Newsletter of the Mercurians

In lieu of the usual book reviews, we have decided to conduct an experiment. The following is an annotated list of selected books recently published in the field of the history of communications technology. The idea is that the annotated list is more useful than just a list of new books, because it provides more information. This format lacks the personal touch of a reviewer, but it allows us to publish information about more books, thereby making the exercise more valuable (hopefully) to you, the reader. We are interested in knowing what you think about this innovation, so please send your comments to:

Getting the Message: A History of Communications.
By Laszlo Solymar.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. xii + 311; illustrated, maps, bibliographical references (p. 304-305) and index. $29.95.

If there is a book category called “And now for something completely different,” Getting the Message undoubtedly would be so classified. Is it a coffee table book, a textbook, or a serious history? Part I gives the reader “The first thirty-six centuries,” while Part II is telegraphy (and a bit of telephony), and everything else (microwaves, digitization, fiber optics, deregulation, mobile communications, the fax, the “communications-computing symbiosis,” and more) crowd into Part III.

Laszlo Solymar, an Oxford professor of engineering, infuses the text with quirky commentary, colorful character studies, social criticism, technical explanations, and personal prejudice. Indeed, he set out to make this book simultaneously technical, polemical, historical, analytical, and readable. The narrative is brisk, and a large number of illustrations and cartoons make Solymar's points. For example, he includes a “Punch” cartoon from 1879 that shows two people who appear to be videoconferencing, and a picture of an eavesdropping device used by Alexander the Great.