Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention Of The 19th Century & The Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked A Revo

Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention Of The 19th Century & The Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked A Revo

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by Gavin Weightman

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The world at the turn of the twentieth century was in the throes of "Marconi-mania"-brought on by an incredible invention that no one could quite explain, and by a dapper and eccentric figure (who would one day win the newly minted Nobel Prize) at the center of it all. At a time when the telephone, telegraph, and electricity made the whole world wonder just what


The world at the turn of the twentieth century was in the throes of "Marconi-mania"-brought on by an incredible invention that no one could quite explain, and by a dapper and eccentric figure (who would one day win the newly minted Nobel Prize) at the center of it all. At a time when the telephone, telegraph, and electricity made the whole world wonder just what science would think of next, the startling answer had come in 1896 in the form of two mysterious wooden boxes containing a device Marconi had rigged up to transmit messages "through the ether." It was the birth of the radio, and no scientist in Europe or America, not even Marconi himself, could at first explain how it just did.Here is a rich portrait of the man and his era-a captivating tale of British blowhards, American con artists, and Marconi himself-a character par excellence, who eventually winds up a virtual prisoner of his worldwide fame and fortune.

Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
The excitement of these early days of radio is wonderfully caught...excellent reading...often hard to put down.
Science News
Weightman takes readers back to a time when people lived literally in the dark and examines how a young boy's fascination with electricity would change the world.
Curled Up With a Good Book
A definitive reference on nineteenth-century inventors concerned with telegraphy...intriguing.
Technology & Society
Interesting and an excellent feeling of this exciting period when the technologies that we take for granted were just getting off the ground.
USA Today
This well-researched micro-history is best described as a coming-of-age story...Weightman sets scenes with color and wit...Engaging.
Roanoke Times
A fascinating story of the creation and early development of what, to many, was considered the most important invention of the 19th century.
Providence Journal
Weightman has given us a lively biography of a remarkable man and is fascinating era of ingenious scientific discoveries...One of the world's great stories.
Christian Science Monitor
Weightman does a magnificent job of painting a social history of technology in the late Victorian age...A masterly job.
Columbus Dispatch
A great read about one of the greatest amateur inventors of all time.
August 18, 2003
Book Magazine
[A] lively saga...Weightman's vivid narrative not only chronicles Marconi's success, it captures the enthusiasm and competitive drive that made it possible.
Four-Star Review, Sept/Oct 2003
Publishers Weekly
Dapper, aristocratic Guglielmo Marconi doesn't fit the typical inventor stereotype: he lacked wild hair, wasn't absentminded, wore debonair-looking hats and frequently wooed women when traveling by ship. Yet Marconi's aptitude for technology led him to become the father of wireless telegraphy and radio. Born in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Marconi was always fascinated by the nascent technology of electricity and, as a young man, was struck by the idea that he could transmit telegraph messages-then carried by cables-through the air. At a crowded London meeting hall in 1896, he made a dramatic public demonstration of his idea by sending a current from one innocuous-looking box to a receiver he carried around the hall with him, causing it to ring: "No messages were being sent at all-just an invisible electronic signal. But in 1896 that was sensational enough," writes documentary filmmaker and journalist Weightman. Like many other great inventions, wireless was being pursued at the same time by a number of different inventors, including some shameless charlatans-some of whom, like the delightfully crooked Abraham White, give Weightman's dry book some desperately needed spark-and a great deal of Weightman's text is about the juggling for position among the inventors and their respective companies around the turn of the century. Although Weightman has his hands on an extremely exciting subject, there is precious little life to his writing, and even exciting episodes, like the sending of an early type of wireless distress signal from the sinking Titanic, fail to engage. Photos. Agent, Charles Walker. (Sept. 1) Forecast: Weightman's previous work, The Frozen-Water Trade, was a Book Sense pick. That distinction, along with a print ad campaign, could stir up sales for Marconi. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A documentary filmmaker and journalist, Weightman (The Frozen-Water Trade) uses the fascinating story of Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) and his amazing "magic box" to recount the early days of wireless technology, beginning with the first public demonstration of Marconi's wireless telegraph in 1896 and ending with his death, which coincided with the first television broadcasts. In 44 succinct chapters, Weightman follows Marconi's invention from the early days through numerous other firsts, including the all-important first transatlantic wireless signal (the Morse letter "S") from Poldhu, England, to Newfoundland. The author incorporates just enough of Marconi's personal life to add further interest to an already intriguing era. The Marconi method, using electromagnetic waves generated by a spark, was based on James Clark Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism and the layers of Earth's atmosphere-ironically something Marconi never completely understood. Less a fully developed biography than a history of wireless technology heavily focused on the critical role of Marconi, Weightman's tale nicely updates biographies by W.P. Jolly and Orrin Dunlap. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A middling account of Guglielmo Marconi’s development of the "wireless telegraph"—the radio. Whether that invention is the "most fabulous" of the 19th century is most arguable, of course, and radio would not come into its own until well into the 20th. Still, British journalist Weightman (The Frozen Water Trade, 2003) offers a bright portrait of Marconi, who, with the patronage of English scientists (the Italian government having had no interest in his work), demonstrated in 1896 that somehow, through processes he didn’t quite understand at the time, electrical impulses could be captured in his "magic boxes" and made to sound tones. Marconi’s London audience perceived the event, Weightman writes, as something akin to magic: "It was like some fantastic act at a music hall. In fact, those present might easily have dismissed the demonstration as the work of a magician and his assistant, for the young man had a suspiciously exotic Italian name, although he looked and talked like a smart Londoner about town." Only later did Marconi realize that these signals could be charged with meaning, by which time he was in competition with several other inventors to establish standards and networks for the "wireless telegraph" and reap the rewards. Those inventors, among them Robert Marriott and Reginald Fessenden, were performing wonders in the early 1900s, establishing radio links between distant points, and the Marconi Company had its work cut out for it just keeping up with these rivals. Still, Weightman notes, when the Titanic sank in 1912 it sent out not the "SOS" of those competitors, but the Marconi system’s "CQD"—"seek you, distress." And, for all his struggles, Marconi died wealthy andworld-renowned—though, sadly, an apologist and de facto ambassador for the Mussolini regime. Pleasant reading for students of technological history, but radio buffs may be disappointed with Weightman’s light treatment of technical matters.

Product Details

Da Capo Press
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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3 MB

Meet the Author

Gavin Weightman is a documentary filmmaker, a journalist, and the author of The Frozen-Water Trade, a Book Sense 76 selection. He lives in London.

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Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the 19th Century and the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is located at 'Revolution' first result. Once there, there is no turning back.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Should have checked the author's nationality. It was brit and all that being a brit author brings with it. Wordy, off track, does a poor job of tying in radio, and worst of all little techincal information. If you want to read about wireless and radios, there has to be better material out there.