Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World
Written by Marc Raboy
Published by Oxford University Press
‘The world was getting smaller.’ This is what Marc Raboy observes of Marconi’s first wireless transmission across the English Channel. Whether it made the world small, or infinitely more complex, Marconi’s role in the invention of wireless communication has arguably shaped human culture as powerfully as the wheel, the word, and fire. With impressive archival research, and a broad understanding of history, Marc Raboy has given life to the man who gave us the ability to talk across oceans, and who is ultimately responsible for this networked world of distant intimacies and Twitter revolutions. Marconi defied most labels and boundaries—an Italian, an Irish Englishman, a liberal Fascist, and an inventor who borrowed from others. Marc Raboy presents all aspects of Marconi’s life in this thorough and revealing biography, and he has given flesh to the ghost who drifts through every phone, radio, TV, and yearning computer. This is not only an indispensable reference for students of communication; it is a landmark in understanding how our world has been shaped by our tools.
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From the Publisher’s Summary: A little over a century ago, the world went wireless. Cables and all their limiting inefficiencies gave way to a revolutionary means of transmitting news and information almost everywhere, instantaneously. By means of “Hertzian waves,” as radio waves were initially known, ships could now make contact with other ships (saving lives, such as on the doomed S. S. Titanic); financial markets could coordinate with other financial markets, establishing the price of commodities and fixing exchange rates; military commanders could connect with the front lines, positioning artillery and directing troop movements. Suddenly and irrevocably, time and space telescoped beyond what had been thought imaginable. Someone had not only imagined this networked world but realized it: Guglielmo Marconi, the first truly global figure in modern communications. Born to an Italian father and an Irish mother, he was in many ways stateless, working his cosmopolitanism to advantage. Through a combination of skill, tenacity, luck, vision, and timing, Marconi popularized—and, more critically, patented—the use of radio waves. Soon after he burst into public view with a demonstration of his wireless apparatus in London at the age of 22 in 1896, he established his Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company and seemed unstoppable. He was decorated by the Czar of Russia, named an Italian Senator, knighted by King George V of England, and awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics-all before the age of 40. Until his death in 1937, Marconi was at the heart of every major innovation in electronic communication, courted by powerful scientific, political, and financial interests, and trailed by the media, which recorded and published nearly every one of his utterances. He established stations and transmitters in every corner of the globe, from Newfoundland to Buenos Aires, Hawaii to Saint Petersburg. Based on original research and unpublished archival materials in four countries and several languages, Raboy’s book is the first to connect significant parts of Marconi’s story, from his early days in Italy, to his groundbreaking experiments, to his protean role in world affairs. Raboy also explores Marconi’s relationships with his wives, mistresses, and children, and examines in unsparing detail the last ten years of the inventor’s life, when he returned to Italy and became a pillar of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime.
is Professor and Beaverbrook Chair in Ethics, Media and Communications in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is the author or editor of numerous books, and he has been a visiting scholar at Stockholm University, the University of Oxford, New York University, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. He lives in Montreal.