs, but I appreciate the author's perspective on this.
In many of the essays, the author makes a connection to his famous product, Mathematica. For example, when discussing Steve Jobs, Dr. Wolfram mentions how Jobs packaged up Mathematica in the cutting edge "NeXT" computer system. (I think we readers may forgive the author for frequently mentioning his brainchild.)
In IDEA MAKERS, I also stumbled across some interesting facts. I had no idea, for example that "Boolean Logic" originated with George Boole. Dr. Wolfram points out that Boole made the formal connection between mathematics and logic.
So all in all, I found IDEA MAKERS to be an interesting, pleasant read. Not all the essays are equally interesting--I found those on recent figures more captivating than those on older figures. I suspect that many readers will jump on the Jobs essay first. Dr. Wolfram writes clearly in each essay, giving the reader a little taste of the greatness of these towering figures. Given his expertise in physics and mathematics the author offers both a wide and deep perspective to the discussion.