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The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret Reprint Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393333688
ISBN-10: 039333368X
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, January 2008: Seth Shulman closely examines the race to build the first telephone and uncovers potential bombshells with The Telephone Gambit. Although Alexander Graham Bell is widely accepted as the father of the telephone (despite the fact that rival inventor Elisha Gray submitted a similar claim the same day Bell filed his patent), Schulman provides intriguing evidence questioning if the scales were deliberately tipped in Alexander's favor. Was the venerable inventor party to theft from Gray's own research? Or are such accusations merely sour grapes from a bitterly contested legal battle? Fraught with controversy, conspiracy, and possible chicanery, Shulman spins real-life Da Vinci Code drama around one of the most influential inventions of the modern era. --Dave Callanan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In Unlocking the Sky (2003), Seth Shulman showed his knack for historical detection by making credible claims that aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss deserves the same accolades for his work as the Wright brothers for theirs. In The Telephone Gambit, Shulman, who researched the book while a resident scholar in MIT’s Dibner Institute, sets his sights on Alexander Graham Bell. He comes away with a stunning and plausible conclusion as he discredits Bell’s claim to the world’s most valuable patent. Drawing on research from Bell’s own notebooks and other sources, Shulman combines deft sleuthing and a nose for a good story with what every critic except the reviewer for the Los Angeles Times deems lively, compact prose. The Telephone Gambit is a necessary addendum to textbook history.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039333368X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393333688
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,530,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is well written, like a novel, but it's riddled with errors and omits key facts that are well-known to serious historians of telephone history. Shulman starts out with the premise that Bell stole the patent, and then ignores evidence to the contrary. (Or he didn't research deeply enough to discover even basic facts that contradict his premise).

Rather than steal Gray's idea, Bell had been working on developing the telephone for years. Shulman claims that Bell illicitly saw the patent caveat that Gray filed on Feb. 14, 1876, and copied the drawing of his liquid transmitter. But the historical record shows that Bell drew dozens of drawings of similar-looking liquid transmitters over a span of more than three years before Gray filed his caveat. (These are in the Library of Congress and many can be seen in Wikipedia at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisha_Gray_and_Alexander_Bell_telephone_controversy#Bell.27s_background_and_use_of_liquid_transmitters

In one of the most obvious errors, Shulman was apparently unaware that Bell applied for a patent for a primitive fax machine in 1875 and the application included a drawing of liquid transmitters. The U.S. Patent Office approved Bell's patent with the liquid transmitter ten months before Bell allegedly stole the idea from Gray. (The drawing for patent #161739 is online at the Patent Office.
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Format: Hardcover
I have just finished reading "The Telephone Gambit" by Seth Schulman. This is the first book that I have sat down and read in one day since my September vacation. I know nothing about Seth's other books and can't comment on the caustic review by zzoott (River Styx, OH, USA)

I was drawn to this book by the review in the Boston Globe on New Year's Day. [...]

I previously worked for the "other" telephone company. I worked at GTE Labs in Waltham, MA (what remains is now Verizon Labs). In the summer time in the late `80s we usually had summer students join us, and I often gave a presentation on the history of the Telephone. . In fact one of my vugraphs (we didn't have PowerPoint then) is the same photo shown by Seth on page 61, the tangle of telegraph wires in 1870.

I bought in to the story that "Elisha Gray was an hour late filing his patent; that Bell got there first. It now is embarrassing to say that I bought in. This was a research lab and we all used scientific principals and investigative techniques to do our work. So how could I buy in to a difference in filing time being the reason? We all knew that the American patent system is "the first to discover" not "the first to file" as is most of Europe. After all, that is why we all kept Lab notebooks detailing our work, notebooks that were signed, dated and witnessed every day to prove when we had discovered.

As a result I found Seth Schulman's detailed account of the Bell patent extremely exciting. He meticulously lays out all the circumstantial evidence indicating something really smells about the process that granted the Bell patent over the Gray patent.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This entertaining book ends up being somewhat disappointing, mostly due to the author's lack of understanding of the ways of the world, in particular, the prevalence of "pseudo-history" in science. He doesn't understand that a bit of historical research leads to understanding that the common view is wrong, and that those who have done that work have realized it all along. I can imagine him writing a similar book about Steve Jobs when, after doing enough research, he is disillusioned to discover that Jobs did not invent the personal computer nor the windows interface. Of course, any nerd knows that Steve Jobs' contributions were not personal technical invention.

Similarly in this book, the author highlights "his" discoveries leading to uncontested proof that Bell's first telephone communication was directly lifted from Elisha Gray's caveat and that this mischief was either done directly by Bell or by his lawyers. While his gradual insight makes for entertaining reading, it seems that every single piece of evidence was not only known beforehand but was presented in testimony at trials regarding the validity of Bell's priority claim. The author simply comes to the conclusion which is inevitable to anyone having studied the evidence.

One can cite numerous other examples where most people, including most scientists, believe something is true but which historians know is false. My own personal discovery was finding out that Copernicus was not the first to propose that the Earth went around the Sun, that his model was inferior to Ptolemy's and that it set Kepler back in his search for laws of planetary motion. The recent book "Celestial Mechanics, The Waltz of the Planets" is the most recent work I've read which gets almost every detail wrong in recounting the pseudo-history.
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