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A Thread across the Ocean


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Although the first practical telegraph was invented in the 1840s by Samuel F.B. Morse, an artist turned inventor, telegraphy was landlocked in the absence of the means of spanning the oceans with a cable line for the telegraph wires. Thus, the United States was effectively still as remote as before from Europe, then the center of world affairs. Gordon, a business historian and columnist for American Heritage magazine, has written a lively, engaging account of the extraordinary efforts that brought about this remarkable scientific, technological, and business feat. At the center of the story is Cyrus Field, a young New York businessman who persevered over 12 years and five failed attempts until success came in 1866. In later years the telegraph cable lines spanned other oceans until the world was interconnected by copper wire and became a global village of transoceanic communication. Recommended for public libraries.-Harry Frumerman, formerly with Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Most of us don't think twice about picking up the phone and reaching someone in Germany in a matter of seconds. We often forget that less than 150 years ago, if one wanted to do business in Europe, one got on a boat for two weeks because the only way to do business was in person. Perhaps the biggest force in making worldwide commerce relatively simple was the laying of the transatlantic cable in 1866, which made communication first via telegraph, then by phone possible. American Heritage writer Gordon (The Business of America) chronicles the quest to lay the cable, offering a fascinating account that will appeal to history buffs and businesspersons alike. On one level, it's a purely historical account of the battle to navigate the ocean's floor and to figure out not only what should be inside the cable but also how to keep it in place. On another level, by focusing on entrepreneur Cyrus Field, the author traces what was in essence a venture capital deal. He begins with Field gathering wealthy investors the initial funding was equal to 2.5% of the entire federal budget and ends, after 12 years and five distinct failures, with all of them striking it rich. This is an appealing account on both levels and an entertaining reminder of the storied past of expensive technology gambles. Illus. Agent, Katinka Matson. (July) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Adult/High School-In this engaging history of the laying of the cable, Gordon conveys a keen sense of the mid-19th-century setting and the high drama of the venture. Superb documentation enhances the telling without distracting from the main story, and the text is accompanied by effective pen-and-ink illustrations. Begun in 1855, and necessitating a sustained level of cooperation among business, scientific, and political players in the face of disasters at sea, loss of capital, and, eventually, the stresses of the American Civil War, the enterprise's success is largely credited to American businessman Cyrus Field. His unflagging zeal, financial resourcefulness, and reputation for integrity as he worked in concert with entrepreneurs, inventors, engineers, lawyers, and statesmen on both sides of the Atlantic skillfully guided the project through four failed attempts before its completion in 1866. The project's technological challenges were equaled only by the optimism of the age and by the dedication of visionaries who foresaw the possibilities of what now seems commonplace, i.e., "real time" communication between the continents. This saga fills a niche by offering both economic history and a depiction of scientific inquiry during the Industrial Revolution.-Lynn Nutwell, Fairfax City Regional Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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