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The Victorian Internet

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3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,787 Ratings  ·  230 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
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Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 15th 1999 by Berkley Trade (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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R. C.
Sep 25, 2009 R. C. rated it it was amazing
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
Philip
Dec 04, 2013 Philip rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 05, 2011 Matthew Hines rated it really liked it
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
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Evan
If you thought cyber crime, chat rooms, online banking and commerce, online usernames, cyber bullying, cyber romance (and cyber cheating), cyber porn, arguments over the public's right to wired cryptography and privacy, and the idea that the wired world could be a panacea for the world's problems are unique to the present days of the internets, think again, Bub.

Tom Standage in his breezy little book, The Victorian Internet argues that all that stuff was already around nearly two centuries ago i
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Stacy
Feb 12, 2014 Stacy rated it it was amazing
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
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
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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
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
Laurie
Mar 07, 2011 Laurie rated it really liked it
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
Rebecca
Feb 01, 2010 Rebecca rated it really liked it
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
Lora
May 10, 2012 Lora rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
Stijn
Mar 27, 2016 Stijn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
A fun, light history of the telegraph that shows how profoundly it changed the world and how its ascension parallels the rise of the internet remarkably closely.
Tim
Jan 06, 2008 Tim rated it really liked it
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
Daniel
Jun 01, 2011 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 16, 2013 John Dodds rated it really liked it
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
Morton Grove Public Library
Mar 17, 2016 Morton Grove Public Library rated it really liked it
Shelves: staff-picks
Reviewed by Chad Comello, Adult Services Librarian

Author Tom Standage points out in this delightful history of the late, lamented telegraph of the 19th century that a Victorian transported to the 21st century would not be terribly bewildered by the Internet, given how similar it is to the telegraph. (Though the space shuttle would probably blow their minds.)

Though eventually eclipsed by the telephone, the telegraph was the first and arguably one of the biggest sudden technological leaps we've e
...more
Gottfried Neuner
Oct 13, 2015 Gottfried Neuner rated it really liked it
The telegraph was the first tool that allowed rapid communication between parties thousands of miles away from each other. This book is a rather too short history of its development, starting with the failures that preceded the technology, over the optical semaphore systems originally used, towards the mature system that allowed instant communication in the later half of the 19th century. The book delves into the amusing follies that came with its development (the first Atlantic telegraph line f ...more
Erik
May 03, 2016 Erik rated it liked it
An OK general history primer of the telegraph edge and the early industrial area of electricity.

Its far too brief and shallow for my liking, but i enjoyed reading it throughout. All the topics listed on the cover of the book are basically only mentioned in passing. Basically everything is mentioned in passing. I was particularly looking forward to hearing about proto-internet culturevis a vie telegraph operators, but very little is actuallly written about that in this book.

More in fact is writte
...more
donna_ehm
A wonderful reminder that the changes which have taken place within our own culture, in this age, have all happened before (and will happen again for surely one day in the none too distant future our descendants will look back to 2016 and think it so quaint that we had to use machines that sat on desktops or were carried around in order to access the Internet - hell, no doubt the Internet as we know it now will itself become a relic like a telegraph machine).

The writings and comments from peopl
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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
Jan 28, 2014 Ginger Monette rated it really liked it
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
Patrick Pilz
Nov 23, 2015 Patrick Pilz rated it really liked it
Globalization started during the 2nd half of the 19th century with the invention of the telegraph. It was the first global network, the first digital communication system, first hackers and the infancy of information overload. This book has been written almost 2 decades ago, but it feels as vibrant and interesting as during the days of its release. The parallels of the dangers and opportunities of the 1870s telegraph network and todays internet communication are striking.

It was also one of the f
...more
Tobias Langhoff
This is a fine overview of the development of the telegraph and the impact it had on the world. It’s a short and easy read, and offers several interesting anecdotes. It doesn’t delve too deeply into the material, however. If chapter 7, “Codes, Hackers, and Cheats”, appeals to you, I wholeheartedly recommend The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography, which covers the history of cryptography. If chapter 5, “Wiring the World”, was more interesting, A Thread Ac ...more
Rebecca Dosick bernzweig
Apr 07, 2015 Rebecca Dosick bernzweig rated it it was amazing
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.
Hanley5545 Hanley
Well done and rich in the way the technologies are evolved practically and in a free and relatively unregulated manner yey in ways that stimulated both more/better "invention" but also more and better opportunities for wealth creation and the dispersion of the fruits and folloies of communication.

The effoorts and insights on what parallels exist from then to now and those yet looming as well are also fairly drawn.

For anyone interested in what "past is prologue to which futures" this is top shel
...more
Ben
Nov 30, 2015 Ben rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2015
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sean O
Jan 23, 2015 Sean O rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Lisa
Apr 26, 2016 Lisa rated it liked it
Shelves: informational
I happened upon this book in the library and was drawn in by the title. The subtitle, "The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's Telegraph On-Line Pioneers", gives further description of what it's about. It seems like a book my dad would like, which is another reason it probably caught my interest, as has always had a great interest in both the evolution of computers and Morse code. It was a history lesson I really didn't know, and so informative to see how instant commu ...more
Sara
Sep 10, 2015 Sara rated it liked it
3.5 stars An interesting look at the invention and uses of the telegraph system. The title is clever because our 19th century technology pioneers were really the first to connect the world through electromagnetic wires. I enjoyed the anecdotes shared throughout the book and how the telegraph changed political, business and personal relationships. I also felt like I had a quick summary of 19th century history both in the US and UK. The Dreyfus Affair comes to mind as it involved an incorrectly in ...more
Rebecca
Nov 06, 2007 Rebecca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
nah- it's cool. just mention women once. we're totally over that gender analysis thing..

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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
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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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