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Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the 19th Century and the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution Paperback – 1 Sep 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Da Capo Press Ed edition (1 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306813785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306813788
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 2.2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,804,870 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


‘Gavin Weightman brings alive the excitement and uncertainty of the early wireless experiments. His book cannot fail to spark the imagination of anyone wishing to comprehend the magnitude of the revolution brought about by wireless. It is an excellent read' New Scientist
'A fascinating story set in a fascinating period' Sunday Tribune (Dublin)
'Gavin Weightman's impeccably researched book is far more than a fact-led shunt through the Marconi story. His prose shimmers with the kind of romance that, in the mobile phone age, is quite difficult to grasp. But what a lovely story! An unassuming young chap confronts and defies the finest scientific minds in the world. It is pleasing to report that the cinematic aspect of this tale comes gloriously alive within Weightman's evocative, vividly detailed writing. Utterly captivating and, even for techno-dunces like myself, wholly illuminating' Manchester Evening News
'Fascinating…I strongly recommend this book, [and] salute Gavin Weightman for his lucid account of the radio revolution' Trevor Baylis, Daily Mail

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Author

Gavin Weightman is an experienced television documentary-maker (producer/director/writer), journalist and author of many books such as The Making of Modern London: 1815–1914, The Making of Modern London: 1914–1939, London River, Picture Post Britain and Rescue: A History of the British Emergency Services (Boxtree). His first book for HarperCollins, The Frozen Water Trade, was published in February 2002. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is well-paced and easy to read. The fact that it makes no technical demands on the reader is, though, a very definite weakness.
Marconi worked extremely hard throughout his life, though it is never made particularly clear what precisely he was doing. What were the experiments that he was carrying out? What were the components that he was developing and using? What were the universities and other research organisations doing to try and emulate or understand his work?
In the early part of the book, we are told how very slow it was to transmit a single character by wireless telegraphy. Towards the end, Marconi operators - working much quicker than their military and other peers - were transmitting tens of words a minute. So early problems must have been overcome and the technology developed in some key areas. But it is not made clear what precisely those developments were. Nowhere in the book is there a diagram of the components of a Marconi system and the way in which they interacted; nowhere is there even the hint of an explanation of the reason why spark transmitters produced the "Hertzian waves" which are often referred to.
The last twenty years of Marconi's life is covered very quickly. Since the story ends with his death, we are left with a number of unanswered questions. The point is made, for example, that his Italian home - now a museum to his memory, and the place of his burial - has a lump of twisted metal in the garden, all that is left of the steam yacht on which he spent a lot of time in later life, partly because it was equipped as a laboratory. But what did he actually do on the yacht? And what happened to it? As with so many things in the Marconi story, we are left none the wiser.
I do not regret reading this book, for what is here is good. But I was frustrated by the glaring technical and other omissions.
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Format: Hardcover
Thomas Edison, who was a man who was not easily impressed, once quipped about Guglielmo Marconi that he "delivered more than he promised." This statement demonstrates two of Marconi's most significant traits: he was modest and extremely hard working. Marconi was the first to admit that his work was based on both the theories and the inventions of others. He also acknowledged that he didn't understand the reason his own inventions worked. He believed, contrary to many of his contemporaries, that "radio" waves could travel great distances. Many other people thought the waves could not be transmitted to a receiver that was beyond the horizon line...that at longer distances the waves would travel off into outer space. Based on his own, stubborn, personal belief, with no theoretical underpinning, Marconi kept things simple: he built taller transmitters and he kept making them more powerful. His goal was to transmit electrical signals in Morse Code that could be received across the Atlantic Ocean. He eventually succeeded in this, and gained worldwide fame and popularity when wireless telegraphy, after being used by ships in distress at sea, resulted in the saving of many lives. Marconi was also an astute businessman, rather than a starry eyed inventor. (He amassed a very healthy fortune, equal perhaps to $200-$250 million today.) He was an early master of public relations- for example, using wireless to report on important yacht races, which helped to "popularize" the use of wireless (albeit, with people of "quality"...who had money to invest). Mr. Weightman doesn't ignore the less savory aspects of the inventor: Marconi's womanizing and obsession with work resulted in the termination of his first marriage; also, in later life, he got buddy-buddy with Signor Mussolini.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very interesting book. I am particularly interested in Marconi's Bournemouth and Poole connection. Although I have yet to finish it. I would like to point out some errors: Page 178 Brownsea Island is situated within Poole Harbour, not outside it. One of Charles and Florence van Raalte's daughters names was Margherita not Margarite. I appreciate these points might be considered by some to be trivial, but as an historian I feel it then throws doubt as to the accuracy of the sources used.
Geof Curtis
National Trust Brownsea Island Archive Team
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Format: Paperback
As a fully paid-up "grumpy old man" I should not find books as compelling as Signor Marconi's Magic Box. Within a few pages, Weightman immerses us in the fast-moving pace of the true life race for supremacy in wireless telegraphy and radio broadcasting. He skifully interveaves the technical challenges, business intrigue and family demands, which failed to divert Marconi from his single-minded quest to provide a reliable trans-Atlantic service and dominate marine radio. We live the thrills of Queen Victoria sending, perhaps, the first text messages from Osborne House to the Royal Yacht in the Solent, the first messages between England and North America and the untimely death of the Marconis' first child. However, we are not allowed to pause for breath as we travel the roller-coaster of contemporary, historical and competitive infuences on the work of Marconi. And yet, Marconi remained a relatively uneducated enthusiastic amateur, who never really understood why his magic boxes worked. With little time for his wife and family, Marconi still found time for adulation and adultery on opulant trans-Atlantic liners. As ever, Gavin Weightman has researched the subject in depth, whilst generously acknowledging those who have freely provided him with source material. Don't fail to read this gripping story of Marconi, the man who laid the major building blocks for radio broadcasting, reality television and soap operas.
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