The Master Switch by Tim Wu
The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (Borzoi Books)

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Synopsis

In this age of an open Internet, it is easy to forget that every American information industry, beginning with the telephone, has eventually been taken captive by some ruthless monopoly or cartel. With all our media now traveling a single network, an unprecedented potential is building for centralized control over what Americans see and hear. Could history repeat itself with the next industrial consolidation? Could the Internet—the entire flow of American information—come to be ruled by one corporate leviathan in possession of “the master switch”? That is the big question of Tim Wu’s pathbreaking book.

As Wu’s sweeping history shows, each of the new media of the twentieth century—radio, telephone, television, and film—was born free and open. Each invited unrestricted use and enterprising experiment until some would-be mogul battled his way to total domination. Here are stories of an uncommon will to power, the power over information: Adolph Zukor, who took a technology once used as commonly as YouTube is today and made it the exclusive prerogative of a kingdom called Hollywood . . . NBC’s founder, David Sarnoff, who, to save his broadcast empire from disruptive visionaries, bullied one inventor (of electronic television) into alcoholic despair and another (this one of FM radio, and his boyhood friend) into suicide . . . And foremost, Theodore Vail, founder of the Bell System, the greatest information empire of all time, and a capitalist whose faith in Soviet-style central planning set the course of every information industry thereafter.

Explaining how invention begets industry and industry begets empire—a progress often blessed by government, typically with stifling consequences for free expression and technical innovation alike—Wu identifies a time-honored pattern in the maneuvers of today’s great information powers: Apple, Google, and an eerily resurgent AT&T. A battle royal looms for the Internet’s future, and with almost every aspect of our lives now dependent on that network, this is one war we dare not tune out.

Part industrial exposé, part meditation on what freedom requires in the information age, The Master Switch is a stirring illumination of a drama that has played out over decades in the shadows of our national life and now culminates with terrifying implications for our future.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Tim Wu

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Tim Wu is an author, a policy advocate, and a professor at Columbia University. In 2006, he was recognized as one of fifty leaders in science and technology by Scientific American magazine, and in the following year, 01238 magazine listed him as one of Harvard's one hundred most influential graduates. He writes for Slate, where he won the Lowell Thomas gold medal for travel journalism, and he has contributed to The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Forbes. He is a fellow of the New America Foundation and the chairman of the media reform organization Free Press. He lives in New York.
 
Published November 2, 2010 by Vintage. 384 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, Political & Social Sciences, Computers & Technology, Science & Math, Professional & Technical, Self Help. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Master Switch

Kirkus Reviews

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In the 1920s, writes Wu, radio “was a two-way medium accessible to almost any hobbyist,” and private individuals and small businesses alike started radio stations as quickly as they set up blogs today.

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The New York Times

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AT&T and the radio manufacturers wanted radio to transform from hobby to big business, so they decided to fight back, publicly and in the courts, against a commerce secretary who had been protecting radio from what he called “advertising chatter.” That commerce secretary was Herbert Hoover.

Dec 10 2010 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

The Guardian

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For every other modern communications technology – telephone, radio, cinema and TV – has eventually succumbed to these forces.

Apr 02 2011 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

Publishers Weekly

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According to Columbia professor and policy advocate Wu (Who Controls the Internet), the great information empires of the 20th century have followed a clear and distinctive pattern: after the chaos that follows a major technological innovation, a corporate power intervenes and centralizes control ...

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The Wall Street Journal

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Is Internet freedom threatened more by dominant companies or by the government's efforts to hem them in?

Nov 08 2010 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

New York Journal of Books

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This is treacherous territory to say the least, and it puts Wu in peril of moving from the role of academic utopian to technological fabulist.After this 298-page windup, Wu throws his pitch: There are people at Viacom, Time Warner, Verizon, and other behemoths who want to take your Internet exper...

Nov 02 2010 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

The Economist

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Sir Tim's bugbears include powerful social networks that refuse to share the information they hold with the rest of the web, and cable companies that manipulate the flow of data over their networks to the advantage of their own commercial interests.

Dec 29 2010 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

The Washington Post

Comments our editors find particularly useful or relevant are displayed in Top Comments, as are comments by users with these badges: .

Dec 29 2013 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

Dallas News

By CHRIS TUCKER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News Chris Tucker (at www .ctucker.wordpress.com) is a Dallas-based book collaborator and a commentator for KERA-FM (90.1), National Public Radio.

Dec 12 2010 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

https://www.washingtonpost.com

He commits the unforgivable sin of discussing “the Internet” and is therefore guilty of what Morozov calls “McLuhanesque medium-centrism.” (Morozov is evidently licensed to use concepts, even if his targets are not).

Apr 12 2013 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

Ars Technica

The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, Tim Wu, 366 pages, Knopf Is the open Internet doomed?

Dec 20 2010 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

Labour Uncut

Markets are born free, yet no sooner are they born than some would-be emperor is forging chains…if we believe in liberty, it must be freedom from both public and private coercion.” Wu’s solution is what he terms the ‘separation principle.’ He warns us that the takeover of radio by big business b...

Jun 05 2011 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

New America Foundation / Slate

Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor who coined the term "network neutrality" almost a decade ago, argues that information industries inevitably go through alternating periods of open and closed.

Dec 19 2010 | Read Full Review of The Master Switch: The Rise a...

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