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Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  3,371 ratings  ·  433 reviews
“Andrew Blum plunges into the unseen but real ether of the Internet in a journey both compelling and profound….You will never open an email in quite the same way again.”
—Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times bestselling author of Traffic

When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human
Hardcover, 294 pages
Published May 2012 by Ecco (first published January 1st 2012)
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Aug 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
An ambitious attempt to balance a technical, psychological and sociological examination of the "Internet." Ultimately, the book fails to advance any meaningful analysis. Blum's self-imposed task was to find physical infrastructure components of the global internet, but instead he drowns us in aspirational language more concerned with the wonder of modern inter-connectivity than the task at hand. Fancy literary references make it seem Blum is more familiar with liberal arts curriculum than anythi ...more
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Overall, this was a disappointing book. The author had a technical subject matter -- the book could have read like a technical manual, though it didn't -- but in trying to make it accessible, I think he basically ended up skipping the subject matter. The book is supposed to be about the internet. Really though, it's more about the author's quest to see the internet. As such, he spent (in my opinion) too much time talking about how people he met were dressed and what they were doing and not enoug ...more
Loring Wirbel
Apr 21, 2012 rated it liked it
If I was to rate this on the quality of writing alone, Blum could win a high 4, maybe a 5, for the richness of his descriptive passages, particularly in the parts on the cable landing stations in Cornwall or the modernization of The Dalles in Oregon. Let's face it, Blum can write well and engagingly. Nevertheless, even in the writing style there are a few nagging problems. His tendency to use quotes from literary sources like Emerson or J.G. Ballard is OK when limited to once or twice in a sing ...more
Nov 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
The factual information was interesting, but the non stop poetic waxing about the physical geography of the internet got really old really quickly. I pretty much vowed I would not read any more articles this guy ever wrote.
Nick Black
this book could have dialed back on the childlike whimsy and wonder, preferably replacing it with some cold hard technical facts. for someone who knows absolutely nothing about internetworking, this is perhaps a good follow-on volume to Where Wizards Stay Up Late, but it's not even as good as that bit of pop computer science. and don't get pissy with us not letting you into the Dalles datacenter, blum! i've been in there. it's a bunch of machines. there are large transformers. dudes scuttle aro ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science
Tubes is a description of the infrastructure of the internet -- the wires, the buildings, the cables. Unfortunately, it isn't more interesting than that. There are wires, buildings and cables. Some are messy. Most are in buildings that just happened to be there -- perhaps in your neighborhood In Los Angeles, where I live, One Wilshire is apparently such a building. Wires stretch under the sea, all over the world.

There. I just saved you 250 pages. Not much more interesting happens.
Mathew Bookworm Smith
Following that cord from your computer to the 'internet' is the general idea behind this book. What would it look like? How does it actually work? Good idea, me thinks. Andrew Blum does a great job at describing it all. But, (yes, a big but)...this would have made a lovely magazine article. As it turns out making a book about it was taking it just a few steps too far.

Overall, there is very little to the 'internet'; little variety that is. The internet is huge and spreads across the entire globe,
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
You can tell the author writes about architecture and it helps.
The internet isn't just wireless and ubiquitous. It resides in data centers, fiber optic cables, and internet exchanges. There are places you can actually touch it and that knowledge makes TUBES worth the read.
As a side note Google is totally like the book The Circle. Everywhere the author went was open, transparent, and teeming with information; except Google.
Fred Platten
Feb 17, 2017 rated it did not like it
wow, this is bad. I thought this was a book about the internet, but it's about the author who injects himself in the narration way too much. Goes on for pages about his hotel rooms and looking things up on the internet. Unbelievable.

I think this book falls under "literary" non-fiction. I really hate those books.
Mary Soderstrom
Aug 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
What the Internet Is: Fragile or Robust?
As I write this, The New York Times has been off-line for about 18 hours here. Some stories are being posted on the newspaper's Facebook page, but because of a hacker attack the main website remains down.

This is a warning shot, according to some observers. Syrian hackers or hackers sympathic to the Syrian regime (and who call themselves the Syrian Electronic Army) are demonstrating what havoc they could wreak if Western powers follow through on their tou
The internet is a thing, not an idea, not the virtual, not psychology, not a medium. All these tropes have been exhausted in all the other similar inventions preceding it such as radio, phones, TV, or satellites. As a matter of fact some of those infrastructures that comprise the other objects at one time or another were justified by acting as a means to transmit the internet. But Andrew Blum in Tubes diagrams and explains all the ways in which the internet becomes a thing. This book is basicall ...more
May 16, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting topic, but it's told in a travelogue style, with far too much personal experience tossed in with the relevant historical context. It felt very happenstance, as if readers could be missing a whole part of the history of the physical structure of the internet just because maybe somebody didn't return a call from Blum.

Didn't finish completely.
Aug 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be engaging and informative, but I would have preferred more description and less philosophizing.

An errant squirrel chewing through Mr. Blum's cable wire launches him on a journey to understand the physical nature of the Internet. This takes him from a key site in the origin of the academic internet (Len Kleinrock's IMP at Berkeley) through its transition to anarchic commercial interconnections at sites like MAE East in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, where packets were sometimes
Jan 29, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Poorly written in every way.
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Informative account of how some of the physical aspects of the internet works. There's a slight amount of history of the beginnings, as well as a little with communications overall. The book is very much a travelogue of the author searching for the pieces that make the internet. I was surprised to learn it's way more centralized than I believed, mostly for the router network switching points.

This was written by a non-computer science person for other non-computer science people. In fact, with t
John Mcchesney-young
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating journalistic account of the physical sure of the internet: where the cables are and where they connect, how they're laid on sea floors, dragged up, and connected together, and where data is stored. Definitely not a book for someone seeking technical details - which I myself wasn't - but a well-written travelogue and history. ...more
Robert Daniel
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. Wonderful. A delightful read. Insightful. I was anxiously waiting for Andrew Blum's next book - and am happy that "The Weather Machine" has been published and reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Looking forward to reading Andrew's next book.
Tubes contains the background to how the Internet really works. Its "plumbing" - its wiring, the data centers and servers. An update would be wonderful.
Eric Spitler
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Blum makes an entertaining travelogue out of a map and history of the internet. Other reviewers are dissatisfied with the depth of detail. I think Blum meant to provide a sense of what the internet means to humanity along the way of explaining what it actually is.
May 07, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An interesting read about the infrastructure behind the Internet (and its origins), giving a comprehensive overview and insights into places that a regular internet user will never visit.
A bit lenghty sometimes (even for the infrastructure nerd that I am). I would have liked illustrations or maps at some points.
Harry Cooper
Sep 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Really interesting blend between a tech, travel, and history in this book
Jul 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Around Chapter 4, when Blum visits the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, the book got significantly more interesting to me: where in earlier chapters Blum was focused a lot on background/history and the various things he learned from various key people, the focus here shifts to what he sees. In Amsterdam, it occurs to Blum that he could/should see things in a bit of a different way from the corporate-approved tours he's been getting. He's found a map of data centers in the Netherlands and sees that t ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Tubes is an eye-opening page turner about the cables, routing stations, and data centers that make up the internet. From the non-descript routing stations on the edges of suburban towns to vast lengths of cable strewn along the sea floor, the author shows that this ethereal internet, 'the cloud', is actually very tangbile and human. In the book, the author takes you on a journey to these router stations, introduces you to the people that lay the underground cables, and even attempts to get into ...more
May 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I won't argue with some reviews that point out how much Blum inserts himself into the story, and that "Tubes" can read more like a whimsical travelogue than an exploration of complex technology. Yes, he's definitely a writer, not an engineer. That said, I appreciate the depth of his research, and the approachable style with which he presents it. For readers with only a cursory understanding of "how the internet works," this is likely to an be engaging and informative book. If you're already a ne ...more
Elizabeth K.
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-new-reads
This was very exciting, in an armchair tech sort of way. The author goes out and visits various physical places where "the internet" happens, like major switching hubs, content storage, and the points where submarine communications cables COME OUT OF THE OCEAN LIKE A KRAKEN. As you can probably tell, the last one was a special geeky thrill for me, because that is still something that boggles my mind, and now I want to go on a field trip to Porthcurno (the whole thing sounds delightfully mundane, ...more
May 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is quite the interesting subject matter that Blum tackles here. The internet is prevalent through all aspects of our life and many cannot even imagine life without it. How and where does this all begin? This is the question that Blum discusses throughout this informative book.

It is quite well written and researched and was a good history lesson on the creation and development of what we now know as the internet. However, it fell a bit flat for me. It read like a magazine article...that nev
Jul 09, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a mildly interesting idea for a book: the author gets it into his head that he needs to understand the physical structure underlying the Internet and writes a book about his experiences. I understand the basic underpinnings of the Internet in terms of routers, fiber, and data centers, so to me this is much more a travelogue of places the author went and people he met. It's readable and interesting if you like reading or watching about other locations in the world. However, I suspect the ...more
Jonathan Cassie
Aug 14, 2012 rated it liked it
I liked "Tubes," but in fairness, I wanted to like it a lot more. Blum asked the kind of question I bet a lot of us have asked - exactly where is the Internet? A fair question, and one that most of us don't know the answer to - particularly if we mocked Sen. Ted Stephens' infamous "it's a series of tubes comment." Turns out, Stephens was largely right. The question of where the Internet is got Blum to range far and wide and to visit strange buildings whose only purpose is to route Internet traff ...more
Matt Moyer
Jul 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: matt
Blum's journey to find the physical presence of the Internet was very enlightening. Our default perception of the infinity of the online world is juxtaposed with the real-world tracing of the tubes that make our world-wide connections. From his own couch to the networking hubs of Palo Alto and MAE-East, onto the worldwide internet exchanges in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London, under the sea with the tubes connecting continents, or even to the data warehouses in remote rural America, Blum takes us ...more
Kent Winward
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
An amusing diversion of a tech book exploring the hard realities of the internet infrastructure. Yet, the title is misleading, since the "I"nternet is really centered on you in sort of a Ptolemaic reversal where the user is the center of a diversified mass of cables, routers, blinking lights and desktops. If Alice goes down the Internet rabbit hole, she gets broken into packets, re-routed and reconstituted wherever she is called. Blum tries to invoke the Transcendentalist calling on Emerson and ...more
Ankit Mittal
Dec 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Good introductory book to understand and appreciate what exactly is internet. Not for people who already work in internet related industries.
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Science and Inquiry: Tubes 2 18 Oct 05, 2012 05:20PM  

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