Getting the Message: A History of Communications

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9780198503330: Getting the Message: A History of Communications

The past century has seen developments in communications technology that rival those in any other field of human activity. Significant advances are made every year, and the impact on our day-to-day lives has been tremendous. Getting the message explores the fascinating history of communications, starting with ancient civilizations, the Greeks and Romans, then leading through the development of the electric telegraph, and up to the present day with e-mail and cellular phones. In clear, non-technical language the book explains the details of each new development while interweaving ideas from politics, economics, and cultural history. The book concludes with a look at the possible future developments and how they may further transform how we live. Lavishly illustrated and including many original illustrations, the book is an informative and highly entertaining guide to this lively field.

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Review:

Getting The Message: A History of Communications is a strange book. Is it a gift for someone's coffee table, a textbook, or serious history? Laszlo Solymar's quirky commentary mixes colorful character studies with social criticism, technical explanation with personal prejudice. It starts with fire signals and ends with Internet firewalls. He tells us that he would join a Campaign for Curbing the Spread of Acronyms. He regrets that e-mail means you get contacted by forgotten acquaintances sending you details about their offspring. He points out that Dudayev, the Chechen rebel leader, was blown to smithereens because he was too fond of his mobile phone, and all this is mixed in with explanations of "The principles of a triode amplifier."

The narrative in this book is brisk, and there are an amazing number of illustrations and cartoons, which make Solymar's points perfectly. For example, a prescient "Punch" cartoon from 1879 shows two people videoconferencing, and there's a picture of an eavesdropping device used by Alexander the Great.

Solymar, an Oxford professor of engineering, mentions his debt to his fellow dons in the dedication. The exchange of academic ideas has enriched his text. His mind reaches beyond the scientific: he seems perfectly at ease as a historian describing how, during the Russian Revolution, Kerensky and Kornilov had to communicate using the telegraph. Had Russia been less backward, they would have used the telephone. Had they been even more backward, they would have met in person. But they used the telegraph, misunderstood each other, and thus set in motion the October Revolution.

This book sets out to be technical, polemical, historical, analytical, and readable. With the exception of a few longueurs, the author, through his breadth of reference and determination to be accessible, has succeeded. --Brian Jenner, amazon.co.uk

About the Author:

Laszlo Solymar is at Oxford University.

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