A THREAD ACROSS THE OCEAN: The Heroic Tale of the Transatlantic Cable

John Steele Gordon, Author . Walker $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1364-3

Most of us don't think twice about picking up the phone and reaching someone in Germany in a matter of seconds. We often forget that less than 150 years ago, if one wanted to do business in Europe, one got on a boat for two weeks because the only way to do business was in person. Perhaps the biggest force in making worldwide commerce relatively simple was the laying of the transatlantic cable in 1866, which made communication—first via telegraph, then by phone—possible. American Heritage writer Gordon (The Business of America) chronicles the quest to lay the cable, offering a fascinating account that will appeal to history buffs and businesspersons alike. On one level, it's a purely historical account of the battle to navigate the ocean's floor and to figure out not only what should be inside the cable but also how to keep it in place. On another level, by focusing on entrepreneur Cyrus Field, the author traces what was in essence a venture capital deal. He begins with Field gathering wealthy investors—the initial funding was equal to 2.5% of the entire federal budget—and ends, after 12 years and five distinct failures, with all of them striking it rich. This is an appealing account on both levels and an entertaining reminder of the storied past of expensive technology gambles. Illus. Agent, Katinka Matson. (July)

Reviewed on: 07/22/2002
Release date: 06/01/2002
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