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A secret history of the industrial wars behind the rise and fall of the twentieth century’s great information empires—Hollywood, the broadcast networks, and AT&T—asking one big question: Could history repeat itself, with one giant entity taking control of American information?
Most consider the Internet Age to be a moment of unprecedented freedom in communications and culture. But as Tim Wu shows, each major new medium, from telephone to cable, arrived on a similar wave of idealistic optimism only to become, eventually, the object of industrial consolidation profoundly affecting how Americans communicate. Every once free and open technology was in time centralized and closed, a huge corporate power taking control of the “master switch.” Today, as a similar struggle looms over the Internet, increasingly the pipeline of all other media, the stakes have never been higher. To be decided: who gets heard, and what kind of country we live in.
Part industrial exposé, part meditation on the nature of freedom of expression, part battle cry to save the Internet’s best features, The Master Switch brings to light a crucial drama—rife with indelible characters and stories—heretofore played out over decades in the shadows of our national life.
“A free and open Internet is not a given. Indeed, corporate interests are working feverishly to seize control of it. Drawing on history, The Master Switch shows how this could easily happen and why we are at risk of losing the freedom we now take for granted. A must-read for all Americans who want to remain the ones deciding what they can read, watch, and listen to.” —Arianna Huffington
“Every now and then a book changes the way we understand the world. The Master Switch is such an achievement; it is a rigorous, imaginative and enthralling history of the Twentieth Century struggle among utopian innovators, profit-maximizing monopolists, and their often-hapless regulators. Wu has convincingly reinterpreted our media past, and by doing so, he has illuminated the risks to open media and Internet-enabled innovation that confront us in the present.” —Steve Coll, President, New American Foundation and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Ghost Wars: The SecretHistory of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
“A masterpiece.” —Lawrence Lessig, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics and Professor of Law, Harvard University
“Wu . . . artfully charts a single story in which economic power consistently trumps public good, with the Google of today being the latest ‘master switch’ that channels communication. . . . Eye-opening reading, with implications for just about anyone who uses that utility, which means just about everyone.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“[A] brilliant exploration of the oscillations of communications technologies between ‘open’ and ‘closed’ from the early days of telephone up through Hollywood and broadcast television up to the Internet era.” —Michael Noer, Forbes
“Wu’s engaging narrative and remarkable historical detail make this a compelling and galvanizing cry for sanity…in the information age.” —Publisher’s Weekly (starred review and ‘pick of the week’)
“Eye-opening business history. . . . Wu is an exemplary writer . . . able to draw readers into his stories with engaging details.” —Library Journal
“[A]n essential look at the directions that personal computing could be headed depending on which policies and worldviews come to dominate control over the Internet.” —David Siegfried, Booklist (starred review)
“The Master Switch . . . a brilliant explanation and history . . . is as fascinating, wide-ranging, and, ultimately, inspiring book about communications policy and the information industries as you could hope to find. . . . Wu’s great strength is in the breadth of his scholarship an din his ability to use humor, clear language, and innovative arguments to connect diverse ideas. . . . Wu is that rare animal, an accomplished scholar who can write about complex ideas in ways that are accessible to all. And the ideas he’s covering are as important as any in our ideological marketplace today.” —Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“The Master Switch [is] my pick for economics book of the year.” —Ezra Klein, The Washington Post
“[A]n intellectually ambitious history of modern communications. . . . Wu makes a good case [and] his most thought-provoking argument about the future may actually be the past.” —David Leonhardt, The New York Times Book Review
“[O]riginal, insightful. . . . Wu skillfully evocates the early years of telephony. . . . [H]e provides a compelling reminder of the monopolist instincts of communications and media companies.” —Steven Pearlstein, Washington Monthly
“[T]here’s sharp insight and a surprising fact on nearly every page of Wu’s masterful survey.” —Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe
“[G]roundbreaking. . . . The Master Switch offers powerful lessons from the past for the future of the Internet.” —Li Gong, Nature
“[T]imely. . . . The Master Switch is a fascinating look at the cycle of technology and media development over the past century, and implications for the future.” —Andrew Richard Albanese, Publisher’s Weekly
“Wu marshals powerful historical evidence. . . . [The Master Switch] is a ripping yarn—stolen telegrams that may have tipped the presidential election of 1876, an anti-Semitic priest censoring decades of Hollywood films, and so forth. But it is also a serious history with a strong view about the pernicious effect of monopolies and oligopolies in technology.” —Bruce Gottlieb, The Atlantic
“[Wu] presents a powerful case . . . writes vividly . . . and his scholarly command of the past century of communications innovation is prodigious.” —Karen R. Long, Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Brilliant. . . . [E]ntirely convincing. . . . The Master Switch’s account of the rise and fall of information technologies during the twentieth century is fascinating, balanced, and rigorous—a tour de force.” —Steve Coll, The New York Review of Books