A Thread Across the Ocean
The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic CableBook - 2002
The achievement Arthur C. Clarke called "the Victorian equivalent of the Apollo project"
Today, in a world in which news flashes around the globe in an instant, time lags are inconceivable. In the mid-nineteenth century, they were a fact of life. The United States was remote from Europe, the center of world affairs--communication was only as quick as the fastest ship could cross the Atlantic--and instant contact seemed as unlikely then as walking on the moon did in the 1950s.
The Civil War had barely ended, however, when the Old and New Worlds were united by the successful laying of a cable across the Atlantic in 1866. John Steele Gordon's book chronicles this extraordinary achievement, one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century and perhaps of all time. It was an epic struggle, requiring a decade of effort, numerous failed attempts, millions of dollars in capital, a near disaster at sea, the overcoming of seemingly insurmountable technological problems (many of them entirely unforeseen before work commenced), and uncommon physical, financial, and intellectual courage. In the end, their accomplishment literally changed the world.
The cable was the brainchild and consuming passion of American businessman Cyrus Field, only thirty-three when he first set out to raise the necessary capital, and it attracted a range of luminaries, among them William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) the greatest applied physicist of the century and scientific adviser to the project, and the great English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose ship, the Great Eastern--five times the size of any other ship afloat at the time--carried the entire cable on the final attempt in 1866.
Thirty-four years after the cable was laid, the "American century" began; while the cable did not make this inevitable, it did make it possible. By bringing to life an overlooked story in the annals of technology, John Steele Gordon sheds fascinating new light on the American saga.