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The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books) Hardcover – 2 Nov 2010

5.0 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group; 1 edition (2 Nov. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307269935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269935
  • ASIN: 0307269930
  • Product Dimensions: 16.9 x 3.4 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,340,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A "New Yorker" and "Fortune "Best Book of the Year
"Brilliant."
--"Forbes"
"Thought-provoking. . . . An intellectually ambitious history of modern communications."
--"The New York Times Book Review"
"Fascinating, balanced, and rigorous--a tour de force."
--"The New York Review of Books"
"Entertaining. . . . There's a sharp insight and a surprising fact on nearly every page of Wu's masterful survey."
--"The Boston Globe"
"Unexpectedly fascinating. . . . A substantial and well-written account of the five major communications industries that have shaped the world as we know it: telephony, radio, movies, television and the Internet. . . . The economy and common sense of "The Master Switch" . . . makes it valuable to the non-wonk wondering how we got where we are today, and where we might be headed next."
--"Salon"
"Engaging. . . . Wu presents a powerful case. . . . His scholarly command of the past century of communications innovation is prodigious."
--"The Plain Dealer"
"My pick for economics book of the year."
--Ezra Klein, "The Washington Post"
"An explosive history that makes it clear how the information business became what it is today. Important reading."
--Chris Anderson, author of "The Long Tail "and "Free, "and editor of "Wired "magazine
"A brilliant explanation and history. . . . As fascinating, wide-ranging, and, ultimately, inspiring book about communications policy and the information industries as you could hope to find. . . . Wu is that rare animal, an accomplished scholar who can write about complex ideas in ways that are accessible to all. And the ideas he's covering are as important as any in our ideological marketplace today."
--Cory Doctorow, "Boing Boing"
"Groundbreaking. . . . Offers powerful lessons from the past for the future of the Internet."
--"Nature"
"Original, insightful. . . . Wu provides a compelling reminder of the monopolist instincts of communications and media companies."
--"The Washington Monthly"
"Masterful. . . . Eminently readable. . . . A superstar in the telecommunications world . . . Wu has a way of presenting complex and important concepts in a clear and understandable way."
--Art Brodsky, "The Huffington Post"
"Wu is the rare writer capable of exhuming history and also interpreting current affairs. In this profound and important book, he excels at both."
--"New Scientist"
"Wu's work is a must read for those who want to know about the future of the Internet. "The Master Switch" is brilliant, with a distinctive voice that comes through on every page."
--Josh Silverman, CEO, Skype
"As a history lesson for anyone interested in how innovations move from inventors' garages and laboratories to our living rooms, "The Master Switch" is a good read, but it is its relevance to the evolution of the Internet that makes it an important book."
--"Times Higher Education Supplement"
"Trenchant and provocative. . . . In vivid and often depressing detail, Wu describes how the true inventors and innovators of information technology have been destroyed by their self-aggrandizing counterparts in the executive offices."
--"Toronto Star"
"A free and open Internet is not a given. Indeed, corporate interests are working feverishly to seize control of it. Drawing on history, Wu shows how this could easily happen and why we are at risk of losing the freedom we now take for granted. A must-read for all Americans who want to remain the ones deciding what they can read, watch, and listen to."
--Arianna Huffington
"An ambitious history of the communications industries in the 20th century. . . . [Full of] great stories, and Wu tells them expertly."
--"The Guardian "(London)
""The Master Switch" is a provocative thesis on where the Internet has come from and where it is headed. It will interest technology enthusiasts and all who value a vibrant media market."
--"The Futurist"
"Wu's engaging narrative and remarkable historical detail make this a compelling and galvanizing cry for sanity . . . in the information age."
--"Publishers Weekly" (starred review) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

From the world's preeminent historian of technology comes the story of the battle raging between Apple and Google over the soul of the Internet. With their conflicting vision of information democracy versus corporate autocracy, it is a titanic clash: only one brand will survive, and that brand will shape our future. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you believe that understanding the past is a valuable guide to the future and if you are interested in the future of the media then this book is a "must read." The author, Tim Wu, is a professor at Columbia University and a veteran of Silicon Valley. He looks back at the history of the telephone, radio and television industries in the USA with a lawyer's eye and analyses the way that private enterprise has built powerful monopolies, at times with the assistance of a government, which, in theory at least, was keen to break up such structures.

Wu is the inventor of the term "net neutrality" and the analysis he uses the past to illustrate the possible challenges to the open nature of the Internet in the future. He poses the question is his title "Who will control the Master Switch of the Internet." He explains his notion of "the Cycle" in which information industries begin as the obsession of a lone inventor, are taken up by keen hobbyists and start out as open to all before becoming consolidated. He takes his analogy through telephone, cinema and radio.

He then argues that media end up being controlled by empire builders and closed to innovation. He paints fascinating pictures of the people behind the structures. Theodore Vail who created AT&T, David Sarnoff who built RCA and Adolph Zukor Paramount pictures. But just as interesting are the poignant stories of the inventors and would-be entrepreneurs who were pushed aside. We meet the pioneers of the failed mechanical television, the farmers who started local telephone and cable TV operations, the frustrated inventor of FM radio and more.

It is a very American book - Rupert Murdoch and New Corp get just a few lines and the BBC enjoys only a couple of brief walk-on parts.
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Format: Kindle Edition
If you have even a passing interest in the internet or communications technology in general, this book will provide a fascinating read for you.
The book has a grand theory about the cycle of communications technology, but the mainstay of the work is a revetting history of the subject.
If you have read and enjoyed any of Bill Bryson's work on science and technology then this book will give you more of the same.
It is packed full of the eccentric characters which populate Bryson's work, from visionaries to profiteers, despots to anarchists, all drawn with the same eye for detail and great story telling (although admittedly this book is not intended to be as humorous as Bryson's work).
Even if you are uninterested in the grand theory which this book sets out, then the history of the subject matter makes it a hugely enjoyable and a worthwhile read.
But this book goes beyond a simple history, it introduces a fascinating theory about the cycle of communications technology.
Timothy Wu focuses on disruptive technologies and how throughout modern history, such technologies have either been suppressed or subsumed (eaten up - the Kronos effect) by the owners of existing technology.
From telephone empires to movie studios, the radio network and cable TV this cycle is repeated again and again, and often the vested interests in the old technologies go to quite shocking lengths to destroy, or in some case steal away, the ideas that pose a threat to them.
For example, did you know that Bell Labs invented an answerphone in the 1930s but kept the details secret because the management felt it would be a threat to their phone business? Did you know the inventor / discoverer of FM radio had his technology suppresses by the powerfully radio oligarchy?
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Format: Hardcover
Innovation has been a serial killer in the information industry since the advent of the telephone doomed the telegraph. Great advances in communications technology herald the start of new industries, but the corporate history of such breakthroughs shows a cycle of fragmentation followed by concentration, followed by another breakthrough and another splintered set of small companies chasing that innovation's promise. The Internet may defy this cycle. Whether control of the web will consolidate or remain diffuse remains to be seen. However, historic patterns suggest that today's major Internet companies may become part of larger media empires, thus centralizing control of online content. Columbia University professor Tim Wu offers a rich saga tracing the evolution of telecommunications industries, technology and regulations, and explains what these patterns portend. He says policy makers must limit corporate control of the web because open online information now is essential to society. getAbstract recommends Wu's book to readers interested in the future of the information industry and its centerpiece, the Internet.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Subtitled 'The Rise and Fall of Information Empires' Tim Wu's book is a tour de force history of the four great information technologies of the 20th Century - the telephone, radio/television, movies, and the internet. The book is both a history and an analysis of these industries. The lessons we can draw from the stories he tells have serious implications for the current struggle over what is now known as 'net neutrality.

The individual stories of the technologies themselves are interesting enough in their own right, but what is striking is the common themes of the histories of the telephone, radio and movies. In each case as the new disruptive technologies came into existence and there was a period of free for all, anarchy if you like, in which innovators thrived, anyone could join in, and the cost of entry was minimal.

Then came a period of consolidation, often assisted by government desire to regulate and consolidate. Politicians are notoriously wary of their constituents doing this for themselves, while the bureaucrats who run the regulatory bodies always push for consolidation. After all it's a lot easier to talk to, and come to agreement with, a few large bodies that have a similar culture, than hundreds of small organization filled with fractious non-conformists!

And of course, once you have a monopoly or semi-monopoly situation, it becomes easier to suppress new, disruptive, innovations - the suppression of FM radio in the early 30s by RCA being a classic case. In other cases the leadership of the monopoly involved simply could not conceive of any way of working other than the one currently in use. Thus the officials at AT&T thought the concept of packet switched networks (the basis of the internet) was "preposterous".
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