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How the World Was One: Beyond the Global…

How the World Was One: Beyond the Global Village (1992)

by Arthur C. Clarke

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Arthur C. Clarke

How the World Was One:
Beyond the Global Village

Gollancz, Hardback, 1992.

8vo. 289 pp. Foreword by the author [pp. 9-13]. References and Acknowledgements, Appendices, and Index [pp. 265-280].

First published, 1992.



I. Wiring the Abyss
1. Introduction [1974]
2. The Coming of the Telegraph [1974]
3. Channel Crossing [1974]
4. A Great American [1974]
5. Lord of Science [1974]
6. False Start [1974]
7. Triumph and Disaster [1974]
8. Post-mortem [1974]
9. The Brink of Success [1974]
10. Heart's Content [1974]
11. Battle on the Sea-Bed [1974]
12. Girdle round the Earth [1974]
13. The Deserts of the Deep [1974]
14. The Cable's Core [1974]

II. Voice Across the Sea
15. The Wires Begin to Speak [1974]
16. The Man before Einstein [1974]
17. Mirror in the Sky [1974]
18. Transatlantic Telephone [1974]
19. The Dream Factory [1974]
20. 'Wireless'
21. Exploring the Spectrum
22. Beyond the Ionosphere

III. A Brief Prehistory of Comsats
23. In the Hall of the Knights [1984; Ascent to Orbit, 1984.]
24. 'You're on the Glide Path – I Think' [1949; Ascent to Orbit, 1984.]
25. 'How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time'
26. 'If you gotta message ...' [1957]**
27. The Making of a Moon
28. I Remember Babylon [1960]**

IV. Starry Messengers
29. Echo and Telstar
30. Syncom
31. Early Bird
32. The United States of Earth [1971; The View From Serendip, 1977]
33. Satellites and Saris [1971; The View From Serendip, 1977.]
34. At the UN [1983; 1984: Spring – A Choice of Futures, 1984.]
35. Coop's Troop
36. Appointment in the Vatican [1984, Rome, Pontifical Academy of Science]
37. Happy Birthday, COMSAT! [1988]
38. The Clarke Awards
39. CNN Live
40. Peacesat [1986, New Delhi, Nehru Memorial Address]

V. Let There Be Light!
41. Cable Comeback [1974]
42. Talking with Light
43. As Far as Eye Can See

References and Acknowledgements

The Space-Station: Its Radio Applications [1945; Ascent to Orbit, 1984.]
Extra-Terrestrial Relays [1945; Voices from the Sky, 1965.]


*In square brackets: year of first publication in magazine or year when the piece was given as an address, lecture, etc.; where it is collected in book form. When no year is given, the piece was written especially for this volume. If only a year is given, this is its first appearance in a book by Clarke, although it may have been delivered publicly or published years before. All parts dated "1974" are chapters reprinted, with minor corrections, from Voice Across the Sea, Revised Edition, William Luscombe, 1974.

**These are short stories. "I Remember Babylon" is in the collection Tales of Ten Worlds (1962). "If You Gotta Message..." reprints two very short pieces, "Special Delivery" and "The Freedom of Universe", from the cycle of six stories "The Other Side of the Sky", reprinted in the eponymous collection (1958).


Arthur Clarke must have been a happy man. He adored space exploration and global communications, and he was lucky to live in times when these manifestations of the indomitable human spirit were transformed out of recognition. This book is his magnum opus on communications, the summing-up of his lifelong interest in the field. Seen in this light, the volume is more than worthy of standing besides Arthur’s magnum opera on space exploration (The Promise of Space, 1968; rev. post-Apollo 11) and technological speculation (Profiles of the Future , 1962; rev. Millennium Edition, 1999). Together with several of his collections with essays, for example Voices from the Sky (1965), Report on Planet Three (1972) and 1984: Spring – A Choice of Futures (1984), these three books form a substantial body of non-fiction which is unaccountably neglected even by people who enjoy Clarke’s novels and short stories.

As I have tried to indicate above, the origins of this book are complicated. Mostly, however, it consists of previously published material that had appeared in no fewer than seven books (including two short story collections) by the same author. In many cases, however, Arthur added new prefatory, concluding and footnotes of more than passing interest for the Clarkian student. Some of them refer to contemporary events like the Gulf War, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I found the reference to Gandhi particularly poignant. Having quoted an impromptu speech by the Indian Prime Minister – “despite my embarrassment at his excessively complimentary remarks” – which was delivered after his own address, Arthur continues:

The next morning, hearing that I wished to see the Taj Mahal but could not face the long and dusty round trip in the short time I had left, Sri Gandhi very kindly detained two senior Air India pilots to fly me to Agra in his personal aeroplane. The long walk through the magnificent gardens was tiring but exhilarating; the Taj is one of those wonders, like the Grand Canyon, which fully lives up to its advance billing.

As it turned out, owing to medical problems my slow amble through the Taj gardens was the last walk of any distance I ever expect to make. I can imagine no better finale to my career as a pedestrian, and I shall always be grateful to Rajiv Gandhi for his kind gesture, when he had the cares of a continent upon his shoulders.

There is a good deal of repetition, sometimes verbatim, but it’s always of things worth repeating. The editing is often subtle and it would be tedious – and what’s worse, pointless – to try to disentangle old from new material. For instance, most of the chapters from Voice Across the Sea are straight reprints but for an occasional footnote, yet the introduction and “Cable Comeback” show substantial revisions, while Chapter 18 is a summary of five original chapters. “How I Lost a Billion Dollars in My Spare Time” is similar to the piece of the same name from Voices from the Sky, but it contains enough differences to be considered as an independent piece. “I Remember Babylon” is exactly the same as in the short story collection, but the extensive postscript was certainly written for this book; it is an amusing example of fact catching up with fiction.

The Foreword and the three chapters on the early history of the radio (20–22) are entirely new and, short though they are, contain some fascinating family background. The Clarkes of Minehead, Somerset, England, were one of the few families affluent enough to afford a “wireless set” in the late 1920s. Unforgettable is Arthur’s description of this monstrous concoction of “dully glowing glass tubes”, three separate types of battery, ebonite and earphones. Oddly enough, the thing was extremely simple – and it worked. Arthur quickly became a “ham”, as the amateur radio operators were called in the 1930s, but he also had a family excuse to enter the profession. His father was a GPO (General Post Office) engineer. His mother was a telegraph operator; she could still read and send in rapid Morse code well into her old age. No wonder Arthur became a comsat nut with a background like this.

Another highlight of the new material is “Talking with Light”, the chapter on fibre optics. This revolutionary method of “optronics”, the principle of which I would not even pretend to understand, was a quantum leap in cable communications. In other words, cables were back with a vengeance; they had never been out of business, but now they could put a really stiff competition to satellites. The 4,200 circuits of TAT-7 (1983), the “last cable based on the old electronic technology of copper and transistors”, look positively miserable compared to TAT-8 (1988), the first cable to consist of glass and light. This magical device could carry 40,000 (!) conversations at the same time between Europe and the US – more than 1,000 times the capacity of “that ancient artefact, TAT-1”, the first transatlantic telephone cable (1956). Just two years later, TAT-9 doubled the capacity of its predecessor between Canada, the US, France and the UK. If you find this hard to believe, consider the following:

Perhaps the most dramatic – maybe the only! – way of appreciating the information-carrying power of such a cable is to realise that it could transmit the contents of the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica across the Atlantic in a single second. For once, the cliché ‘mind-boggling’ is fully justified; one cannot help wondering what the old-time telegraph operators would have thought of this feat, as they struggled to send their handfuls of words per minute.

If this book has any defect, it lies in the illustrations. There are only eight pages of them, quite insufficient to cover the scope of the volume. Still, eight pages are much better than no pages at all. Fibre optics steal the show here, too. One photo demonstrates the thinness of the glass fibres, easily passing through the eye of a needle, another one shows a lady with a big coil of the new cable around her neck posing cheerfully before the old copper co-axial monster coiled on a reel twice taller than her. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Apr 23, 2016 |
I picked this up after reading "Mother Earth Mother Board" by Neal Stephenson. The first two parts were very interesting overviews of telegraph and radio development and the cast of characters involved. The latter three portions were mostly excerpts of speeches Stephenson gave and some general fiction he wrote. Overall an interesting book with lots of predictions that turned out to be quite accurate. ( )
  pbirch01 | Jun 1, 2013 |
Anyone with a passing interest in communications (electronic or otherwise) should read this book. Although it's a little dated when talking about 'now' and 'the future', it's a well paced description of the evolution of telecommunications including (but not limited) technical and business difficulties encountered along the way. Well worth the read so one does not repeat the mistakes of the past. In fact, I'd go as far to say this is the 'last' book on telecommunications published before fully commercial internet arrived, and as such is near essential reading for any businesses or technicians looking to upgrade infrastructure from 19th or 20th century tech for the 21st. ( )
  bleeter | Nov 19, 2010 |
There is really some fascinating history here. I wonder what he would have thought of twitter.
  dreams_ark | Oct 15, 2009 |
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