Five decades ago, Gordon Moore, who would go on to co-found Intel Corporation, made a prescient observation about the exponential advancement of semiconductor technology with a corresponding decrease in device cost. His prediction about the pace of doubling the number of transistors in an integrated circuit came to be known eponymously as Moore’s Law and has held true for 50 years. He also foresaw, way back in 1965, the development of home computers, electronic controls in automobiles, portable communications systems, and electronic wristwatches. Moore’s fascinating life, characterized by relentless innovation, charity, and breathtaking humility, is the subject of this comprehensive authorized biography. The enthralling narrative is the product of collaboration between an academic (Thackray), a technology historian (Brock), and a journalist (Jones), and draws its material from numerous interviews, Moore’s meticulously maintained notes and professional records, personal papers, industry data, published volumes, and news accounts.
The book has 11 chapters sandwiched between a prelude that offers a peek at Moore’s brilliance and a coda. The narrative begins with the westward migration of Moore’s great grandfather from Missouri to California in the mid-19th century just before the Gold Rush, the pioneer life of Moore’s ancestors, and the birth of Gordon Moore at the start of the Great Depression (chapter 1). The text breezes through Moore’s boyhood and early interest in chemicals and explosives (chapter 2), the very practical courtship of Gordon Moore and Betty Whitaker, and the young couple’s life while Moore pursued chemistry at the University of California–Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology (chapter 3). Later chapters cover Moore’s recruitment by William Shockley and the subsequent departure of Moore, Robert Noyce, and six others—the Traitorous Eight—to form Fairchild Semiconductor (chapter 4); the development of the planar transistor at Fairchild (chapter 5); the publication of Moore’s prediction for silicon transistors (chapter 6); the departure of Moore and Noyce from Fairchild to co-found Intel (chapter 7); revolutionary engineering at Intel that led to widespread adoption of microprocessors, the commitment to innovation that increased complexity while driving down cost, brutal competition from Japanese manufacturers, and the emergence of the Microsoft Windows and Intel (Wintel) monopoly (chapters 8–10). The book ends with a discussion of Moore’s gradual transition to retirement and his emergence as one of the greatest philanthropists in American history (chapter 11), and an assessment of his legacy (coda).
The authors do a masterful job of treating the chemistry, materials science, and engineering of device fabrication at just the right level of detail to make the story captivating. They elegantly explain the complex processes involved in crystal growth, wafering, dopant diffusion, etching, metallization, packaging, and testing using language that makes semiconductor technology accessible to the general public. It is clear that Moore’s inspiration and guidance were vital to the perfection of silicon planar transistor technology, development of the silicon-gate metal oxide semiconductor memory chip (Intel 1101), and the dawn of the modern computing era starting with the iconic Intel 4004 microprocessor in 1971. Technology, history, economics, and human conflicts come together seamlessly. Historical events, such as the launch of Sputnik, the campus unrest of the 1960s and 1970s, the oil embargo, and the rise of Apple and Microsoft, take place in the background as the saga of Gordon Moore unfolds.
The authors begin the discussion of Moore’s legacy by pointing to his success as a family man. Much of the credit for his stable and committed family life should go to Betty Moore, who has toiled in the shadows over six decades, shielded the conflict-averse Moore from domestic confrontations, and exerted considerable influence on his philanthropy. The portrait of Gordon and Betty Moore’s humility, frugality, and decency painted by the authors is just as absorbing as the discussion of Moore’s technological wizardry. Moore comes through as an unassuming genius, like Paul Allen and Steve Wozniak, who partnered with a flamboyant leader to co-found a major American technology company and influence the lives of people all across the globe.
Reviewer: Ram Devanathanis Technical Group Manager of Reactor Materials and Mechanical Design, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA.