The Idea Factory

Presented in the form of a diary, this book spans the years 1981 to 1984—the time author Pepper White spent earning his master’s degree among the intellectual elite at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Punctuated with difficult problem sets, White’s vivid day-by-day account is an intellectual odyssey. He presents the student’s life at MIT as a constant struggle that many will not survive—some will be forced to drop out, while others go to extremes and attempt suicide. Yet those who do survive, such as White, will have indeed learned how to think and to solve problems, hence the title—THE IDEA FACTORY: LEARNING TO THINK AT MIT.

White begins with his acceptance to the school (which was not without its problems) and proceeds to describe his oftentimes grueling routine, leading to the eventual completion of his degree and graduation to a prestigious job in the “real” world. Throughout, he communicates the joy he felt when he succeeded and his distress at his failures; he contrasts the school’s excellent academic reputation with its apparent indifference toward the individual student; and he delineates personal relationships, including the death of a friend.

White’s success in this work lies largely in his informal and personable narrative, which encourages the reader to identify with and root for the protagonist. The book should prove to be a comprehensible and engrossing work to the reader, in spite of the mathematics.