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The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google Edition Unstated Edition

110 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393062281
ISBN-10: 0393062287
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While it may seem that we're in the midst of an unprecedented technological transition, Carr (Does IT Matter?) posits that the direction of the digital revolution has a strong historical corollary: electrification. Carr argues that computing, no longer personal, is going the way of a power utility. Manufacturers used to provide their own power (i.e., windmills and waterwheels) until they plugged into the electric grid a hundred years ago. According to Carr, we're in the midst of a similar transition in computing, moving from our own private hard drives to the computer as access portal. Soon all companies and individuals will outsource their computing systems, from programming to data storage, to companies with big hard drives in out-of-the-way places. Carr's analysis of the recent past is clear and insightful as he examines common computing tools that are embedded in the Internet instead of stored on a hard drive, including Google and YouTube. The social and economic consequences of this transition into the utility age fall somewhere between uncertain and grim, Carr argues. Wealth will be further consolidated into the hands of a few, and specific industries, publishing in particular, will perish at the hands of crowdsourcing and the unbundling of content. However, Carr eschews an entirely dystopian vision for the future, hypothesizing without prognosticating. Perhaps lucky for us, he leaves a great number of questions unanswered. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Carr's provocations are destined to influence CEOs and the boards and investors that support them. -- Wall Street Journal

Compulsively readable—for nontechies, too—as it compellingly weaves together news stories, anecdotes, and data. -- Fast Company

Persuasive, well-researched, authoritative and convincing....He's reasonable in his conclusions and moderate in his extrapolations. This is an exceedingly good book. -- Techworld

Quick, clear read on an important theme. -- BusinessWeek

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 276 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Edition Unstated edition (January 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062281
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nicholas Carr is an acclaimed writer on technology and culture whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages. His new book, "The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us," examines the personal, social, and economic consequences of our growing dependence on computers, apps, and robots to do our jobs and live our lives. The New York Times Book Review called the book "essential," and the Wall Street Journal termed it "elegant."

"The Glass Cage" expands the arguments in Carr's previous book, "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains," which was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. A New York Times bestseller, "The Shallows" discusses the cognitive consequences of Internet and computer use and, more broadly, examines the role that media and other technologies have played in shaping the way people think.

Carr is also the author of the 2008 Wall Street Journal bestseller "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google," which the Financial Times called "the best read so far about the significance of the shift to cloud computing," and of the much-discussed 2004 book "Does IT Matter?" In addition to writing books, Carr contributes articles and essays to many newspapers and magazines. He wrote the celebrated and much-anthologized essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," which appeared in The Atlantic, and he has also contributed to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, Wired, and Nature. He was formerly the executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. Carr blogs at More information about his work can be found at his website, [Author photo by Merrick Chase.]

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

250 of 273 people found the following review helpful By Mark P. McDonald VINE VOICE on December 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nicholas Carr's latest book The Big Switch is not the book that many would expect, in fact its better. Carr, who made his fame by making the assertion that IT doesn't Matter and then asking the question Does IT matter? deals with this subject for about 10% of the book. The remainder concentrates on Carr's looking forward to business, society, politics and the world we are creating. It's a welcome switch as it enables Carr to discuss broader issues rather than hammering on a narrow point.

The net score of three stars is based on the following logic. This book gets four stars as it's is a good anthological review of broader issues that have been in the marketplace for some time. It loses one star because that is all it is, a discussion, without analysis, ideas, alternatives or business applications the book discusses rather than raises issues for the future.

Ostensibly the big switch is between today's corporate computing which has islands of individual automation to what Carr calls the world wide computer - basically the programmable internet. Carr's attempt to coin a new phrase - world wide computer, is one of the things that does not work in this book. It feels contrived and while the internet is undergoing fundamental change, the attempt at rebranding is an unnecessary distraction.

Overall, this is a good book and should be considered as part of the overall future of economics and business genre rather than a discussion of IT or technology. Carr is an editor at heart and that shows through in this book. 80% of the book is reviews and discussions of the works of other people. I counted at least 30 other books and authors that I have read and Carr uses to support his basic argument.
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54 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Thomas E. Hayden on December 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the Big Switch, Nicholas Carr walks readers through the history of electrification and computing. The early years of electrification were technologically limited - an electrical grid wasn't feasible and electricity was generated locally. Technology changed over time and electricity was rapidly centralized and networked. Power was produced remotely and delivered via a vast network of wires and cables. Over time, technology changed the way we live and do business.

Based on this historical context, he draws a metaphor between electrification and the current model of computing. We're coming from a client-server model to a new model, what Carr calls "Utility Computing". He argues, like electrification, this is mostly facilitated by advances in network technology. In a utility computing environment, some firms act as utilities and merely provide a platform, while others develop applications to run on this platform. He cites Amazon's EC2 (Elastic Computing Cloud) and S3 (Simple Storage) services as examples; Amazon provides a centralized utility that users can quickly and at marginal cost, tap in to and rapidly develop scalable applications.

To people in the computing industry, Carr isn't saying anything new. Many of us are in the middle of transitioning our own applications from an older client-server model to a web-based or utility based model. However, I think Carr does a great job at building the metaphor between electrification and computing. While, they are very different types of services, the historical context he clearly lays out shows how network effects can disrupt existing models of utility.

However, I think Carr should have spent more time discussing some of the social implications of this technological shift.
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75 of 90 people found the following review helpful By kievite on May 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Save your money. This book contains nothing but an extended defense of a Utopian vision of the IT future first published in Carr's HBR article. Limited understanding of underlying IT technologies, haziness and lack of concrete detailed examples (obscurantism) are typical marks of Carr's style. Carr used focus on IT shortcomings as a smokescreen to propose a new utopia: users are mastering complex IT packages and perform all functions previously provided by IT staff, while "in the cloud" software service providers fill the rest. This is pretty fine humor, the caricature reminding me mainframe model, but not much more.

His analogies are extremely superficial and are completely unconvincing (Google actually can greatly benefit from owning an electrical generation plant or two :-) Complexity of IT systems has no precedents in human history. That means that analogies with railways and electrical grid are deeply and irrevocably flawed. They do not capture the key characteristics of the IT technology: its unsurpassed complexity and Lego type flexibility. IT became a real nerve system of the modern organizations. Not the muscle system or legs :-)

Carr's approach to IT is completely anti-historic. Promoting his "everything in the cloud" Utopia as the most important transformation of IT ever, he forgot (or simply does not know) that IT already experienced several dramatic transformations due to new technologies which emerged in 60th, 70th and 90th. Each of those transformations was more dramatic and important then neo-mainframe revolution which he tried to sell as "bright future of IT" and a panacea from all IT ills. For example, first mainframes replaced "prehistoric" computers.
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