City of Light
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City of Light : The Story of Fiber Optics

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City of Light tells the story of fiber optics, tracing its transformation from 19th-century parlor trick into the foundation of our global communications network. Written for a broad audience by a journalist who has covered the field for twenty years, the book is a lively account of both the people and the ideas behind this revolutionary technology. The basic concept underlying fiber optics was first explored in the 1840s when researchers used jets of water to guide light in laboratory demonstrations. The idea caught the public eye decades later when it was used to create stunning illuminated fountains at many of the great Victorian exhibitions. The modern version of fiber optics-using flexible glass fibers to transmit light-was discovered independently five times through the first half of the century, and one of its first key applications was the endoscope, which for the first time allowed physicians to look inside the body without surgery. Endoscopes became practical in 1956 when a college undergraduate discovered how to make solid glass fibers with a glass cladding. With the invention of the laser, researchers grew interested in optical communications. While Bell Labs and others tried to send laser beams through the atmosphere or hollow light pipes, a small group at Standard Telecommunication Laboratories looked at guiding light by transparent fibers. Led by Charles K. Kao, they proposed the idea of fiber-optic communications and demonstrated that contrary to what many researchers thought glass could be made clear enough to transmit light over great distances. Following these ideas, Corning Glass Works developed the first low-loss glass fibers in 1970. From this point fiber-optic communications developed rapidly. The first experimental phone links were tested on live telephone traffic in 1977 and within half a dozen years long-distance companies were laying fiber cables for their national backbone systems. In 1988, the first transatlantic fiber-optic cable connected Europe with North America, and now fiber optics are the key element in global communications. The story continues today as fiber optics spread through the communication grid that connects homes and offices, creating huge information pipelines and replacing copper wires. The book concludes with a look at some of the exciting potential developments of this technology.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 156.5 x 238.3 x 23.9mm | 503.5g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Revised
  • Revised edition
  • numerous halftones and line figures
  • 0195162552
  • 9780195162554
  • 1,644,486

Review quote

"This latest entry by engineering-trained science journalist Jeff Hecht is a layperson's complete account of the history of fiber optics, from their pre-electric beginnings. Like someone actually working with fibers, Hecht weaves multiple threads into his story. Read the book, which is certainly worthwhile. It is written for the public, with the scientific principles simply explained and well-illustrated. The inclusion of a large number of photographs of the players and their apparatus adds to the appeal of the story, as do a timeline and "dramatis personae" included." - Newsletter No. 51 "This is a story of the technical advances in the telecommunications industry, brought about by the continuously increasing demands for greater capacity. (How we love to talk on the phone!) A recurring theme-that photons would be better than electrons for carrying signals-appears in each new generation, but at the time, glass (the obvious material for transmitting light) could not be fashioned into wires with an acceptably low attenuation rate. Finally, as in all good stories, the hero wins, and fiber-optic cables, become a technological reality. . . . Jeff Hecht has done an admirable job in delving into the personalities of many of the key contributors."-American Scientist "Hecht offers a fascinating chronicle of people, events, and technological innovations that led to modern fiber optics. Though he traces this history to the use of glass in Egypt at least 4,500 years ago, to Romans drawing glass into fibers, and then to some pertinent events in the 1700s, his tale primarily covers relevant developments over the past century and a half. Among the earliest of these involves the ability of water to guide light and the subsequent use of this feature to create the luminous fountains for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. Hecht identifies the individuals and their contributions, some successful and others not, in the sequence of events that today makes possible enormous communication bandwidths. . . . Appendixes with annotated lists of people and organizations; chronology of developments; extensive notes. General readers; professionals; two-year technical program students."-Choice "Hecht's narrative is a model of the sort-exactly what might have been hoped from a writer who covered the industry for 25 years for trade publications, yet who retains both the detachment and perspective necessary to put a narrative construction on events. . . . Hecht now covers all manner of topics . . . for Britain's New Scientist magazine. . . . Trained as an engineer himself, Hecht has a gift for conveying the fog of uncertainty about the possibilities in which scientists, engineers and managers must make their choices about the approaches to pursue. . . . He begins with an account of the spectacular 'luminous fountains' that were centerpieces of the great electrical expositions in London, Paris and Chicago at the end of the 19th century, then traces the slow zigzag development of the idea from early applications . . . to theoretical investigation of the underlying principles of light transmission by glass by those involved in the telephone industry."-Boston Globe "The most powerful argument against monopoly is not that it inflates its owners' profit . . . , but rather that it retards innovation. . . . The decision of the British Post Office to pursue the new technology; the discoveries by Corning Glass of new pure fiber materials; the advent of the semiconductor laser as a source of light . . . ; the rapid progress of the late 1970s . . . ; the climactic decision in 1984 of MCI to install a transcontinental fiber network in North America-all these developments in some sense flowed out of half-a-dozen years of missionary zeal by [Charles] Kao . . . This is the story to be gleaned from 'City of Light: The Story of Fiber Optics,' by Jeff Hecht . . . [I]t is clear . . . that he has written an authoritative history of an otherwise all-but-invisible industry. . . . The overwhelming moral here is that large numbers of persons are involved in the accomplishment of any significant innovation-not a solitary 'inventor' or two."-Chicago Tribune "Jeff Hecht's fascinating account of this undersung technology goes back 150 years to find the origins of fiber optics. Then he chronicles the many ingenious and determined engineers who fashioned it into a technology that festoons the globe with cables carrying pulses of photons. It was harder than pioneering copper links because supplanting an existing technology needs more persuasion than establishing the first one. And there was competition from the satellite industry, as well as unexpected setbacks, such as sharks who ignored copper but chewed fiber optic cables. Hecht tells a good tale, combining a light journalistic touch with a scholarly knowledge of the industry he has covered for over two decades. The story is not over yet, but this is a rich account of how we got this far in a technology that really has fueled a revolution."-Jon Turney at Amazon.co.uk "This is the story of fiber optics, tracing its transformation from nineteenth century parlor trick into the foundation of our global communications network. Written for a broad audience by Hecht, an engineer and the Boston correspondent for New Scientist, who has covered the field for twenty years. The book is a lively account of both the people and the ideas behind this revolutionary technology. The basic concept underlying fiber optics was first explored in the 1840s when researchers used jets of water to guide light in laboratory demonstrations. The idea caught the public eye decades later when it was used to create stunning illuminated fountains at many of the great Victorian exhibitions. . . . In 1988, the first transatlantic fiber-optic cable connected Europe with North America, and now fiber optics is the key element in global communications."-Science Writers "The technology of optical-fibre communications is arguably one of the most spectacular developments of the late 20th century. It touches all of our lives on a daily basis, and has created the worldwide communications that we all take for granted and that we expect to supply all our future needs. It is surprising, then, how little attention this remarkable story of fibre optics has received. This book makes an excellent start at redressing the balance. It provides for the first time a complete chronicle of the technology over the last 150 years, concentrating on the years to 1983. . . . This book will show you how this position has been achieved, who the main characters were, and how they were inspired by visions of the future that we now occupy. All in all, the author presents a wonderfully rich story that has been painstakingly researched and contains some excellent source notes."-Physics World "In his latest book, City of Light . . . , science writer Jeff Hecht expertly tells the story of the painstaking discovery, rapid development, and remarkable applications of optical fibers. Hecht, a veteran contributing editor to Laser Focus World, has covered fiberoptic technology for more than 20 years. His book, the latest addition to Oxford's splendid Sloan Technology Series, traces the story of fiberoptics from a Victorian parlor trick to the foundation of today's global communications network. I strongly recommend City of Light for your own bookshelf and for anyone with an interest in communications."-Laser Focus World "An engineer by training, New Scientist correspondent Hecht explores the history of fiber optics in this interesting and far-reaching study. Beginning in Victorian Europe, his chronology traces the complex but fascinating drama of one of the key elements in today's global telecommunications explosion. . . . This readable, well-documented, and scholarly text includes an informative glossary of names and a concise reference to fiber-optic development. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries."-Library Journal "As research manager responsible for the teams at STL who pioneered the use of optical fibres for communications, I can say with confidence that this book is a most carefully researched, very comprehensive and balanced account of world-wide success and failure. It makes fascinating and delightful reading." -Charles Sandbank, Department of Trade and Industry, United Kingdom, and Visiting Professor of Information Systems Design, University of Bradford "A marvelous chronicle of fiber optics technology which in large measure has created the Information Age. Jeff Hecht has not only presented the history of this remarkable technology-uncovering threads which I did not know-but captured the drama and human aspects which make this an interesting read for anyone. All the celebrities are here, each building on the other's foundation." -Donald B. Keck, Division Vice President, Director of Optics & Photonics, Corning, Inc "This is one of the best popular books on a technical subject I have ever seen. It is written in a lively style and it covers all parts of the optical fiber story, from the very beginning to the present days, and, amazingly, all over the world." -Laszlo Solymar, Professor of Applied Electromagnetism, University of Oxford "This book is a revelation and ranks with the best popular writing on science and technology. Jeff Hecht's meticulous research proves that even our newest technologies have a long past. His book tells the enthralling story of fiber optics, used today in nearly every facet of life, from transmitting digitized data to peering into and even operating on the human body. With an eye for forceful personalities, innovators and visionaries, he takes us from the birth of fiber optics in Victorian light-guiding parlor tricks and illuminated fountains to the Information Age, with limitless quantities of pure information coruscating globally along beams of light in glass fibers. Hecht embraces the human drama of the inventors with all their successes and foibles and transforms the city of light into an entertaining and illuminating celebration." -Martin C. Carey, Harvard University Medical School, Senior Physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston "Jeff Hecht brings to life the people, the competition, and the human drama behind this technological breakthrough. Prepare yourself for a delightful read as you discover what made the global village called the City of Light a reality whose potential for social change is still being fathomed." -Richard N. Zare, Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science, Department of Chemistry, Stanford University "In this deft history, Hecht, a writer for the British weekly New Scientist, shows how the illuminated fountains that thrilled crowds at the great 19th-century exhibitions convinced scientists that light can be guided along narrow tubes. In our century, scientists used these tubes of light first to look inside the human body and then, as the physics of wave transmission were better understood, to transmit audio and optical information. Hecht explains which technological advances have made fiber optics the backbone of our telephone system in the last 10-15 years and how everyday applications should increase exponentially once fibers are connected directly to our homes. . .[g]eneral science buffs should enjoy his account of the development of the technology that will change our lives in many unexpected ways in the next century." -Publishers Weeklyshow more

Table of contents

1. Introduction: Building a City of Light ; 2. Guiding Light and Luminous Fountains (1841-1890) ; 3. Fibers of Glass ; 4. The Quest for Remote Viewing: Television and the Legacy of Sword Swallowers (1895-1940) ; 5. A Critical Insight: The Birth of the Clad Optical Fiber (1950-1955) ; 6. 99 Percent Perspiration: The Birth of an Industry (1954-1960) ; 7. A Vision of the Future: Communicating with Light (1880-1960) ; 8. The Laser Stimulates the Emission of New Ideas (1960-1969) ; 9. "The Only Thing Left Is Optical Fibers" (1960-1969) ; 10. Trying to Sell a Dream (1965-1970) ; 11. Breakthrough: The Clearest Glass in the World (1966-1972) ; 12. Recipes for Grains of Salt: The Semiconductor Laser (1962-1977) ; 13. A Demonstration for the Queen (1970-1975) ; 14. Three Generations in Five Years (1975-1983) ; 15. Submarine Cables: Covering the Ocean Floor with Glass (1970-1995) ; 16. The Last Mile: An Elusive Vision ; 17. Reflections on the City of Light ; Appendix A. Dramatis Personae: Cast of Characters ; Appendix B. A Fiber-Optic Chronologyshow more

Rating details

23 ratings
3.91 out of 5 stars
5 26% (6)
4 52% (12)
3 13% (3)
2 4% (1)
1 4% (1)
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