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June 13 , 2009

How the World Was One


Arthur C. Clarke has been one of the most influential commentators on - and prophets of - the communications technology which has created the global village. Now, drawing partly on his own sometimes very personal writings, he provides an absorbing history and survey of modern communications.

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The story begins with the titanic struggles to lay transatlantic telegraph cables in the nineteenth century. Fighting against widespread scepticism, lack of funds, technical disasters and setbacks - and against the Atlantic itself, above and below the surface - the pioneers achieved the seemingly impossible and by 1858 Britain and America were linked by Telegraph.

Nearly a century later, as the first transatlantic telephone cable was being laid, the technology that would rival and perhaps even supersede it was undergoing its painful birth as scientists developed the communications satellite precisely as Clarke first described in his famous 1945 article Wireless World, 'Extra-terrestrial Relays', reprinted in this book.

The rivalry between cable and satellite continued through the decades. Communication satellites (Comsats) performed even beyond the most optimistic expectations, but cable fought back with the development of the transistor. Then, in one of the most dramatic and unexpected breakthroughs in any technology, the potential of cable systems was transformed. The development of fibre optics technology meant that once more the seabeds of the world began to be draped with the newest and most sophisticated artefacts of human engineering.

It is an enthralling story, filled with extraordinary events and people, and Arthur C. Clarke brings all his storytelling flair and scientific expertise to bear on it. The result is a superb combination of history, comment and challenging speculation.

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