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The Victorian Internet

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  1,549 ratings  ·  196 reviews
For centuries people communicated across distances only as quickly as the fastest ship or horse could travel. Generations of innovators tried and failed to develop speedier messaging devices. But in the mid-1800s, a few extraordinary pioneers at last succeeded. Their invention--the electric telegraph--shrank the world more quickly than ever before.

A colorful tale of scient
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 15th 1999 by Berkley Trade (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

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R. C.
Steam-powered e-love affairs! Hapless Scottish fisherman trying to serve gutta perch telegraph wire tubs for supper! Telegraph operators flooding the wires of the noobs just like kids flood chat rooms! Plus lots of little-known facts. I had no idea the first telegraphs were optical, or how hard it really was to put a line across oceans, or that codes were illegal... This book was funny and enlightening and just about the best thing you could read if you're a steampunk fan looking for some actual ...more
After reading a number of the reviews I am prone to think that a number of people missed the larger point. For all of the hyping of the internet in the mid to late 90's, it wasn't as drastic a change to everyday lives as was the electric telegraph. Where it took weeks to months for a message to cross oceans or continents before the telegraph, it took minutes after. The phone and internet just changed the amount that could be communicated. The telegraph truly interconnected the world and laid the ...more
Matthew Hines
I just finished this wonderful little volume which chronicles the rise and fall of "The Victorian Intenet," the telegraph. Like many others, I knew about Samuel Morse and the Morse Code, of the laying of the Atlantic cable and how the telegraph laid the groundwork for modern communications unlike anything else in history.

But what I didn't know is how very much alike it was to our Internet. They had "chat rooms" of sorts, they had their hackers and identity theives. Mr. Standage also tells a few
Greg Pettit
Another shallow, quick, interesting read. I enjoyed this light history of the telegraph, and there certainly were interesting parallels with the Internet. However, there also seemed to be several gaps in the narrative.

For the most part, I liked how Standage simplified his description of the development and evolution of telegraphy. The early pre-electric history and problem-solving stories were particularly interesting. But with all the detail put into explaining some solutions, it was frustratin
I'm not the type of person that is drawn to treatises on machines, but when I came across this book, my curiosity won out and I was shocked to find I couldn't put it down. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of the telegraph too strongly, Tom Standage instead focuses on the people that created the telegraph and its effects on society. For instance, he notes that prior to the telegraph, news took 10 weeks to get from Britain to certain outposts in India, but once the telegraph was installed th ...more
Randy Mcdonald
Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet, a historical survey of the telegraph from its origins in the optical telegraph of Revolutionary France to the beginning of its eclipse by the telephone in the 1880s, makes a superficially convincing argument that the telegraph fostered a tight-knit culture among mid-19th century telegraphists comparable to contemporary Internet culture. Before the invention of the teleprinter, telegraph operators did constitute a highly-skilled class of information workers ...more
On-line wedding are old news. They were first done via electrical telegraph. This is one of the many parallel between the internet and one of the oldest telecommunications technologies. The changes wrought by the electrical telegraph were greater than those brought about by the internet, because the telegraph was developed in societies that lacked an already existing, near-instantaneous means of communications.

In the decades prior to the electrical telegraph, a number of European countries had
Jacqueline O.
I loved this book! I highly, highly recommend it. The Victorian Internet is an excellent history of the telegraph. But it is not simply a fact-and-name filled book of inventions and advances. It's a social history - focusing on the social impact and societal change that the telegraph brought to the world. And, cleverly he compares the changes the telegraph brought to the Victorian world (especially in England) to changes the Internet has brought about today. This makes a study of the history of ...more
While the term ‘Victorian Internet’ conjures up visions of a steampunk alternate history, the invention and spread of the telegraph system in the 19th century had much the same effect on society then as the internet has had in our own time. It turned a world where messages took weeks to cross the Atlantic to one where it took mere minutes. It changed the speed of business and of war. New forms of crime sprang up to take advantage of the new technology and encryption was developed to deal with th ...more
You know you want to read all about how the telegraph ushered in the information age, "wired love" and all! It's fun to follow the trail of inventive genius and the resulting cultural shockwaves. The things humans can do! Loved that every time I had difficulty picturing the mechanisms of one contraption or another, I turned the page only to find a helpful historical diagram!

The comparisons with our modern internet are still apt 10 years on. Maybe more so, from our vantage point of web 2.0 or wh
One of these days I'll remember to pay attention to which edition of a book I'm listing. I read the later edition, which added some notes at the end philosophizing about the internet. Over all the book was good- I could even recommend it for a kid to read. The history of the telegraph and reflections on the internet were the focus. The personalities were described without detailed analysis of their irrelevant sexual orientations. It was just basic history. The social aspects of the rise of the t ...more
Jan 06, 2008 Tim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history or technology
Shelves: business
I'd heard of this book for years, but hadn't picked it up till the publisher sent me a copy of the new paperback edition for review. It's a compelling, albeit light, read. The history of the telegraph provides much food for thought. There will definitely be a time when today's technology seems as quaint as the telegraph does today. The book does a fabulous job of bringing the excitement of the time to live. It's hard to believe that people once gushed that the telegraph would bring about world p ...more
I read this years ago. The visual of two French brothers banging pots and pans to communicate at a distance comes to mind. I also remember mention of the first telegraph wedding, and the trouble that telegraph owners had with operators taking up the lines to play tele-chess. Oh, and all of the work that went into laying the Transatlantic cable, I remember reading about that and thinking: Wow, they did that back then?

This is a great little history book, and I will definitely read it again some da
John Dodds
A gripping story of invention and innovation in the 19th century. Two things particularly struck me: (a) that the initial experiments with the electric telegraph were much earlier than I had imagined and well before Faraday's theory of electricity explained what lay behind it all; (b) the long, 30 year, gestation then the incredible explosion of take up of the telegraph (650,000 miles of cable in just a few years) and the pace (within a decade) within which the key undersea cables were laid. Bre ...more
Well-researched examination of how the telegraph was invented and its societal impact in the 19th century. In the last chapter, the author argues that the telegraph had a more transformative effect in its day than does the intenet.

I enjoyed hearing of the history of the invention of the telegraph. with the inventors of the electric telegraph- the British inventor Cooke (and his fights with his business partner Wheatstone) as well as the American inventor Samuel Morse who needed to stage a demons
Harris Bin Munawar
"I taught the lady of my heart the Morse code, and when she could both send and receive we got along much better than we could have with spoken words by tapping out our remarks to one another on our hands. Presently I asked her thus, in Morse code, if she would marry me. The word 'Yes' is an easy one to send by telegraphic signals, and she sent it. If she had been obliged to speak it, she might have found it harder”
-Thomas Edison
Ginger Monette
In researching to write a WW1 novel involving telegraphy, I read this book seeking information on how telegraph worked--not what morse code is, or the science of electricity that made it possible, but how did a message get from one place to another? Was it like a telephone where you could connect directly with whom you were seeking? Or did the message have to be rekeyed and sent over and over like a letter stopping at various post offices along the way? Although I would have liked much more deta ...more
Rebecca Dosick bernzweig
Fascinating parallel between the internet and the telegraph, clearly laid out. We see the internet as revolutionary but really it stands on the back of the telegraph, which was the first thing to wire the world together. Makes me wonder why there's not a lot more in history books, novels and film to spotlight the telegraph and show its cultural effects. Great book.
Sean O
The story of the rise and fall of the telegraph, and the communication revolution it spawned, is well-told, and foretold a lot about the social impact of the Internet.

The telegraph had a significant impact on the life of Edison (who began his career as a telegraph messenger boy,) and the invention of the telephone.

I believe this book is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in the Steampunk genre, because the truth is stranger than fiction. The laying of the transatlantic cable read
nah- it's cool. just mention women once. we're totally over that gender analysis thing..

I was very disappointed with this book. There were very little on the technical achievements behind telegraphy and way too much of the social and economical influences by the invention. Some technical content would increase the value of this book and I guess most readers can easily follow some technical descriptions. The social implications are well known and can be easily found by skimming through a few newspapers from the era. In addition, there were too many anecdotal histories about people t ...more
Overall I found The Victorian Internet quite interesting and informative. I had little knowledge of the foundations of the telegraph prior to reading this and I enjoyed learning about the evolution of the devices. At times I felt the author could have gone into greater depth in terms of the technicalities of the devices but most people probably would not mind. I, however, was very interested into the specific scientific details because it is something I enjoy.

I do not think I have ever once thou
The end date being only two days after the start date is indicative of something. This book is a light read, not terribly long and very engaging. Once started, I had a difficult time putting it down.

The book is ostensibly, about the telegraph, a technology of a bygone age. Is it fair to call it an "internet" of a previous era?

Yes. It is.

The Internet has spawned a large variety of spinoff technologies. As did the telegraph. For example, when the London Stock Exchange had a difficult time getting
This is a book about social history that provides us with insight into how the various versions of telegraphy made the world a smaller place. The idea of communicating via a simplified (aka morse) code, from line-of-sight relay stations using placards and flags, to sounds over long cables using electricity, is brought to life in this detailed description. This book offers a special view of the social impact that telegraphy had on nations, economies and the lives of individuals. The idea of trans ...more
Light and engaging history of the telegraph, with little focus on the Internet until the very end, which I appreciated. The telegraph's story is interesting enough on its own without constant reference to contemporary technology, and it gave me the opportunity to make a number of connections regarding the parallels and differences between the two types of network myself.

The short chapter + afterword on the Internet were the weakest portions of the book, in my view, featuring only facile compari
David Dinaburg
"In 1844...sending a message from London to Bombay and back took ten weeks. Within 30 years...messages could be telegraphed from London to Bombay and back in as little as four minutes. 'Time itself is telegraphed out of existence,' declared the Daily Telegraph of London. The world had shrunk further and faster than it ever had before.”

Each subsequent iteration of remote transpersonal networking creates a feeling, at least in me, that the world has yet again shifted on its axis: telephones to ce
Adam Wiggins
Fun read about the heyday of the electric telegraph (circa 1850 - 1880).


- The original telegraph system was visual, not electric. Towers were built on tall hills that signaled each other and passed messages along. This is why there are still places named "Telegraph Hill." What I usually think of as a telegraph (an operator sitting at a keypad tapping out morse code) didn't require any particular line of sight.

- Prior to the invention of the telegraph, boarding a train right after committ
The Victorian Age had its own Internet, with packet switching, domain names, encryption for secure communication, payload compression and error correction. It was called the electrical telegraph. It was invented in the 1830s by several inventors in Europe and the United States, the most important of whom was Samuel F. Morse. Telegraph lines made a world-wide web; laying the lines made a company making insulated cables from copper and gutta-percha, the resin of a tree from the Malay Peninsula, ve ...more
Eric Goldman
The book discusses the history of the telegraph. The book explains the technologies preceding the telegraph, the battles between the inventors of the telegraph, the telegraph's role in spawning new technological innovations (and creating enormous wealth for some of those folks) and the ways that the telegraph did--and did not--change society.

Its thesis is that many phenomena we associate with a global electronic network first occurred in the 19th century, not the 20th, which has made our celebra
Lisabet Sarai
Before the telegraph, no information could travel any faster than the human being who carried it. Samuel Morse and his peers changed that completely, and in the process, transformed commerce, politics, relationships and society as a whole. THE VICTORIAN INTERNET chronicles not only the advances and the personalities involved in the development and widespread dissemination of telegraphy but more importantly, the way its advent changed the assumptions and expectations of practically everyone in th ...more
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Tom Standage is a journalist and author from England. A graduate of Oxford University, he has worked as a science and technology writer for The Guardian, as the business editor at The Economist, has been published in Wired, The New York Times, and The Daily Telegraph, and has published five books, including The Victorian Internet[1][2]. This book explores the historical development of the telegrap ...more
More about Tom Standage...
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“The exchange of consent being given by the electric flash, they were thus married by telegraph.” 0 likes
“According to an account in Anecdotes of the Telegraph, when his request was questioned, the man ran off, "grinning a horrible, ghastly smile".” 0 likes
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