My colleague in Rice's history department, Cyrus Mody, has a new book out called Instrumental Community, about the invention and spread of scanned probe microscopy (and microscopists) that's a very interesting read. If you've ever wondered how and why the scanning tunneling microscope and atomic force microscope took off, and why related ideas like the topografiner (pdf) did not, this is the book for you. It also does a great job of giving a sense of the personalities and work environments at places like IBM Zurich, IBM TJ Watson, IBM Almaden, and Bell Labs.
There are a couple of surprising quotes in there. Stan Williams, these days at HP Labs, says that the environment at Bell Labs was so cut-throat that people would sabotage each others' experiments and steal each others' data. Having been a postdoc there, that surprised me greatly, and doesn't gibe with my impressions or stories I'd heard. Any Bell Labs alumni readers out there care to comment?
The book really drives home what has been lost with the drastic decline of long-term industrial R&D in the US. You can see it all happening in slow motion - the constant struggle to explain why these research efforts are not a waste of shareholder resources, as companies become ever more focused on short term profits and stock prices.