Shurkin, Joel N. 1938–

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Shurkin, Joel N. 1938–


Born June 12, 1938, in Orange, NJ; son of Bernard and Selma Shurkin; married Lorna Greene (a writer), July 4, 1966 (divorced); children: Jonathan G., Michael R. Education: Emory University, B.A., 1960; Temple University, graduate study, 1960-62. Religion: Jewish.


Home—Baltimore, MD. E-mail—[email protected]


Newark Star-Ledger, Newark, NJ, reporter, 1962-63; United Press International, reporter, 1963-68; Reuters, New York, NY, reporter, 1968-71; Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, science writer, 1971-79; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, instructor in communications, 1980-84, science writer emeritus, Stanford News Service, 1980-93; Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, senior editor, HopkinsHealth, 2000-03; National Center on the Psychology of Terrorism, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, media representative and senior fellow, ca. 2003—. Visiting lecturer in journalism, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1984, 1986; lecturer, University of California, Berkeley, 1985; science specialist, KRON-TV, San Francisco, CA, 1984. Consultant to Oracle Corp., Evans & Sutherland Computer Corp., American Heart Association, and Whitaker Foundation.


Authors Guild, National Association of Science Writers.


Aviation-Space Writers Award, 1974 and 1976; shared Pulitzer Prize, 1979, for coverage of Three Mile Island nuclear-plant accident; best children's science book award, National Association of Science Teachers, 1979; Knight Fellowship, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1979-80; Drexel Fellow, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, 1984.


Update, Report on Planet Earth (nonfiction), Westminister Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1976.

(With Desmond Ryan) The Helix (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 1978.

Jupiter: The Star that Failed (nonfiction), Westminster Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1979.

Invisible Fire: The Story of Mankind's Victory over the Ancient Scourge of Smallpox (nonfiction), Putnam (New York, NY), 1979.

Engines of the Mind: A History of the Computer (nonfiction), Norton (New York, NY), 1984, updated paperback edition published as Engines of the Mind: The Evolution of the Computer from Mainframes to Microprocessors, 1996.

(With Thomas A. Raffin and Wharton Sinkler III) Intensive Care: Facing the Critical Choices (nonfiction), Freeman (New York, NY), 1989.

Terman's Kids: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up (nonfiction), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.

(With Larry E. Beutler and Bruce Bongar) Am I Crazy, or Is It My Shrink? (nonfiction), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(With Larry E. Beutler and Bruce Bongar) A Consumer's Guide to Psychotherapy (nonfiction), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age (nonfiction), Macmillan (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of blogs Cabbages and Kings and Yussel. Editor of Public Broadcasting Service Web site on the history of transistors. Contributor to periodicals, including California Lawyer, Macintosh Business Review, Nature, Stanford magazine, and Technology Review.


Science writer Joel N. Shurkin's Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age is a biography of the pioneering scientist who helped develop the transistor and laid the foundations for the computer industry of Silcon Valley—then fell from favor because of his view that blacks are genetically inferior to whites.

Based partly on Shockley's extensive archives, the biography chronicles achievements that began at Bell Labs, where he and two colleagues created the first transistor in the 1940s. According to Shurkin, Shockley tried to take sole credit, but eventually all three won a Nobel Prize for their work. Shockley followed up with a more practical transistor in 1951, then established his own transistor business in the Northern California region that would become known as Silicon Valley. Shockley was a difficult boss, and the company failed, but many of his employees subsequently distinguished themselves at other technology companies. Shockley went on to a professorship at Stanford University and delved into theories about the genetic origins of intelligence. In the 1960s and 1970s he shocked the public with his assertions about black inferiority and advocacy of sterilization for people with low IQs. It was this for which Shockley was best remembered when he died in 1989, at age seventy-nine.

Several reviewers thought Shurkin presented a well-researched, readable account of a man who was brilliant and ambitious but also misanthropic and self-destructive. "Shurkin had a dream subject in a man with such strong conflicting characteristics—and he made the most of it," commented Brian Clegg in Popular Science. The book, Clegg continued, will provide readers with "a better idea of where Silicon Valley came from" and "insight into the nature of an important scientist who is almost always described as a caricature." Susan Kruglinski noted in Discover: "Shurkin fills out this portrait of a flawed giant with pathos drawn from Shockley's letters, revealing a man crushed under the weight of his own pathological insecurities." New Statesman critic Marek Kohn, however, thought Shurkin uncovered no "redeeming features" in Shockley, who proves "as detestable as he always appeared."

David C. Brock, writing in Chemical Heritage Newsmagazine, found some errors in Shurkin's descriptions of scientific projects, saying he offers "a satisfying portrait of Shockley the person," but his "treatment of Shockley's technical contributions stands on shakier ground." Clegg, though, deemed this "a minor problem" in "an otherwise great page-turner." Kendrick Frazier, writing in the Skeptical Inquirer, called the book "informed and candid," while Library Journal commentator Gregg Sapp pronounced it "highly recommended."



Chemical Heritage Newsmagazine, summer, 2007, David C. Brock, review of Broken Genius: The Rise and Fall of William Shockley, Creator of the Electronic Age.

Discover, August, 2006, Susan Kruglinski, "Bright Minds, Dark Thoughts: A New Biography Recounts How Silicon Valley Rose in Part from One Scientist's Bitter Descent," p. 66.

HealthFacts, January, 1989, review of Intensive Care: Facing the Critical Choices, p. 4.

Humanist, September 1, 2006, "Wired.," p. 39.

Library Journal, June 15, 2006, Gregg Sapp, review of Broken Genius, p. 101.

New Statesman, July 3, 2006, Marek Kohn, "Sense of Superiority," p. 64.

Publishers Weekly, April 20, 1992, review of Terman's Kids: The Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up, p. 44.

Skeptical Inquirer, September 1, 2006, Kendrick Frazier, review of Broken Genius, p. 59.

Western Journal of Medicine, February, 1990, John H. Holbrook, review of Intensive Care, p. 184.


Popular Science, (April 15, 2008), Brian Clegg, review of Broken Genius.