In The Cryotron Files, Iain Dey and Douglas Buck tell the story of a little-known invention called the cryotron—a liquid-helium-cooled superconducting competitor to the transistor that was, for a time, the front-running technology in the quest to build the fastest, smallest computers. Their interesting book weaves together the biography of the cryotron’s inventor, Dudley Buck of MIT (the father of one of the book’s authors), with a history of key aspects of Cold War defense programs ... The book is marred by the authors’ tendency toward breathless overstatement in their effort to give Dudley Buck what they think is his rightful place in history. And at times they dramatize their work by pushing the reader to view events as connected that could just as easily be coincidences. Despite such matters, however, The Cryotron Files sheds warmth on an unappreciated bit of low-temperature Cold War technological history.
This fascinating, if at times overly speculative, biography of Dudley Buck from Dey, business editor for the Sunday Times, and Buck, the subject’s son, marks the first biography of this undeservedly obscure computing pioneer. Their detailed account depicts a man whose interest in how things work dated to childhood ... The book overreaches in its final chapter by theorizing that Buck’s sudden, unexplained death in 1959 at the age of 32 was actually a KGB hit. Since no autopsy was ever performed, such a hypothesis is unfounded by facts. But even without a dramatic Cold War coda to Buck’s life, the authors more than make their case for the significance of his contributions to current technological breakthroughs.
This is a fascinating, informative...book. It is concerned with the life of Dudley Buck, a pioneer in the field of computing, whose genius brought him to the attention of the National Security Agency. It is, in some ways, a dark mirror to Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty, dealing with how the other superpower was advancing in terms of technology during the Cold War. But it also has a hook ... This is a timely book given how big-tech and politics are ever more intersected. A largely forgotten figure seems to have been a prophet of how computing, intelligence (both personal and the dark glasses kind), threat and innovation might coalesce. Lucidly written, and obviously researched with care as well as persistence, it is a model for how popular science books can be influential.