The publisher calls this history of Foveon Inc. a "rollicking narrative." Hardly. Instead, it is a rather disjointed history of the direct image sensor, an analog imaging technology with an uncertain commercial future. In his review of this book, Glenn Reynolds wrote, "The muddled nature of Foveon's story ... led me to wonder why Mr. Gilder chose to build a book around the company." Me, too.
This book suffers greatly from the fact that Foveon's story is so far from finished. While reading the book, I found it hard to tell where all of the action was leading. When I came to the end, I realized that Gilder had led me to nowhere in particular. By all accounts, Foveon's technology can produce great images (like this strawberry), but Gilder's subtitle—"How a Silicon Valley company aims to make all current computers, cameras, and cell phones obsolete"—betrays the real story: for all of the technological brainpower behind Foveon, the company doesn't know what it's doing.
Despite its flaws, Silicon Eye has moments of real interest. Gilder has a flair for writing about technology ("If your brain used metal gates, your head would weigh a ton, need a direct link to the power grid, and still couldn't recognize Grandma's face in a photograph."), and many of the characters are compelling (particularly Misha Mahowald). Moreover, at times Gilder effectively conveys the frustrations of entrepreneurship—fickle business partners, extreme technological hurdles, cautious customers, and demanding investors. And, of course, no business history would be complete without a swipe at business lawyers. Gilder quotes Carver Mead: "The process took six months to close because once you get in the lawyers, they have to add value. They way they add value is to change the deal in such a way that it does not work anymore."
In the end, however, Foveon was not a great choice for a business history. I suspect Gilder chose the company because of his long acquaintance with Carver Mead, but even though that makes writing the story convenient, it does not make reading the story worthwhile. I am a large consumer of business histories, and this one would not come close to cracking my Top 10.