Endless Frontier:

Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century

by G. Pascal Zachary

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 faciliator; 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 legacy -- and by no means an ignoble one.

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