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A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable [Paperback]

by John Steele Gordon
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1, 2003 0060524464 978-0060524463

Today, in a world in which news flashes around the globe in an instant, time lags are inconceivable. In the mid-nineteenth century, communication between the United States and Europe -- the center of world affairs -- was only as quick as the fastest ship could cross the Atlantic, making the United States isolated and vulnerable.

But in 1866, the Old and New Worlds were united by the successful laying of a cable across the Atlantic. John Steele Gordon's book chronicles this extraordinary achievement -- the brainchild of American businessman Cyrus Field and one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century. An epic struggle, it required a decade of effort, numerous failed attempts, millions of dollars in capital, a near disaster at sea, the overcoming of seemingly insurmountable technological problems, and uncommon physical, financial, and intellectual courage. Bringing to life an overlooked story in the annals of technology, John Steele Gordon sheds fascinating new light on this American saga that literally changed the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

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, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060524464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060524463
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #506,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Breezy Historical Account August 16, 2002
At a brief 215 pages of double-spaced narrative, "A Thread Across the Ocean" as a book stands in sharp contracst to the Herculean feat it resurrects for modern readers. We have come to take instant communications so much for granted that we tend to forget that prior to a mere century-and-a-half ago, it took news many weeks to cross the world's great oceans. Though dwarfed in memory by such other mammoth engineering feats such as the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge, the laying of the first Trans-Atlantic cable in 1866 was every bit important in the delvelopment of the modern world, if not more so.
Author John Steele Gordon tells the tale with easily readable prose and superb storytelling. Along the way, he enhances the historical memory of Cyrus Field, the visionary entreprenuer whose single-minded devotion to the project kept it going despit many setbacks. Field's project was the perfect marriage of private and public enterprize in an effort that greatly bennefitted both. Field's story is as interesting as that of the cable itself.
The one main drawback to the book is that its brevity doesn't seem befitting of its subject matter, even more so since Gordon throws in a number of anecdotes that are sidelights to the main story. He commits a major factual error with one of the side stories, stating inaccurately that General Zachary Taylor led the American Army to Mexico City during the Mexican War when in fact it was General Winfield Scott who accomplished that task.
Overall, despite a few flaws, "A Thread Across the Ocean" is a worthwhile read that will be of primary interest to history buffs.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tycoons and Inventors Start a Global Village October 10, 2002
In these days of instant communication, when one can send an e-mail quickly and reliably to any part of the world, it might seem unnecessary to examine the laying of telegraph cables between Europe and America. But the delightful book, _A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable_ (Walker) by John Steele Gordon, gives a lively history of an epochal achievement which was only eventually a success despite costly failures, calamities, and mistakes. It is good to be reminded of just how difficult this beginning of our communications technology was to achieve, for as the title mentions, the story is indeed heroic.
The hero is Cyrus Field, a man of enthusiasm, determination, and optimism who would not let his cable idea die. The appeal of the story is eventual success despite many heartbreaking failures, but as Gordon demonstrates, the failures were mined for lessons learned, and each subsequent attempt to lay the cable was a bit cleverer, a bit more comprehensive. There were broken cables, unexpected storms, and suspicion of sabotage in the different attempts. The public was wild with optimism and then wild with mockery when the cables failed. One laid in 1858 actually worked to send a message from Queen Victoria, but slowly, and then went forever dead. The final success in 1866 came in large part because of the gigantic ship _Great Eastern_, the final project of the brilliant engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The huge ship was a bit of a white elephant, but was the only vessel capable of carrying all that cable almost three thousand miles at 3,575 pounds per mile. The coiling it into different levels of the great ship without kinks was an engineering feat in itself.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Wanderings of the Author August 30, 2002
By A Customer
John Steele Gordon has written some excellent books, such as the Business of America. He seems to have lost his focus when he wrote this one. The first forty pages has more to do with the industrial revolution than with the theme of the book. Almost every new chapter begins with another set of wanderings that stray from the theme. Even the chapter on Newfoundland, which is an important part of the history of the cable, dwells on a series of biographies that has more to do with America's emerging wealth than with the importance of Newfoundland. In fact, the work is overly littered with biographies, mainly because Gordon is well-versed in the financial evolution of America and those who led it, so he has chosen to reply heavily on this aspect of his knowledge. Because of this, the people of New York, especially Wall Streeters, will find the book more interesting than the rest of the nation.
Part of the problem is Gordon's research. He used only published sources and generously quoted from them. There is no original research, and unfortunately, many of the interesting events that occurred during the twelve-year cable-laying effort have been overlooked.
In 1953 Samuel Carter III wrote a biography on Cyrus Field, which was liberally taken from Isabella Field Judson's biography of her father but also liberally enhanced with good research. Aside from Gordon adding biographies and essays of America's mid-nineteenth century financial development, he adds nothing new or of importance to the history.
If a reader is interested in all the periferal events surrounding the laying of the cable rather than the arduous efforts of so many that went into the project, they will be happy with this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fair Read
John Steele Gordon's A THREAD ACROSS THE OCEAN is subtitled "The Heroic Story Of The Transatlantic Cable", and that describes it neatly. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Greg Goebel
5.0 out of 5 stars Suprisingly fascinating!
In 1853, entrepreneur Cyrus Field was introduced to Frederick Gisbourne, a man whose idea of laying a telegraph cable across the Atlantic, from Ireland to Newfoundland, had... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Kurt A. Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
This detailed novel was very interesting and enjoyable read. The diagrams showing the innards of the cables were very interesting as well (and they were roughly to scale to give a... Read more
Published 20 months ago by A. Cox
5.0 out of 5 stars John Dunn''s Review of John Steele Gordon's "A Thread Across the...
Customer Video Review
Length: 8:47 Mins
Published 23 months ago by Arthur M. Diamond, Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Vision, persistence, technology and entrepreneurship all in one
Easily one of the most inspiring entrepreneurial stories of all time: 12 years in the making, 30 transatlantic crossings, 4 major attempts and 3 major failures, economic troubles... Read more
Published on April 8, 2012 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Eliminating the Ocean
This is one of those very good, against all odds reads that leaves you impressed with one man's ability to motivate those around him and in so doing achieve the impossible. Read more
Published on November 27, 2009 by Michael E. Fitzgerald
4.0 out of 5 stars Deep Six
A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable

The Nineteenth Century saw massive growth in America's industrial infrastructure. Read more
Published on August 13, 2008 by Philip W. Henry
5.0 out of 5 stars A little niche of history that changed the world
It's hard to imagine how different life was for people living in the 19th century after the successful laying of the first trans-Atlantic cable. Read more
Published on January 19, 2005 by M. Strong
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable but Shallow History with a Bias
I found _A Thread Across the Ocean_ to be a perfectly readable account of the travails behind the laying of the first workable translatlantic cable, a breezy read without a lot of... Read more
Published on January 7, 2005 by Matthew Wall
4.0 out of 5 stars Breezing across the Atlantic...
It's not often that you'll read historical non-fiction that grabs you and pulls you along, but this is one of those rare such books that would make great beach reading. Read more
Published on August 31, 2004 by Rob Neyer
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