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The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret Hardcover – January 17, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0393062069 ISBN-10: 0393062066 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (January 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062066
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062069
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,842,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews 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

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.

Customer Reviews

It is very well researched and written!
I liked this book a lot and would recommend it to anyone interested in history or inventions.
Adam Wilson
Seth Shulman's book exploring the invention of the telephone is an eye-opener.
Mr. W. M. Byrnes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Edwin Grosvenor on November 25, 2014
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:

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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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey M. Musser on January 7, 2008
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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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Metallurgist TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Those familiar with the history of the telephone are well aware that the key patent for the telephone was filed at the US patent office independently by Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell on the same day in 1877. The conventional interpretation of this remarkable coincidence is that it was indeed a remarkable coincidence, or that somehow Gray tried to steal Bell's idea. The thesis of this book is that Bell (or one of his backers) was the likely thief and that Bell's patent was awarded through what may have been the greatest patent fraud in history. These are strong charges, but as the author shows, they are not new. In the years that followed this remarkable dual filing there were ten years of litigation and a congressional investigation aimed at sorting out who had the rightful claim as the father of the telephone. The author cites several other books that claim that Gray, not Bell was the inventor of the telephone. The author's key original contribution to this investigation was an analysis of Bell's laboratory notebook (long hidden from public view by the Bell family). This notebook contains a sketch of the telephone that is very similar to the one used by Gray in his filing, but it appears in Bell's notebook only AFTER Gray's and Bell's filings. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Bell was experimenting with the successful technique described by Gray prior to a trip that Bell took to Washington, during which time both he and Gray made their filings. Now as in the 19th century, the priority of an invention under US patent law (I hold 15 US patents so this is an area with which I have some knowledge) is based on the date that the idea was conceived, not the date at which a patent is applied for.Read more ›
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