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The Victorian Internet

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,594 ratings  ·  334 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 ta
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 15th 1999 by Berkley Trade (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  2,594 ratings  ·  334 reviews

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K.J. Charles
A very readable account of the rise, spread, and fall of the telegraph. Extremely informative, and as the title suggests, full of resonances with the internet.
R. C.
Sep 06, 2009 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
Feb 19, 2013 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 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
Feb 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: technology
Standage provides curious and accurate parallels between the rise of the internet, and the rise of the telegraph, the former of which can definitely trace its ancestry directly to the latter. Though given how quickly it proliferated and increased in capability and complexity, and given that instant communication had never been developed in the history of humanity, the telegraph appears to be a far more impressive in its era than the internet was to a world already widely accustomed to electricit ...more
Feb 12, 2014 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 wa
I needed a "non-fiction book about technology" for my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge and was hard pressed to find something modern I cared to learn about in this dumpster fire we call 2017, so I instead turned to the Victorians and the advent of the telegraph.

Super illuminating and refreshing to see that new technology causes greatness and horribleness no matter the era. I was not aware the first telegraphs were visual, using long arms to gesture codes atop large hills (creepy) nor
Simon Eskildsen
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating journey through the second half of the 1800s with the invention of the telegraph. As we went from messaging taking 10 days (at the fastest) to get across the Atlantic to, in 1866 with the transatlantic submarine cable, minutes.

Of course, at the time, as we did with the Internet in the 90s, this amount of global connectivity would surely bring world peace with it! It'd wash out the cultural differences in no time! People found love over the wire and it's described as a true hey-day f
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
A fascinating look into the very first internet, how it came about, and its impact on the world. Some of the language quoted from the time was difficult to understand, and there were parts where I felt like the author didn’t try to explain the context as well as he could have. The storytelling is quite good, though, and I give it a four for subject matter.
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 science ...more
Jan 09, 2010 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
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. a very quick read that shows everything from digital chatrooms to online dating were happening in the 1870s and how nerd culture developed from that point on.

What happened next is in 'The Phone Book: The Curious History of the Book That Everyone Uses But No One Reads' by Ammon Shea. Standage book on the history of the world in six glasses is great. His history of social media didn't grab me in the same way but is definitely worth reading.
This is a story of the telegraph well told. Standage takes the reader on a tour of the history of the telegraph. Technical details are kept sufficient to tell the story and are easy to understand for the general reader. Despite the title, Standage reserves his comparisons to the Internet (this book was published in 1998) to the final chapter, which I very much appreciated.

While the Internet is hailed as a revolutionary communication achievement, Standage makes a good point that it was the teleg
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Jeremy's been pressing me to read this book for years, and I'm glad I finally did. It's an entertaining look at the history of the telegraph and its impact on society, which has surprising parallels to the internet. The book was written in 1998, so it didn't have much to go on in speculating how the web might change society. But the same techno-utopianism that accompanied the birth of the web ("There won't be any more hatred! There won't be any more nationalism!" - AHAHAHAHAA) accompanied the da ...more
Peter Aronson
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Three-and-three-quarters stars. A readable and compact history of the telegraph and the impact it had on society. While I think it had some good points to make, its title theme -- that the telegraph network was the internet of its time -- was somewhat sketchily justified. But still, it is worth being reminded that each new thing that is supposed to "change everything", was preceded by many other new things that changed some things, but hardly everything.
Oct 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I expected the title to be hype but was pleasantly surprised by this book. The first online dating, marriage all took place over the telegraph. First online crime took place over the telegraph. When it was first built it was expected to usher in a lasting world peace as governments could instantly communicate with each other. This book is well worth the time to read.
Not my typical good first book of the new year, but I read all but 20% in Dec. I had hoped to finish it up then, and didn't get to it, so the last bit finished as my first book of the year.

It was alright. I'm not a non-fiction fan, and this was read purely for a challenge. Some of it was quite interesting though. I enjoyed the first several chapters, then it just kept going on and on. Still, liked it overall.
Daniel Larsson
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book gives a god insight into the history of the telegraphs upcoming and fall. The book put forward the contrebutions that was made not only on a globol level but also how the telegrath effected men an woman in there every day life with storys that brings history to life.
Mar 07, 2011 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
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 with suff ...more
Apr 20, 2012 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
Sean O
Jan 22, 2015 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 transatlanti
Dec 15, 2007 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
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Quick read from the master of lists, Tom Standage. Plenty of history from the world wide web (of wires) including anecdotes about online crime, banking and commerce, cryptography, message routing and online romance. The only thing lacking was spam - and man am I jealous about that.

Author argues that the telegraph did more to shrink the world than the internet has, and I am inclined to agree. That technology was developed to the point of being replaced by the telephone - will somethin
James Stephenson
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nano17prep
A fascinating book about the telegraph and its parallels to our modern day communication. An interesting point of view from the author is that technological optimism is unfounded. He makes an interesting argument that is certainly worthy of consideration. However maybe he is a bit too pessimistic. Solving the world's problems is hard. It's probably going to take a while, and if it can ever be done, it will be done with the help of technology.
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
Jun 01, 2011 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 a
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
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Short and sweet, but the parallels between the telegraph and the development of the internet are even striking. Interesting that the anti-crypto forces started out having already "won" the proto-crypto wars and still lost it in the end (even given the built-in monitoring capabilities)! Gives me hope for our current bout of anti-cryptography sentiment.
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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
“Chappe also had all sorts of ambitious plans for his invention; he hadn't intended its use to be so predominantly military in nature, and wanted to promote its employment in business.” 1 likes
“A particularly important use of codes a was by banks. Worries about the security of telegraphic money transfers” 1 likes
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