Superb popular science,
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This review is from: The Victorian Internet (Hardcover)Standage tells the story of the telegraph in this delightful short book. It opens with a chapter on the 'optical telegraph' - the signalling system based on a network of mutually visible towers which flourished particulaly in France. After this, it traces the decisive step made by Morse, Cooke and Wheatstone in harnessing electricity to convey messages. There are fascinating chapters on the sceptics who doubted the value of the new technology; the problems of inter-continental cable laying; alternative messaging techniques such as capsules shot through tubes with compressed air; the use of the electric telegraph by criminals as well as the police; online telegraphic romance; the hopes that instant communication would lead to international conflict resolution; and the growing realisation that in fact it was an invaluable military techonology.
Finally telegraphy is over-taken by telephony, which allows a greater rapidly of communication and requires no intermediaries. The book closes with some thought-provoking remarks as to how new and revolutionary the Internet really is.
Throughout the material is admirably selected and the writing witty and clear. It is also a self-effacing book: as far as could be seen, the word 'I' (in the sense of 'Tom Standage') appears exactly once - in the acknowledgements section. Strongly recommended. His book on planetary discovery (The Neptune File) is also superb.