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Tube: The Invention of Television Paperback – October 15, 1997

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Telling the tale of the corporate revolution that forever changed the nature of the individual is no easy task. Authors David E. Fisher and Marshall Jon Fisher have hidden their sociohistory between the lines of the exciting story of the race to invent television. Eccentric geniuses John Logie Baird (whose only other invention was stay-dry socks) and teenaged Utah farm boy Philo T. Farnsworth struggled with limited resources to produce the first television systems, but their greatest challenge was coming up against the giant corporations that had nearly infinite money and resources. Pitting these lone romantics against the collective will of RCA, Tube turns a history of science into a thrilling page-turner.

From Publishers Weekly

As the authors say in their preface, "[W]ho invented television? Nobody knows." But the genius of several individuals coalesced into today's modern TV. In this personality-driven book, the authors look at the key players and their contributions: John Logie Bair, the eccentric Scot who went from marketing hemorrhoid cream to making the first TV in Britain; Vladimir Zworykin, the Russian immigrant who blazed the trail for RCA; and Ernst Alexanderson, who led RCA to the promised land but lost out to Zworykin. But the two stars are Philo T. Farnsworth and David Sarnoff. Farnsworth was the boy-genius who first visualized TV as a 14-year-old and invented one of the first totally electronic TVs, only to be defeated by corporate in-fighting. "General" David Sarnoff, a Jewish immigrant on New York City's Lower East Side, rose to become the head of RCA, leading it to the vanguard because of his keen perceptions of both radio and television. David Fisher, a professor of cosmochemistry at the University of Miami, and Marshal Joe Fisher, a freelance writer, offer an engrossing, in-depth look at the history of the medium. Photos not seen by PW. 35,000 first printing; major ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (October 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156005360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156005364
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,232,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marshall Jon Fisher was born in 1963 in Ithaca, New York, grew up in Miami, and graduated from Brandeis University, where he played varsity tennis. He worked as a sportswriter in Miami and a tennis pro in Munich before moving to New York City, where he received an M.A. in English at City College. In 1989 he moved to Boston and began working as a freelance writer and editor.

He has written on a variety of topics for The Atlantic Monthly, ranging from wooden tennis rackets to Internet fraud, and his work has also appeared in Harper's, Discover, DoubleTake, and other publications, as well as The Best American Essays 2003. His book "The Ozone Layer" was selected by The New York Public Library as one of the best books for teenagers of 1993. His book (with his father, David E. Fisher) "Tube: the Invention of Television" was published by Counterpoint in 1996 and by Harcourt Brace in paperback in 1997. Their second book together, "Strangers in the Night: a Brief History of Life on Other Worlds" (Counterpoint 1998), was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the twenty-five Books to Remember of 1998.

In 2009, "A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, A World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played" was published to great acclaim. The Washington Times called it "a fine book...solidly researched.... Marshall Jon Fisher has found a remarkable story and has told it well." The Wall Street Journal termed it "rich and rewarding," and The San Francisco Chronicle called it "enthralling...a gripping tale.... Fisher pulls the task off with supreme finesse, at once revealing the triumph and tragedy of a remarkable tennis match." You can read more about the author and the book at marshalljonfisher.com.

Marshall lives in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts with his wife, Mileta Roe (a professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Bard College at Simon's Rock), and their two sons, Satchel and Bram.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Tube is easily the most accessible history of television's early years (its "prehistory"), and a good read to boot. The great Zworykin/Farnsworth technology battle is pretty well presented, and the men themselves come alive in the text. Color television's development gets easily the best treatment I've seen anywhere in the non-technical press. However, the final chapter on the future of television was mostly worthless; historians (along with most of the rest of us) do not do well in predicting the future. In a few years that chapter probably will be seen as an embarassment which the rest of the book does not deserve
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By A Customer on December 30, 1996
Format: Hardcover
"Tube" is a scholarly rendering of a fascinating, important,
but largely untold piece of history. Unfortunately, the
authors failed to search beneath the surface of the
surviving historical record to find the true facts, and have
instead reiterated a false accounting that has been preserved
by more than than 60 years of corporate public relations.

"Tube" repeats oft cited historical record that "Vladimir
Zworykin became 'the father of television' when he invented
as device called the "iconoscope" while working for RCA in 1923."
That is a single sentence that manages to embody about four historical

What's worse, repeating this false litany obscures one of
the most amazing achievements of the 20th century: that
television as we know it emerged whole from the mind of a
14 year old farm boy named Philo T. Farnsworth. The
Fishers' book recognizes Farnsworth, but fails to differentiate
his achievement from that of Zworykin, or to examine the
patent record deeply enough to unveil the true magnitude
of Farnsworth's contribution.

Philo T. Farnsworth paved the way for today's living room
dreams, but the Fishers' book treats his contribution no
better than dozens of volumes that precede it. For the true
story, read "The Farnsworth Chronicles" on the web at


--Paul Schatzkin
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has just the right amount of history and just the right amount of detail to keep you interested. I have an electronics background, but some books can still get too deep to be of interest to me. This one is just right. After reading this book you will have an understanding and a hatred of RCA's dishonesty and backstabbing.
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Format: Hardcover
Lively, intelligent, thoroughly researched, Tube is the best history of its kind available. The grousings of certain Farnsworth zealots notwithstanding, the countrified genius of television finally gets his due in this volume. A great read
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Format: Paperback
What a find! Most books that deal with the history of a technology are pretty dry and boring, even if you are a geek, but Tube is an exciting account of the history of television that emphasizes the human lives that shaped it. I don't think I've ever raced through a book as fast as I did with this one. So much is going on with so many racing to be first that you can't wait to see what happens next.

David Fisher provides just the right amount of technical information with very simple graphics to allow the reader to understand the importance of different discoveries to the advancement television. If you can understand an ordinary light-bulb, you can keep up with this book.

Did you know that the FCC first approved a color TV system that would have required a spinning disk in every home set? But no company produced any sets for the home so it went nowhere until the relentless David Sarnoff succeeded in driving RCA, the company he headed, to produce a color system that was compatible with black and white TV.

The personal story of Philo T. Farnsworth, a self-taught Iowa farm-boy who was the first to come up with an all-electronic (instead of mechanical) television system would make this book worthwhile if that were the only story told, but there are a host of colorful characters that will keep you reading.

I'm not sure if this book is still in print; I found it in a used book store but if you find a copy, grab it! There's even a chapter at the end to fill you in on the early development of digital TV, though that is a story of committees rather than personalities.
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