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Speed Review: A Thread Across The Ocean

Speed Review: A Thread Across The Ocean

Speed Review: A Thread Across The Ocean

The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable

by John Steele Gordon

John Steele Gordon, a prolific writer who has pursued historical subjects in a number of books, has now tackled the previously underreported story of the people and technology responsible for the first transatlantic cable: the communication link between Europe and the United States that allowed the “American century” to begin. The story he captures is a dramatic and detailed examination of the historical period in which it became possible to send messages great distances, at great speeds, for the first time in history. Gordon's tale demonstrates the heroic ambition and persistence that made this achievement possible.

Review

Creating the First Transatlantic Cable
John Steele Gordon, a prolific writer who has pursued historical subjects in a number of books, has now tackled the previously underreported story of the people and technology responsible for the first transatlantic cable - the communication link between Europe and the United States that allowed the "American century" to begin. The story he captures is a dramatic and detailed examination of the historical period in which it became possible to send messages great distances, at great speeds, for the first time in history. Gordon's tale demonstrates the heroic ambition and persistence that made this achievement possible.

Gordon begins his book by providing a brief yet thorough description of the technological breakthroughs that led to the invention of the first telegraph, including the dangerous electrical experimentation of Benjamin Franklin, Sir William Watson's discovery of wire electrical transmission, and the code system created by Samuel F.B. Morse.

After people began using telegraph lines to transmit their messages at rates that were thousands of times faster than previous methods, Europe and the United States quickly became independently wired. After a couple of attempts finally brought France and Great Britain together via a cable laid beneath the English Channel, the idea of extending the miracle of telegraphy across the Atlantic began to be seriously considered.

Bringing Together Great Minds
Cyrus Field was the man who championed the idea of a submarine cable that would be 2,000 miles long and reach depths of 2,600 fathoms; it took him 12 years, five attempts and endless trials and tribulations to accomplish this unprecedented feat. Field was the singular person who was capable of bringing together the greatest scientific, business and engineering minds of his day for this enterprise that would end the United States' remoteness from the rest of the world.

The story of Field's family and early life provides a wonderfully detailed view of the era in which New York became the financial powerhouse of the nation. As Cyrus Field transformed himself from an apprentice retail clerk into one of the country's most successful paper and printing supplies wholesalers, his ambitions and riches grew.

As the idea of the transatlantic cable was forming in the minds of other businessmen, Cyrus Field was introduced to its possibilities and set out to make the project a reality. By serving as the middleman between a host of successful business owners and an endeavor that required intense coordination, Field brought together the people who could pay for the venture and the experts who could engineer the project to success.

Instant Communication
The numerous successes and setbacks, including a near disaster at sea, eventually paid off. In 1866, Cyrus Field successfully completed a working telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean, proving the technical feasibility of long-distance submarine technology. Never again would North America and Europe be out of instant communication with each other for more than a few hours.

After a fascinating look at the people and personalities that made this enormous feat possible, Gordon places the story into the context of our modern times. A clearer perspective of the first transatlantic cable's significance is achieved as Gordon compares and contrasts the capacities and costs of modern modes of communication with those from the earliest days of telegraphy. Gordon explains that Cyrus Field "laid down the technological foundation of what would become, in little over a century, a global village."

Why Soundview Likes This Book
Gordon's recounting of the story of Cyrus Field's grand enterprise is a brilliant narrative that is captivating and engrossing. What makes is so rich and full of life is the detail with which he describes the participants and their contributions to a project that took unwavering imagination and faith to complete. Gordon's exemplary skills as a biographer and historian bring out the underlying hopes, dreams and triumphs of these monumental people who continue to be historically important and inspirational.