Cover: Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications, from Harvard University PressCover: Network Nation in PAPERBACK

Network Nation

Inventing American Telecommunications

Could it be that Americans actually like communications monopolists? Do we want dominant firms to run our world? Richard R. John’s splendid book helps to answer that question by telling us just where this American affection for info-monopoly came from. John has produced a detailed study of the grand-daddies of it all: AT&T and Western Union, the first great info-monopolists, whose role in communications history is similar to that of the Allosaurus and the T. rex in the history of the animal kingdom. A work of careful history based on archival research, Network Nation begins with Samuel Morse’s construction of the first electric telegraph line in 1844 and concludes with the establishment of AT&T (or Bell, a term that can be used interchangeably with AT&T) as America’s regulated telephone monopoly… What Network Nation does deliver is a nuanced answer to the basic question, why monopoly?—Tim Wu, The New Republic

This is a richly detailed and readable book that fills an important gap in the history of communication networks. It definitively debunks palaver about mass communications as an autonomous agent of change, emphasizing how Americans constructed the telegraph and the telephone through a political process of continual negotiation and redefinition.—David E. Nye, American Historical Review

[An] exceptional new history of American communications technologies from 1840 to 1920.—Steven W. Usselman, Business History Review

This is a valuable book on the technological and economic trends that impacted the popularization of the telephone, one of the most profoundly significant inventions in the record of humanity. To understand the history of American telecommunications is to attend to the political economies at the time technological innovation occurred. John brilliantly articulates this context. Shifting municipal and federal sensibilities always shaped the diffusion of technologies, even in times where strong federal governmental oversight did not yet exist. The threat of federal and municipal government ownership of telecommunication systems was real, as seen in the case of the Bell system (and its failure).—Jim Hahn, Library Journal

In a compact, learned-yet-lucid, and deeply informed book spanning roughly eight decades, Richard R. John provides an engrossing history of the emergence of telecommunication networks in the United States.—David A. Hounshell, Carnegie Mellon University

Network Nation is an extraordinary feat of scholarly imagination. Richard John’s sweeping history of the telecommunications industry reveals as much about the development of the American state and of the culture of technology as about the rise of a troubled monopoly. Like Alfred Chandler’s The Visible Hand, it is one of few institutional studies that anyone with a serious interest in U.S. history should read.—Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan

The innovators who built America’s telecommunication networks created more than new devices. With elegant prose and exhaustive research, Richard R. John’s eagerly awaited masterwork shows how business and governmental institutions shaped the first century of the telegraph and the telephone.—Pamela Walker Laird, author of Pull: Networking and Success since Benjamin Franklin

A foundational business history that will be an essential component of what well-educated Americans need to know about their society.—Richard White, Stanford University

Awards & Accolades

  • 2010 Best Journalism and Mass Communication History Book Award, History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
The Elephant in the Universe: Our Hundred-Year Search for Dark Matter, by Govert Schilling, with a Foreword by Avi Loeb, from Harvard University Press

From Our Blog

(logo) SpeakOUT: 50th Anniversary

Speaking with SpeakOut Boston

We continue our celebration of Pride Month by talking with some of the speakers who volunteer with SpeakOUT Boston. They share their stories with a variety of audiences to foster a better understanding of the LGBTQ+ community, so we thought we’d ask them some questions of our own.