The Victorian Internet
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The Victorian Internet

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  1,102 ratings  ·  160 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...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 15th 1999 by Berkley Trade (first published 1998)
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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
Matt 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...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
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...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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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
nah- it's cool. just mention women once. we're totally over that gender analysis thing..

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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
An excellent overview of the challenges of communication only recently overcome - as the author points out, both Julius Caesar and George Washington, despite living centuries apart, were limited by the speed at which news could travel - only as fast as a horse or a ship could carry it. There are some historians who believe the War of 1812 may have been avoidable with faster communication, although this is highly speculative. However there's no question but that fast communication, which we now t...more
Jillian L
"The Victorian Internet," written by Tom Standage, is a good source of information for the history behind the telegraph. It was really slow at parts of the book, but it is a good read. "The Victorian Internet," gives a really clear, descriptive view on the journey of how Samuel Morse invented and succeeded making the telegraph. Morse even accomplished making the telegraph line that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. He had many struggles with inventing the telegraph but there were also many rewards. H...more
What a surprisingly fun historical account of the development, uses, and effects of the telegraph. Standage strung together an interesting narrative which made for an enjoyable and easy (non-academic/jargony/theoretical) read. It's great for anyone looking for an overview of the telegraph or a starting place for understanding the social developments/effects.

It really is amazing how much the development, uses, users, effects, and discourses of the telegraph parallel the internet. Everything from...more
Christina B.
Oct 28, 2012 Christina B. rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes inventions
Recommended to Christina by: My Social Studies teacher
I just finished reading "The Victorian Internet" by Tom Standage. It was all about the rise, fall, and inventions created because of the telegraph.
I thought the book was interesting, but it was definitely not my favorite. At some points, the details were too repetitive and didn't seem very important. However, there were also many interesting facts about how the telegraph was invented and gained popularity all over the world. It also told the story of the inventors' struggles. I really liked t...more
Olivia I
‘The Victorian Internet’ by Tom Standage was about the creation, evolution, and impact that the telegraph had on society. Communication is a part of everyday life and before the telegraph, the speed that a message could be sent was limited. Jean-Antoin Nollet, a French Scientist, helped Samuel Morse expand on his invention because of his experiments that he held. The evolution of the communication line began in 1837 as the first practical telegraph was completed. Merely twenty-eight years later...more
I actually name dropped this book in one of my law school admission essays, it intrigued me so much. Ok. So the telegraph, boring, right? I thought so too, until I realized what a milestone it was for the people in the 1800's. Most people didn't really know what it was or how it even worked. Some folks actually thought messages weren't sent electronically, but through high powered pistons that pumped air and shot folded-up pieces of paper through a telegraph wire over hundreds of miles. And of c...more
Mary Catelli
All about the telegraph. Starting with the optical telegraph, widely used in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth -- mostly by government.

The French invention was parallel to the French Revolution -- at one point the inventors were mobbed on the theory they were signalling to royal prisoners -- and widely used for governmental purposes. The British gave up improving it when the war was over. It had its limits, needing skilled operators in line-of-sight and being limited by darkness a...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.” 1 likes
“According to an account in Anecdotes of the Telegraph, when his request was questioned, the man ran off, "grinning a horrible, ghastly smile".” 1 likes
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