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The Innovators (Walter Isaacson)

The 2017 Penn Reading Project text is Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. The book was chosen by Penn students, faculty and staff in support of the Year of Innovation. On the afternoon of Friday, August 25, 2017, groups of first-year students and faculty leaders will discuss The Innovators as part of New Student Orientation for the Class of 2021.

The Innovators is a masterly saga of collaborative genius destined to be the standard history of the digital revolution—and an indispensable guide to how innovation really happens. Isaacson begins the adventure with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page. 

What were the talents that allowed certain inventors and entrepreneurs to turn their visionary ideas into disruptive realities? What led to their creative leaps? Why did some succeed and others fail?

This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative. For an era that seeks to foster innovation, creativity, and teamwork, The Innovators is “a sweeping and surprisingly tenderhearted history of the digital age” (The New York Times).

This year’s Project will spotlight innovation in both form and content.  For the first time, the text will be available online, in a format that will allow both students and discussion leaders to annotate and comment, and discussion groups will form over the summer and be able to communicate together before arriving on campus.

Incoming Penn freshmen will automatically be signed up for the Penn Reading Project. Faculty and senior academic staff or cordially invited to take part as discussion leaders on August 25. For more information and to sign up, visit

The Innovators