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No wires, and not many explanations...
on 12 March 2006
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.