The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret

The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret

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by Seth Shulman

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A gripping intrigue at the heart of one of the world’s most important inventions.See more details below


A gripping intrigue at the heart of one of the world’s most important inventions.

Editorial Reviews

Henry Petroski
In barely 200 pages of text, Shulman has presented a highly complicated web of tales clearly, succinctly, sympathetically and almost seamlessly. He has done such a masterful job that we're not even sorry to see the book, pleasurable though it is, come to an end. He has let his wholly integrated tales and his writing style dictate its pace and length. Its story never flags, nor does it leave any significant business unfinished.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Absolutely by accident, I fell through a kind of historical trap door into a vexing intrigue" surrounding the invention of the telephone, writes science journalist Shulman (Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration). The result is a dramatic probe into a shocking intellectual theft. In 2004, studying Alexander Graham Bell's laboratory notebook, he found a 12-day gap followed by a March 7, 1876, note, "Returned from Washington," and a striking shift in Bell's ideas that resulted in his famous "telephone" call to Mr. Watson on March 10. The suspenseful details of "Bell's life-altering visit" emerge as Shulman learns that electrical researcher Elisha Gray had filed a claim on a device to send "vocal sounds telegraphically" on the same day Bell filed his patent application, February 14, nearly a month before Bell's notebook recorded his success. Bell, Shulman realized, had "drawn an almost perfect replica of his competitor's invention in his own notebook." The reader follows Shulman as he contacts curators, explores archives and unravels the mystery, leading to a remarkable re-creation of the 1876 Centennial Exposition, where a nervous Bell attempted to avoid demonstrating his telephone because he knew Elisha Gray would be present. Although much of this book involves comparisons of correspondence, documents and journals, the skillful, polished writing makes century-old events spring to life. 20 illus. (Jan. 7)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Shulman (Unlocking the Sky; Owning the Future) brings a journalist's storytelling skills and a historian's persistence to this account of his year at MIT's Dibner Institute spent researching the life of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. Or did Bell really invent the telephone? Here is where the suspense lies in this account of how "invention occurs and is remembered." Shulman meticulously studied long-forgotten patent litigation transcripts and reread Bell's laboratory notebooks, which had been almost entirely unavailable to scholars until recently. He painstakingly sifted the facts surrounding Bell's work, exploring the politics and influence underlying how Bell obtained a patent for the technology we know as the telephone. Shulman builds a strong circumstantial case for Bell and his colleagues copying another inventor's innovation and exploiting it to complete Bell's own work. With humor and intelligence, the author helps us understand how myth overtakes historical events. This title is ideal for history undergraduates learning scholarly methods; general readers will enjoy it for its engrossing descriptions of historical detective work. Recommended for all libraries.

—Michael Dashkin
Entertainment Weekly
Seth Shulman's The Telephone Gambit masterfully breathes life into a long-forgotten controversy.
The Washington Post
Masterful...[the] story never intrepid journalist-turned-historian's quest for the true story of the invention of the telephone.
“Starred Review. Rewrites history even as it immediately lures readers with scandal and iconoclasm.”
New Scientist
“A great tale of historic detection.”
Wall Street Journal
A page-turner....The Telephone Gambit is solid history, and Seth Shulman makes it as much fun to read as an Agatha Christie whodunit by using the techniques of historiography the way Hercule Poirot used his 'little gray cells.' That's no small accomplishment.— John Steele Gordon
Christian Science Monitor
A portrait of the thrilling era of innovation in which Bell lived....Succeeds splendidly as an edge-of-your seat historical tale.— Marjorie Kehe
Marjorie Kehe - Christian Science Monitor
“A portrait of the thrilling era of innovation in which Bell lived....Succeeds splendidly as an edge-of-your seat historical tale.”

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Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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