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A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story…
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A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable (2003)

by John Steele Gordon

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Recently added bydblang, Steven-Dierks, Janzz, chinmayp, bookem.mobi, private library, ViceCoffee, BJasmine
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  1. 00
    The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough (ABVR)
    ABVR: McCullough's epic narrative history of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge is substantially longer and more detailed Gordon's book but it has a similar core: The story of an unprecedented work of engineering and the visionary mind behind it.
  2. 00
    The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage (ABVR)
    ABVR: Another short (< 250 page), well-written, non-technical history of the telegraph in the 19C. Gordon focuses on one piece of the core infrastructure, Standage on the instrument itself and its social impact.
  3. 00
    The Inventor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball (davesmind)
  4. 01
    Dawn Over Kitty Hawk: The Novel of the Wright Brothers by Walter J. Boyne (OccamsHammer)
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Imagine a world in which news crosses the Atlantic Ocean several weeks after the fact; kings die, wars begin, and nobody knows. The electrical telegraph, invented in the 1830s, began to change this situation, and cables were rapidly strung across continents. A cable was laid across the Rhine in the 1840s, and across the English Channel in the 1850s, but the Atlantic Ocean was dauntingly vast, and it was not at all certain that a cable could be laid, let alone function.

Enter Cyrus Field, New York businessman from a prominent Massachusetts family, who enlisted a who’s who of 19th century technology (e.g. Peter Cooper of Cooper Union, Samuel Morse of Morse Code, William Thomson / Lord Kelvin of thermodynamics) in his mission to link Europe with North America with a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, as well as negotiating with governments and persuading investors. He began with recognition of the shortest path, from Ireland to Newfoundland, and set the stage in 1854 by connecting Newfoundland to Nova Scotia and thus to the mainland, a learning experience. The first effort to cross the Atlantic in 1857 failed, another and very expensive learning experience that dampened enthusiasm for the project. 2000+ miles of cable is heavy; it had to be coiled onto and fed gradually off ships that couldn’t hold the full length, so two sections had to be spliced, and oops, the direction of the twist was not in the specs so two manufacturers made different decisions; it had to be tested continuously for a signal and if the signal ceased then there was no other way for the ships to communicate; if pulled or pushed or turned too sharply it snapped and fell to the bottom and had to be fished out; ships were vulnerable to storms and less able to maneuver when loaded with the heavy and precious cables and machinery; the volume of metal and insulation affected worldwide supplies and prices. Success did occur with the second effort in 1866, but was not at all guaranteed. This is a short book, but engaging and informative and a reminder not to take the modern world for granted.

(read 4 Dec 2013)
2 vote qebo | Dec 21, 2013 |
This is an engaging little book about the construction of the first transatlantic cable. The book skillfully walks the tightrope between too much background so the story gets lost, and not enough so the reader doesn't understand the issues. Readers who find themselves saying, "let's get to the job!" in books about construction of critical historical projects should not have that sense in this book. Nonetheless, the author provides a compelling portrait of the times and of the key personalities involved, so that I never lost interest. There is some glossing over the opposition to this project, but it will serve as a great introduction to this fascinating period in which the world instantaneously got much smaller. ( )
  williwhy | Nov 8, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060524464, Paperback)

Today, in a world in which news flashes around the globe in an instant, time lags are inconceivable. In the mid-nineteenth century, communication between the United States and Europe -- the center of world affairs -- was only as quick as the fastest ship could cross the Atlantic, making the United States isolated and vulnerable.

But in 1866, the Old and New Worlds were united by the successful laying of a cable across the Atlantic. John Steele Gordon's book chronicles this extraordinary achievement -- the brainchild of American businessman Cyrus Field and one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century. An epic struggle, it required a decade of effort, numerous failed attempts, millions of dollars in capital, a near disaster at sea, the overcoming of seemingly insurmountable technological problems, and uncommon physical, financial, and intellectual courage. Bringing to life an overlooked story in the annals of technology, John Steele Gordon sheds fascinating new light on this American saga that literally changed the world.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:39 -0400)

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Story of the laying of a communication cable across the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean & how it changed the Victorian world.

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