The Atlantic Cable, one of the great engineering feats of the Victorian era, is often thought of as an American project. While it's true that the impetus came from New York merchant Cyrus Field, and Field remained a constant force behind the cable for the 12 years it took for it to succeed, the engineering, manufacture, and laying of the cable were, for the most part, conducted by British companies. It's curious, then, that most histories of the cable have been written by Americans.
Gill Cookson, a British historian and researcher who has previously written articles on submarine telegraphy, as well as the definitive biography of cable engineer Fleeming Jenkin, is well-qualified to redress this balance with her new book, The Cable. Published in time for the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the project, The Cable tells the story of the Atlantic Cable, from the first vague proposals in the 1840s, through the pioneering days of the 1850s, to the eventual success of the 1860s. Written for a general audience, the book is a lively narrative of the failures and frustrations, the agonizing delays caused by financial, political, and technical problems, and the ultimate success of 1866, establishing the communications link between the Americas and Europe which by gradual evolution became today's fiber optic network circling the world.
As well as being a readable and entertaining history of the events, the book puts into context the development of materials, equipment, and cable-laying technique, the British and American financial and political climates which influenced the laying of the cable, and the persistence of Cyrus Field in seeing the project to its conclusion. With numerous black and white illustrations, and a full-color 32-page section of reproductions of early drawings and photographs of cable manufacture and laying, The Cable is perhaps the best view so far of this "audacious endeavour".