4 out of 4 stars
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Though we live in an unprecedented age filled with innovations, choices, and opportunities that most people couldn’t even imagine one century (or even some decades) ago, it's easy to take things for granted as we adapt to the twenty-first century's rapid changes. This is particularly evident in communication technology; after all, even in the late nineties, plenty of skeptics doubted the Internet's potential to promote radical changes, yet now we can't imagine ourselves living without constant web access. Seeing how a massive game-changer called 5G is currently under deployment worldwide, now is a great time to examine the past and future of wireless technology.
George J. Whalen's The Story of Radio tells a concise history of radio communication from Mahlon Loomis' early experiments in 1868 to contemporary times, covering significant events and people as well as discussing the challenges and issues we might face in the next years (including topics such as autonomous cars and the Internet of Things). Whalen leverages his engineering background, writing experience as a science author, and passion for the history of technology to craft an engaging narrative that highlights technical aspects and personal stories.
The book focuses quite a bit on underappreciated historical aspects and figures, such as the early pioneers of radio who, unlike the more widely recognized Guglielmo Marconi, didn't have powerful connections or massive amounts of wealth but still made major contributions. Whalen also unearths lesser-known facts about people such as Nikola Tesla and the history of transistors, integrated circuits, and other topics. I particularly enjoyed reading about the development of mobile telecommunication because it put into perspective how much innovation went into something we now rely on every day and made me realize the technical elegance of cellular networks.
The Story of Radio is generally well written with simple, friendly prose and accessible explanations. It's also rather short, especially considering its complex subject matter and ambitious scope. That said, while the book's length makes it more inviting to laypeople and young readers, this occasionally backfires when the author goes into technical details without clarifying important points, leading to more confusion instead of simplicity. For example, the book introduces vacuum electron tubes in just a couple of paragraphs, citing diodes, rectification, and modulation without properly explaining these terms. The confusing passages are brief, however, and don't affect the overall enjoyment much since the reader can quickly skip them without missing anything.
The Story of Radio is an excellent read for science and technology enthusiasts of all ages. Its professional presentation with a clear structure, plentiful illustrations, and few typographical errors more than compensates for the instances of rushed explanations, so I rate the book 4 out of 4 stars. Expert readers likely won't enjoy the book as much, but they might still learn some curious, somewhat obscure details and take an interest in the author's discussions of 5G and autonomous cars.
The Story of Radio
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