Susan Potter
reviews: Created / Updated

Chip War: The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology

A fascinating albeit US-centric perspective that weaves together the geopolitical and economic stories of the "chip" so far

Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology

This tome proved to be a riveting journey into the depths of a subject one might deem devoid of intrigue. Like the towering edifices of modern computing dominance, it commenced with a reflection on the era that birthed its power—World War II and the aftermatch which triggered the celestial race that ignited the flames of chip advancement where Moore’s Law etches its indelible mark, leaving would-be usurpers languishing in the shadows of competition.

In the genesis, it was NASA that birthed the economic impetus, their coffers entwined with the future of rocketry, powered by the very chips that bequeathed greater precision to their celestial pursuits. The mantle of the chip race then shifted to the hallowed halls of the US Department of Defense, where visionaries like Under Secretary of Defense for Research, William Perry, grappled with the intricate tapestry of computer chip applications.

Yet, the siren call of global demand birthed an intricate labyrinth of supply chains, where the demise of chip companies danced with their acquisitions, migrations, and the rise of new contenders who reveled in the allure of cheaper production markets. Even as the monarchs of chip design held court within the borders of the United States, Japanese behemoths—Sony, Toshiba, Hitachi, and NEC—reigned supreme over chip production in the 1980s, their dominion echoed by the Republic of Korea in close pursuit. Assembled plants sprouted like enchanted flora across the landscapes of Southeast Asia.

Alas, one must lament the book’s failure to bestow upon the ARM saga the lavish tapestry it so ardently deserved. Its lack lustre coverage, akin to an unfinished symphony, left a yearning void in the narrative, a missed opportunity to celebrate the triumphs that unfurled beyond the shores of the United States.

Within the book’s expanse, the contours of a China-US cold war mental model took shape—an intellectual construct both intriguing and fraught with plausibility. As with all mental models, it is best to weave multiple conflicting models together into a rich tapestry of understanding along with the disjointed incoherence that usually results.

Note: I bought the hardcover so I cannot review the audiobook or Kindle ebook quality.

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