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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061994936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061994937
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (134 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Fascinating and unique. . . . [A] captivating behind-the-scenes tour of how (and where) the Internet works. . . . [Blum] has a gift for breathing life into his subjects.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Every web site, every email, every instant message travels through real junctions in a real network of real cables. It’s all too awesome to behold. Andrew Blum’s fascinating book demystifies the earthly geography of this most ethereal terra incognita.” (Joshua Foer, bestselling author of Moonwalking with Einstein)

Tubes is an absorbing tale of this new technology, as well as a wonderful account of the Internet’s growth and the people who made it possible.” (Science News)

“Clever, enterprising . . . Tubes uncovers an Internet that resembles nothing so much as a fantastic steam-punk version of itself.” (Boston Globe)

“Engaging. . . . Full of memorable images that make the internet’s complex architecture easier to comprehend. . . . Blum leaves readers pondering questions that would not have occurred to them before and better informed about an innovation most of us take for granted.” (The Guardian)

“A charming look at the physical infrastructure that underlies the Web.” (Scientific American)

“A satisfying postmodern quest. . . . The history, in particular, is one of the best and most memorable I have ever read.” (New Scientist)

“Blum paints a vivid picture of the Internet, and gives a sense that it is more than just the mysterious interstitial digital space between your computer and mine. It is, increasingly, the backbone that supports our daily life, and Mr. Blum is an able anatomist.” (New York Journal of Books)

“Quixotic and winning. . . . Valuable, comic. . . . [Blum has] a knack for bundling packets of data into memorable observations. What makes Tubes more than an unusual sort of travel book, is [Blum’s] sense of moral curiosity.” (New York Times)

“Ingeniously beguiling. . . . Blum is a smart, imaginative, evocative writer who embraces the task of making his readers feel the wonder represented by these unprepossessing objects.” (Laura Miller, Salon)

“An engaging reminder that, cyber-Utopianism aside, the internet is as much a thing of flesh and steel as any industrial-age lumber mill or factory. It is also an excellent introduction to the nuts and bolts of how exactly it all works.” (The Economist)

“A fascinating exploration of the physical nature of the Internet, and how the ‘network of networks’ came to be the way it is.” (Shelf Awareness)

“Engaging. . . . Blum is a natural storyteller.” (PopMatters)

“Enlightening. . . . A zippy history of a phenomenon that, as a society, captivates us, connects us, and vexes us.” (Guernica)

“With infectious wonder, Blum introduces us to the Internet’s geeky wizards and takes us on an amiably guided tour of the world they’ve created, a world of wires and routers through which most of us daily wander . . . but which few of us have ever really seen.” (Donovan Hohn, author of Moby-Duck)

“Compelling and profound. . . . For the first time, Tubes brings the ‘network of networks’ into stirring, and surprising, relief. You will never open an email in quite the same way again.” (Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of Traffic)

“A compelling story of an altogether new realm where the virtual world meets the physical.” (Paul Goldberger, author of Why Architecture Matters)

“At once funny, prosaic, sinister and wise . . . A beautifully written account of the true human cost of all our remote connectivity.” (Bella Bathurst, author of The Lighthouse Stevensons)

From the Back Cover

When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human culture—can be found on the Internet. But what is it physically? And where is it really? Our mental map of the network is as blank as the map of the ocean that Columbus carried on his first Atlantic voyage. The Internet, its material nuts and bolts, is an unexplored territory. Until now.

In Tubes, journalist Andrew Blum goes inside the Internet's physical infrastructure and flips on the lights, revealing an utterly fresh look at the online world we think we know. It is a shockingly tactile realm of unmarked compounds, populated by a special caste of engineer who pieces together our networks by hand; where glass fibers pulse with light and creaky telegraph buildings, tortuously rewired, become communication hubs once again. From the room in Los Angeles where the Internet first flickered to life to the caverns beneath Manhattan where new fiber-optic cable is buried; from the coast of Portugal, where a ten-thousand-mile undersea cable just two thumbs wide connects Europe and Africa, to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have built monumental data centers—Blum chronicles the dramatic story of the Internet's development, explains how it all works, and takes the first-ever in-depth look inside its hidden monuments.

This is a book about real places on the map: their sounds and smells, their storied pasts, their physical details, and the people who live there. For all the talk of the "placelessness" of our digital age, the Internet is as fixed in real, physical spaces as the railroad or telephone. You can map it and touch it, and you can visit it. Is the Internet in fact "a series of tubes" as Ted Stevens, the late senator from Alaska, once famously described it? How can we know the Internet's possibilities if we don't know its parts?

Like Tracy Kidder's classic The Soul of a New Machine or Tom Vanderbilt's recent bestseller Traffic, Tubes combines on-the-ground reporting and lucid explanation into an engaging, mind-bending narrative to help us understand the physical world that underlies our digital lives.


More About the Author

Andrew Blum is a journalist and the author of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, the first book-length look behind the scenes of our digital lives, at the physical heart of the Internet itself. Before falling into the Internet's depths, Blum was writing about architecture, design, technology, urbanism, art, and travel--all subjects arising out of his interest in the relationship between place and technology. Since 1999, Blum's articles and essays have appeared in Wired, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Business Week, Metropolis, Popular Science, Gizmodo, The Atlantic, Architectural Record, and Slate, among many other publications. He has degrees in literature from Amherst College and in human geography from the University of Toronto, and lives in his native New York City with his wife and daughter.

Tubes will be translated into German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and Chinese.

Customer Reviews

If you want to know how it really fits together, how the Internet really works, read this book.
Daniel Golding
From there, he takes the reader to several network hubs, data centers, and places where the Internet is at its most physical.
Dave Schwartz
The subject matter of the book is interesting, but the author is incapable of writing, he should find another profession.
Lenard Denes

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Golding on May 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I sit, writing this review, in my darkened office in an Internet data center, in Ashburn, VA, the hub described in Tubes. I build these things for a living, and, when my time on this planet is up, I'll be able to say, with some great satisfaction, that I was part of the small army that built the "plumbing" of the Internet - data centers, fiber, DWDM terminals, regen sites, routers, switches. The guts, not the pretty developer work.

From that point of view, I must strongly endorse Tubes by Andrew Blum. I first met Andrew at a meeting of core Internet architects - his intellectual curiosity was striking. He sat in our meetings, went to our bars, listened to our bad stories. Andrew is an excellent writer who talked to the real guys (and girls) who built the Internet. Not an early research network, or an NSF/DOD project, or some web page or search engine - the REAL Internet.

If you want to know how it really fits together, how the Internet really works, read this book. If you are an aspiring network engineer - you must read this book, to really learn something about what you claim to know. If you are a layman - this book will give you an appreciation of the real Internet - behind the glitzy Flash, the addictive MMOs, the electronic storefronts, the content delivery networks - the Tubes. Now, I have to go back and feed the beast. Read the book - this is what Where Wizards Stay Up Late should have been and was not.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By 35-year Technology Consumer TOP 500 REVIEWER on June 6, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
..."The Internet" (as most of us have come to understand its popular rise in our consciousness over a generation) has been described with many metaphors: clouds, tubes, webs (as well as Arthur C. Clark's broad category of magic for any sufficiently advanced technology).

"Tubes" doesn't really create new ground in sustaining or refuting any of these concepts. Instead, it captures the physicality behind the magic that delivers all those digital pieces to us through and examination of how the physical layer of the Internet grew.

After a squirrel-induced outage at at his Brooklyn home, Andrew Blum set out to expand the trace of wires behind his furniture, and see where all that data came from. The result of his findings are here, and he presents us with insider looks at the following:
-The physical parts of the network that grew by chance in its early days
-The physical parts of the network that grew by design as it matured
-The physical parts of the network where data moves and where data rests.

The results: detailed descriptions of the large centers where the connections of large backbone providers intersect and move data, tours of some of the places where undersea cables emerge from the depths to tie continents together digitally, and visits to the one of the factory analogs of the Information Age: the data centers that some increasingly trust more than they trust their own local storage options.

I've had my own experiences visiting facilities like these, and it's quite an accomplishment to get a book-length treatment of them. How much can you write about servers, switches, hubs, routers and cable runs? As it turns out, a lot, and Blum does so in an engaging and accessible way.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Washington, DC VINE VOICE on May 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
After a squirrel living in his backyard chewed through wiring connecting his computer to the internet, journalist Andrew Blum became curious -- where, he asked himself, do all the computers, cables and routers 'live' that physically power the internet? And who runs the companies that maintain them?

This question was covered years ago in a series of fascinating Wired magazine articles written by novelist Bruce Sterling, so I was eager to read Blum's account. Blum traveled from one city to another, looking at inconspicuous office buildings filled with equipment, talking to executives about underwater ocean cables that are thousands of miles long, and tries to give the reader a series of mental pictures of how the internet actually 'works.'

The book is interesting, but his efforts to draw word pictures of complex equipment, how the internet functions, and the engineers who maintain it are somewhat rambling and disorderly, and he assumes a level of knowledge on the reader's part of things like internet IP addresses.

If I weren't a bit of a techie, I would have given up after the first 10 pages. This type of subject cries out for tight vignettes and colorful prose.

I think techies like myself will like it, but the average reader will be bewildered or bored.You do need to be a bit of a geek to understand the book.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By DDC VINE VOICE on May 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Tubes is a interesting book about a subject most people (me included) never consider: what exactly is beyond the screen in front of us? In answering this question, the author takes you all over the virtual and physical world. It is written as a journey of discovery: both on the subject and, to a lesser extent, of the author's personal feelings.

As other reviewers have noted, this book presents some complex IT concepts. They are well explained, but it's easy to get lost here and there. Even when you get lost, it doesn't detract of the overall story and learning experience. For the most part, everything is well explained and you don't need any specific background before reading this book.

The author has a nice writing style and the prose flows well. I don't think the author achieved the kind of casual brilliance of Malcolm Gladwell (Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking) or Michael Lewis (The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine), but this isn't a criticism. To the contrary, the fact I compared them speaks volumes about the author's writing and I thought he was pretty close to them at times.

This book is perfect for people interested in: engineering/IT, modern history, and urban archeology. I have included urban archeology because the book really delves into all the places you've never heard about or walked by and never thought about; for me, this was the best part of the Tubes. I recommend this book.
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