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Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications Hardcover – April 12, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (May 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067402429X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024298
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,324,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Tim Wu on October 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book, based on new archives, presents a wealth of new information on Western Union and Bell. An invaluable resource. In particular, possibly the most useful book on Western Union yet published. The Bell sections present new information that threatens many of the existing theories of why AT&T came to rule American telecommunications as a private regulated monopoly.
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Format: Hardcover
John says "The first electrical communications media--the telegraph and the telephone--were products not only of technological imperatives and economic incentives, but also of governmental institutions and civic ideals." He points out at the outset that the telegraph was no "Victorian internet," and that even the much more popular telephone system was really only used by regular people for local calls until World War II. These tools were mostly used by elites, and the businessmen who ran them had a very narrow vision of their potential market. John mentions the concept of the "network effect," (that the value of a network expands with its user base), but suggests that historians might be wrong to project our understanding of it onto even the most forward-looking 19th century telegraph developers. He distinguishes between the skills and temperament of inventors and innovators, suggesting that like Samuel F.B. Morse himself, the people who patented the technology were often not the ideal developers of nationwide systems.

The issue of patenting, actually, turns out to be a prime example of the intersection of technology, business, and government. Morse built his historic Washington-Baltimore demonstration line with a $30,000 grant from Congress. And from 1837 through the granting of the all-important patent in 1840, and its subsequent defense and promotion, the "assistance" that patent commissioner Henry L. Ellsworth gave Morse, his friend of over thirty years, was "little short of astounding." Similarly, Postmaster General Amos Kendall actively promoted "the rapid diffusion of intelligence" through telegraphy, and then went to work for Morse defending his patents. But the patenting of technical improvements was new and controversial. "Scientist Joseph Henry...refused as a matter of principle."
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