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“Andrew Blum plunges into the unseen but real ether of the Internet in a journey both compelling and profound….You will never open an email in quite the same way again.” —Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times bestselling author of Traffic When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human “Andrew Blum plunges into the unseen but real ether of the Internet in a journey both compelling and profound….You will never open an email in quite the same way again.” —Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times bestselling author of Traffic When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human culture—can be found on the Internet. But what is it physically? And where is it really? Our mental map of the network is as blank as the map of the ocean that Columbus carried on his first Atlantic voyage. The Internet, its material nuts and bolts, is an unexplored territory. Until now. In Tubes, journalist Andrew Blum goes inside the Internet's physical infrastructure and flips on the lights, revealing an utterly fresh look at the online world we think we know. It is a shockingly tactile realm of unmarked compounds, populated by a special caste of engineer who pieces together our networks by hand; where glass fibers pulse with light and creaky telegraph buildings, tortuously rewired, become communication hubs once again. From the room in Los Angeles where the Internet first flickered to life to the caverns beneath Manhattan where new fiber-optic cable is buried; from the coast of Portugal, where a ten-thousand-mile undersea cable just two thumbs wide connects Europe and Africa, to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have built monumental data centers—Blum chronicles the dramatic story of the Internet's development, explains how it all works, and takes the first-ever in-depth look inside its hidden monuments. This is a book about real places on the map: their sounds and smells, their storied pasts, their physical details, and the people who live there. For all the talk of the "placelessness" of our digital age, the Internet is as fixed in real, physical spaces as the railroad or telephone. You can map it and touch it, and you can visit it. Is the Internet in fact "a series of tubes" as Ted Stevens, the late senator from Alaska, once famously described it? How can we know the Internet's possibilities if we don't know its parts? Like Tracy Kidder's classic The Soul of a New Machine or Tom Vanderbilt's recent bestseller Traffic, Tubes combines on-the-ground reporting and lucid explanation into an engaging, mind-bending narrative to help us understand the physical world that underlies our digital lives.


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“Andrew Blum plunges into the unseen but real ether of the Internet in a journey both compelling and profound….You will never open an email in quite the same way again.” —Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times bestselling author of Traffic When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human “Andrew Blum plunges into the unseen but real ether of the Internet in a journey both compelling and profound….You will never open an email in quite the same way again.” —Tom Vanderbilt, New York Times bestselling author of Traffic When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human culture—can be found on the Internet. But what is it physically? And where is it really? Our mental map of the network is as blank as the map of the ocean that Columbus carried on his first Atlantic voyage. The Internet, its material nuts and bolts, is an unexplored territory. Until now. In Tubes, journalist Andrew Blum goes inside the Internet's physical infrastructure and flips on the lights, revealing an utterly fresh look at the online world we think we know. It is a shockingly tactile realm of unmarked compounds, populated by a special caste of engineer who pieces together our networks by hand; where glass fibers pulse with light and creaky telegraph buildings, tortuously rewired, become communication hubs once again. From the room in Los Angeles where the Internet first flickered to life to the caverns beneath Manhattan where new fiber-optic cable is buried; from the coast of Portugal, where a ten-thousand-mile undersea cable just two thumbs wide connects Europe and Africa, to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have built monumental data centers—Blum chronicles the dramatic story of the Internet's development, explains how it all works, and takes the first-ever in-depth look inside its hidden monuments. This is a book about real places on the map: their sounds and smells, their storied pasts, their physical details, and the people who live there. For all the talk of the "placelessness" of our digital age, the Internet is as fixed in real, physical spaces as the railroad or telephone. You can map it and touch it, and you can visit it. Is the Internet in fact "a series of tubes" as Ted Stevens, the late senator from Alaska, once famously described it? How can we know the Internet's possibilities if we don't know its parts? Like Tracy Kidder's classic The Soul of a New Machine or Tom Vanderbilt's recent bestseller Traffic, Tubes combines on-the-ground reporting and lucid explanation into an engaging, mind-bending narrative to help us understand the physical world that underlies our digital lives.

30 review for Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet

  1. 4 out of 5

    J

    An ambitious attempt to balance a technical, psychological and sociological examination of the "Internet." Ultimately, the book fails to advance any meaningful analysis. Blum's self-imposed task was to find physical infrastructure components of the global internet, but instead he drowns us in aspirational language more concerned with the wonder of modern inter-connectivity than the task at hand. Fancy literary references make it seem Blum is more familiar with liberal arts curriculum than anythi An ambitious attempt to balance a technical, psychological and sociological examination of the "Internet." Ultimately, the book fails to advance any meaningful analysis. Blum's self-imposed task was to find physical infrastructure components of the global internet, but instead he drowns us in aspirational language more concerned with the wonder of modern inter-connectivity than the task at hand. Fancy literary references make it seem Blum is more familiar with liberal arts curriculum than anything technical. For those readers with a basic understanding of the internet, this book will not enhance their understanding at all. Those lacking a basic understanding may find themselves lost. Blum visited many interesting sites and met with some knowledgeable network engineers. Unfortunately, his jaunts come across as vacations lacking much benefit to the reader. This disappointing book is written in an unwarranted self-indulgent style. Readers interested in the topic of communications systems may be interested in Tim Wu's well-documented historical analysis, "The Master Switch."

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Overall, this was a disappointing book. The author had a technical subject matter -- the book could have read like a technical manual, though it didn't -- but in trying to make it accessible, I think he basically ended up skipping the subject matter. The book is supposed to be about the internet. Really though, it's more about the author's quest to see the internet. As such, he spent (in my opinion) too much time talking about how people he met were dressed and what they were doing and not enoug Overall, this was a disappointing book. The author had a technical subject matter -- the book could have read like a technical manual, though it didn't -- but in trying to make it accessible, I think he basically ended up skipping the subject matter. The book is supposed to be about the internet. Really though, it's more about the author's quest to see the internet. As such, he spent (in my opinion) too much time talking about how people he met were dressed and what they were doing and not enough time talking about the internet and how they functioned. I read this entire book, but don't feel that I am any more enlightened about the internet or how it functions.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Loring Wirbel

    If I was to rate this on the quality of writing alone, Blum could win a high 4, maybe a 5, for the richness of his descriptive passages, particularly in the parts on the cable landing stations in Cornwall or the modernization of The Dalles in Oregon. Let's face it, Blum can write well and engagingly. Nevertheless, even in the writing style there are a few nagging problems. His tendency to use quotes from literary sources like Emerson or J.G. Ballard is OK when limited to once or twice in a sing If I was to rate this on the quality of writing alone, Blum could win a high 4, maybe a 5, for the richness of his descriptive passages, particularly in the parts on the cable landing stations in Cornwall or the modernization of The Dalles in Oregon. Let's face it, Blum can write well and engagingly. Nevertheless, even in the writing style there are a few nagging problems. His tendency to use quotes from literary sources like Emerson or J.G. Ballard is OK when limited to once or twice in a single book, but after a while the use of such quotes sounds a little too grad-student for my tastes. There were passages that were just trite or silly, as well - the squirrel chewing up cable, complete with exclamation points in the text; the description of Silicon Valley as startup mecca, when that description even seemed dated and pedestrian in the 1980s; and the reference to The Dalles as a digital Kathmandu. Don't get me wrong, I like the Zen aspects of Blum's search, it's just that one must be careful in using these analogies at getting too starry-eyed. Also, he gets a trifle over-dramatic in confronting the secrecy of Google and other companies in dealing with data center locations. If Blum was like James Bamford, chasing down the location of snooping centers of intelligence agencies, he'd have reason to feel paranoid. Here, his fears just seem silly. But there is another aspect of Blum's work that makes me rank the book in the high-3's, albeit moving closer to 4. I disagree with the nature of his quest and the way he chooses to pursue it. I know, I know, that sounds like a reviewer for a travel book who says he wished the writer had gone to Spain instead of Kazakhstan. But bear with me. Blum rightly sees a certain spiritual quest in examining the communication protocol layers of the Internet, and there's an argument to be made for treating the Open Systems Interconnect seven-layer stack as a mysterious bardo. But Blum sees the bottom two layers, physical and data-link, as representing physical macro-geography. And that's where network engineers raise their eyebrows at his quest. Does it matter whether the data center is in The Dalles or Prineville? Does it matter whether a Cisco or Brocade router sits at the center? Does it matter the locations on the planet where networks aggregate? Some might talk about planetary magnetic fields and ley lines and say, "Oh yes it does." Maybe so, but by spending too much time on large-scale geography, you miss the spiritual layers underneath. To really make some good analogies of the type Blum strives for, you need to understand the underlying chip architectures and middle-ware software responsible for dissecting packets and putting them back together. You need to understand the Zen of Ethernet switching, multi-protocol label switching, and dense wave-division multiplexing. Then you need to be able to translate that in a way your grandmother can understand. Does that mean one needs a BSEE or geekdom certification? No, but it means one needs to go deeper into the technology than Blum did. A similar problem exists when he equates the physical backbone of the Internet with fiber optics. This is true today, but the optics might some day be replaced by millimeter-wave radio or some sort of quantum-computing "weird action at a distance." The key to the Internet's center is bandwidth itself, and optical switching is merely the best current manifestation. The reason this matters is that several books that made a technology deep-dive on the history and nature of the Internet were released 10 to 15 years ago, such as Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon's "Where Wizards Stay Up Late" (1996). A lot has happened to the Internet since then, but Blum had to show he could tackle the more recent nuances and still come out with something that moved beyond the Hafner/Lyon book. I still think this book is worth a read for learning some details of specific place - the paranoid secrecy of Google officials in discussing their data centers, for example, teaches us that Google is a lot creepier than Facebook in its own way. Blum's talents could be put to future use - he would be a great candidate to join with James Bamford in dissecting the new NSA data center in Bluffdale, Utah, for example. But I can't help but feel this book would have been a lot more interesting if Blum had used his Zen quest to dive deeper into the underlying chips and software that make the Internet hum.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    this book could have dialed back on the childlike whimsy and wonder, preferably replacing it with some cold hard technical facts. for someone who knows absolutely nothing about internetworking, this is perhaps a good follow-on volume to Where Wizards Stay Up Late, but it's not even as good as that bit of pop computer science. and don't get pissy with us not letting you into the Dalles datacenter, blum! i've been in there. it's a bunch of machines. there are large transformers. dudes scuttle aro this book could have dialed back on the childlike whimsy and wonder, preferably replacing it with some cold hard technical facts. for someone who knows absolutely nothing about internetworking, this is perhaps a good follow-on volume to Where Wizards Stay Up Late, but it's not even as good as that bit of pop computer science. and don't get pissy with us not letting you into the Dalles datacenter, blum! i've been in there. it's a bunch of machines. there are large transformers. dudes scuttle around with hard drives. you didn't miss anything, and it's very doubtful that letting random journalist Brooklyn-by-way-of-University of Toronto asshats roam our data centers like lost toddlers would "really give the public insight into and relief concerning Google's use of their data," unless the public has 20/20 vision into the heart of hard drives and distributed systems, which it decidedly does not. in stylish notes, the cover was stupid, Andrew Blum found some of his similes so nice he repeated them twice, or thrice, and his picture annoyed me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Harold

    Tubes is a description of the infrastructure of the internet -- the wires, the buildings, the cables. Unfortunately, it isn't more interesting than that. There are wires, buildings and cables. Some are messy. Most are in buildings that just happened to be there -- perhaps in your neighborhood In Los Angeles, where I live, One Wilshire is apparently such a building. Wires stretch under the sea, all over the world. There. I just saved you 250 pages. Not much more interesting happens. Tubes is a description of the infrastructure of the internet -- the wires, the buildings, the cables. Unfortunately, it isn't more interesting than that. There are wires, buildings and cables. Some are messy. Most are in buildings that just happened to be there -- perhaps in your neighborhood In Los Angeles, where I live, One Wilshire is apparently such a building. Wires stretch under the sea, all over the world. There. I just saved you 250 pages. Not much more interesting happens.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    The factual information was interesting, but the non stop poetic waxing about the physical geography of the internet got really old really quickly. I pretty much vowed I would not read any more articles this guy ever wrote.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mathew Bookworm Smith

    Following that cord from your computer to the 'internet' is the general idea behind this book. What would it look like? How does it actually work? Good idea, me thinks. Andrew Blum does a great job at describing it all. But, (yes, a big but)...this would have made a lovely magazine article. As it turns out making a book about it was taking it just a few steps too far. Overall, there is very little to the 'internet'; little variety that is. The internet is huge and spreads across the entire globe, Following that cord from your computer to the 'internet' is the general idea behind this book. What would it look like? How does it actually work? Good idea, me thinks. Andrew Blum does a great job at describing it all. But, (yes, a big but)...this would have made a lovely magazine article. As it turns out making a book about it was taking it just a few steps too far. Overall, there is very little to the 'internet'; little variety that is. The internet is huge and spreads across the entire globe, but, as it turns out there is really only wire and a surprisingly low number of routers. This books shows us that...from a dozen different angles. Turns out if you send an email from your computer it goes through your home router, down a wire, to the local provider's router, down some more wire, to an 'exchange' (code for another router), where it goes along some more wire, to another exchange (aka router), along even more wire, to the last router, where it is pushed up a wire to its destination. So, let me sum it up in easy-speak-chant : *clears throat* wire, router, wire, router, wire, router, wire, router... There. That is pretty much the bones of this book. Blum tries to add some interesting guts to these bones, but, he doesn't have much to work with. He describes the uniform routers and wire that make up the internet in extreme detail and poetic prose, but, again I can sum it up in easy-speak-chant: *clears throat* black cable, blinky router lights, yellow cable, blinky router lights, thick cable, blinky router lights, underwater cable, blinky router lights... Even when he starts to describe the people who work on the 'internet', they are surprisingly bland - computer nerds in hoodies leaning over a laptop (they all seem to have very little social skills as well). There is one spark of life when Blum goes on an overnight shift with some blue collar cable layers under the streets of NYC. But, for the most part the IT people sounded very boring. I was left hoping for more. Again, Blum does a great job at describing the limited parts of the internet, I can picture how beautiful a refrigerator sized router can look bathed in the soft glow of fluorescent lights, but, you can only read so much of the same thing. It wasn't his words that were repetitive, it was the content. I'd say read Andrew Blum, but, just not this book. http://bookwormsfeastofbooks.blogspot...

  8. 5 out of 5

    LATOYA JOVENA

    You can tell the author writes about architecture and it helps. The internet isn't just wireless and ubiquitous. It resides in data centers, fiber optic cables, and internet exchanges. There are places you can actually touch it and that knowledge makes TUBES worth the read. As a side note Google is totally like the book The Circle. Everywhere the author went was open, transparent, and teeming with information; except Google. You can tell the author writes about architecture and it helps. The internet isn't just wireless and ubiquitous. It resides in data centers, fiber optic cables, and internet exchanges. There are places you can actually touch it and that knowledge makes TUBES worth the read. As a side note Google is totally like the book The Circle. Everywhere the author went was open, transparent, and teeming with information; except Google.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Fred Platten

    wow, this is bad. I thought this was a book about the internet, but it's about the author who injects himself in the narration way too much. Goes on for pages about his hotel rooms and looking things up on the internet. Unbelievable. I think this book falls under "literary" non-fiction. I really hate those books. wow, this is bad. I thought this was a book about the internet, but it's about the author who injects himself in the narration way too much. Goes on for pages about his hotel rooms and looking things up on the internet. Unbelievable. I think this book falls under "literary" non-fiction. I really hate those books.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mary Soderstrom

    What the Internet Is: Fragile or Robust? As I write this, The New York Times has been off-line for about 18 hours here. Some stories are being posted on the newspaper's Facebook page, but because of a hacker attack the main website remains down. This is a warning shot, according to some observers. Syrian hackers or hackers sympathic to the Syrian regime (and who call themselves the Syrian Electronic Army) are demonstrating what havoc they could wreak if Western powers follow through on their tou What the Internet Is: Fragile or Robust? As I write this, The New York Times has been off-line for about 18 hours here. Some stories are being posted on the newspaper's Facebook page, but because of a hacker attack the main website remains down. This is a warning shot, according to some observers. Syrian hackers or hackers sympathic to the Syrian regime (and who call themselves the Syrian Electronic Army) are demonstrating what havoc they could wreak if Western powers follow through on their tough talk. The trouble follows the disruption of the Nasdaq stock exchange a week ago, which is supposed to be due to a technical glitch rather than bad guys. Both events are troubling, and underscore how much we rely on binary code sent at the speed of light to operate nearly every corner of our lives. According to Informationnews, the current hacker battle involves trying to wrest control "by adjusting the domain name system (DNS) settings for the hacked sites.... "The affected domain names were all registered through Australia-based Melbourne IT, which confirmed Wednesday that its systems had been compromised by hackers. The company said Wednesday that it had restored the hacked DNS credentials, locked those records to prevent further changes, disabled the legitimate account credentials that hackers had used to access its systems, and continued to investigate the intrusion." Melbourne? Aren't we talking about New York? Those are questions I might have asked, had I not just finished reading Andrew Blum's recent Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. A journalist who has written often for Wired, Blum began his quest when a squirrel gnawed through a fiber optic cable connecting his computers to the internet. A little disingenuosly, he says he wanted to know to what that cable connected him. The result is an engaging, somewhat meandering story of his travels to find out. To make a long story short, the cable was (and is) connected to other cables which pass through several junctions where information is routed practically instaneously, and automatically directed to its destination. Blum is very good at giving the (relatively short) history of how these networks were set up and what they look like. He's also good at finding a good comparison: cases containing coils of optic fiber cable are the size of Labradors and the cable itself looks like "giant squid." The reader learns why you don't often get that annoying lag in transcontinental telephone conversations these days (the signals used to be bounced up to sattelites, but most now go by undersea cable: same speed, shorter distance). Blum tells us about the secrecy at Google's data center storage facilities on the Columbia River in Oregon, and the much more open facility at Facebook's installations a couple of hundred miles away. The difference, he suggests, may have much to do with the way "Facebook played fast and loose with our privacy while Google vehementaly protected it." He also tells us that those little packets of information that are our emails, web pages, pictures and stock quotations must be "goosed" along every 50 miles or so to keep moving at light speed. But what he doesn't do is give a really good explanation of how those packets are made up. Yes, we know that binary code is just circuits off and on, but how does that get transformed into light? Are we talking simple alternating current here? Or something else? The book has no maps or charts that might let us figure out why messing around with DNS in Melbourne could shut down website of giants in New York. And Blum is rather sanguine about where this all leading us. The internet isn't "a physical world or a virtual world, but a human world," he ends the book. "...Wherever I am, wherever you are." So even though I felt myself better informed when I finished the book, this morning I am considerably more concerned about where all this interconnectivity is leading us. It makes perfect sense that Melbourne IT ordinarily involved in spreading the NYT's word around the world, and trouble there could mean trouble lots of other places. BTW, are you receiving this?

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christoph

    The internet is a thing, not an idea, not the virtual, not psychology, not a medium. All these tropes have been exhausted in all the other similar inventions preceding it such as radio, phones, TV, or satellites. As a matter of fact some of those infrastructures that comprise the other objects at one time or another were justified by acting as a means to transmit the internet. But Andrew Blum in Tubes diagrams and explains all the ways in which the internet becomes a thing. This book is basicall The internet is a thing, not an idea, not the virtual, not psychology, not a medium. All these tropes have been exhausted in all the other similar inventions preceding it such as radio, phones, TV, or satellites. As a matter of fact some of those infrastructures that comprise the other objects at one time or another were justified by acting as a means to transmit the internet. But Andrew Blum in Tubes diagrams and explains all the ways in which the internet becomes a thing. This book is basically a technical history of the internet and its actually not bad. Blum uses metaphor (lots of it), humor, prose, pop culture, and emotion to consider this thing we call the internet. Blum begins at the starting point for any individual on the internet, at the terminal, and traces the lines through the various stages of internet architecture including transmission infrastructure, topographic structure, and logic to create as human a story of the internet as one can get. Although I do have high praise for the story there are some interesting missteps. The biggest gripe I have is the constant need to contextualize the internet into ideas that people can consume. The explanation of the volume of data passing through an exchange or the speed of data transmission across continents on undersea data lines can never just pass on its on merits, it must be compared to some other more relatable concept. I understand the need for comparison, but over and over and it sort of creates a cognitive dissonance that this thing which actually exists that is not conceptual must constantly be explained in terms of things that it absolutely isnt. Also, the last chapter of this book to me is very problematic. The last chapter goes into quite some detail on data centers specifically two storage centers, both in Oregon, one controlled by Google and the other by Facebook. Here a bit of ideology seems to seep into what was previously an unbiased assessment of an industry that was basically built on ideology. Blum seems to basically slam Google for not being invited into their The Dalles Data Center. He recreates the encounter step by step which is basically a non-encounter with a data center and it clearly wrecks his narrative, yet he still felt compelled to include the whole event. Meanwhile, he has glowing descriptions of Facebook (albeit muted glowing) for being allowed to tour their Prineville Data Center. The whole thing was enough to sour the experience for me. All I can say is that Blum's criticisms of Google are founded, which is all the more reason why they might not have wanted to let him into their Data Center. Regardless, Blum raises some important points on what the internet is, and even some on what it isnt. In so doing, much of the confusion and misconception surrounding the net is put to rest. The bottom line is if you ever wondered where that packet of information you upload goes when you post to a blog or login to do your online banking then this book may just open your eyes to the reality of the internet.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Margot

    An interesting topic, but it's told in a travelogue style, with far too much personal experience tossed in with the relevant historical context. It felt very happenstance, as if readers could be missing a whole part of the history of the physical structure of the internet just because maybe somebody didn't return a call from Blum. Didn't finish completely. An interesting topic, but it's told in a travelogue style, with far too much personal experience tossed in with the relevant historical context. It felt very happenstance, as if readers could be missing a whole part of the history of the physical structure of the internet just because maybe somebody didn't return a call from Blum. Didn't finish completely.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    I found this book to be engaging and informative, but I would have preferred more description and less philosophizing. An errant squirrel chewing through Mr. Blum's cable wire launches him on a journey to understand the physical nature of the Internet. This takes him from a key site in the origin of the academic internet (Len Kleinrock's IMP at Berkeley) through its transition to anarchic commercial interconnections at sites like MAE East in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, where packets were sometimes I found this book to be engaging and informative, but I would have preferred more description and less philosophizing. An errant squirrel chewing through Mr. Blum's cable wire launches him on a journey to understand the physical nature of the Internet. This takes him from a key site in the origin of the academic internet (Len Kleinrock's IMP at Berkeley) through its transition to anarchic commercial interconnections at sites like MAE East in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, where packets were sometimes routed from finland to Tyson's to Finland again, through the more robust Network Access Points that supplanted the early MAE site and the deep sea fiber cables that link them, and finally to the data centers that house our Facebook profiles and other aspects of our digital selves. This was fascinating stuff, especially Blum's recounting of a new fiber optic link in the Net literally emerging from the sea. But Blum's speculations about the nature of place and the tension between human geography and internet are somewhat distracting. Still, this book is strongly recommended for anyone with an interest in the Internet or communications.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Poorly written in every way.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    Informative account of how some of the physical aspects of the internet works. There's a slight amount of history of the beginnings, as well as a little with communications overall. The book is very much a travelogue of the author searching for the pieces that make the internet. I was surprised to learn it's way more centralized than I believed, mostly for the router network switching points. This was written by a non-computer science person for other non-computer science people. In fact, with t Informative account of how some of the physical aspects of the internet works. There's a slight amount of history of the beginnings, as well as a little with communications overall. The book is very much a travelogue of the author searching for the pieces that make the internet. I was surprised to learn it's way more centralized than I believed, mostly for the router network switching points. This was written by a non-computer science person for other non-computer science people. In fact, with the various literary references it's more geared towards people like me who were English majors. If you're well versed in hardware this book probably doesn't give you more info than you already know. I had hoped for a little more info on how the internet actually works, but this was a good start, and fairly readable. Even though the book is already five years old, it isn't very outdated. Perhaps the big network routers are a different brand or model, but overall it's doubtful that the basics of the internet has changed much.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John Mcchesney-young

    Fascinating journalistic account of the physical sure of the internet: where the cables are and where they connect, how they're laid on sea floors, dragged up, and connected together, and where data is stored. Definitely not a book for someone seeking technical details - which I myself wasn't - but a well-written travelogue and history. Fascinating journalistic account of the physical sure of the internet: where the cables are and where they connect, how they're laid on sea floors, dragged up, and connected together, and where data is stored. Definitely not a book for someone seeking technical details - which I myself wasn't - but a well-written travelogue and history.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robert Daniel

    Fascinating. Wonderful. A delightful read. Insightful. I was anxiously waiting for Andrew Blum's next book - and am happy that "The Weather Machine" has been published and reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Looking forward to reading Andrew's next book. Tubes contains the background to how the Internet really works. Its "plumbing" - its wiring, the data centers and servers. An update would be wonderful. Fascinating. Wonderful. A delightful read. Insightful. I was anxiously waiting for Andrew Blum's next book - and am happy that "The Weather Machine" has been published and reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Looking forward to reading Andrew's next book. Tubes contains the background to how the Internet really works. Its "plumbing" - its wiring, the data centers and servers. An update would be wonderful.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Eric Spitler

    Blum makes an entertaining travelogue out of a map and history of the internet. Other reviewers are dissatisfied with the depth of detail. I think Blum meant to provide a sense of what the internet means to humanity along the way of explaining what it actually is.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Around Chapter 4, when Blum visits the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, the book got significantly more interesting to me: where in earlier chapters Blum was focused a lot on background/history and the various things he learned from various key people, the focus here shifts to what he sees. In Amsterdam, it occurs to Blum that he could/should see things in a bit of a different way from the corporate-approved tours he's been getting. He's found a map of data centers in the Netherlands and sees that t Around Chapter 4, when Blum visits the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, the book got significantly more interesting to me: where in earlier chapters Blum was focused a lot on background/history and the various things he learned from various key people, the focus here shifts to what he sees. In Amsterdam, it occurs to Blum that he could/should see things in a bit of a different way from the corporate-approved tours he's been getting. He's found a map of data centers in the Netherlands and sees that there are plenty in Amsterdam—so he convinces a routing-table analyst to go on an 8-mile urban hike with him, to see the buildings from the outside. This results in a really pleasing section in which Blum talks about Robert Smithson's "A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic" (which I haven't read, but clearly should) and how it argues "that there is value in noticing what we normally ignore, that there can be a kind of artistry in the found landscape, and its unconventional beauty can tell us something important about ourselves" (151). So Blum walks and looks, and we get passages like this: Our first data center was visible from the elevated train platform: a menacing concrete bunker the size of a small office building, with worn-out blue window trim, spreading out along a canal connecting to the Amstel River. The late-winter day was gray and damp, and there were houseboats tied up at the edge of the still water. My map indicated that the building belonged to Verizon, but a sign on the door said MFS—the vestigial initials of Metropolitan Fiber Systems, [...] which Verizon had acquired years before. There was clearly no rush to keep up appearances; it seemed, rather, that its new owners preferred the building to disappear. (152) In the next chapter, after visiting a router manufacturer in San Jose, Blum comes back to New York and spends a night watching a crew lay fiber optic cable in lower Manhattan. He talks about how, rather than being something totally new, the Internet infrastructure in a place like New York is layered on/builds off the pre-existing infrastructure from telegraph and telephone systems. This chapter was also super-pleasing to me because Blum talks about two buildings in lower Manhattan that have a telecommunications history—the old Western Union building at 60 Hudson and the old AT&T Building at 32 Avenue of the Americas—one of which is the building where I work. Both buildings are "art deco palaces" (it's true) and when they were built, each apparently had its own "gymnasium, library, training school, even dormitories." In 1955, the first transatlantic telephone cable went from 32 Avenue of the Americas to London. And now? As Blum puts it of 32 Avenue of the Americas, "on the twenty-fourth floor is the Internet" (176). Each of these buildings houses its own Internet exchange, and in that sense, as Blum notes, they're not so different from the other ones he visited: except that they're "a fact of geography," an outgrowth of the New York of the early twentieth century, twenty-first-century spaces "built upon hundred-year-old telephone infrastructure, nestled between stock exchanges and railroad tracks" (ibid.). Those middle chapters were the most exciting to me, but the remainder of the book is interesting, too. Blum is a smart and engaging writer, and while the first three chapters sometimes felt like a slog, I was pleased with this book by the end, and quite glad to have read it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    Tubes is an eye-opening page turner about the cables, routing stations, and data centers that make up the internet. From the non-descript routing stations on the edges of suburban towns to vast lengths of cable strewn along the sea floor, the author shows that this ethereal internet, 'the cloud', is actually very tangbile and human. In the book, the author takes you on a journey to these router stations, introduces you to the people that lay the underground cables, and even attempts to get into Tubes is an eye-opening page turner about the cables, routing stations, and data centers that make up the internet. From the non-descript routing stations on the edges of suburban towns to vast lengths of cable strewn along the sea floor, the author shows that this ethereal internet, 'the cloud', is actually very tangbile and human. In the book, the author takes you on a journey to these router stations, introduces you to the people that lay the underground cables, and even attempts to get into a Google data center. One of the facts I learned that boggled my mind the most is that much of the communication that goes on between America and Europe is done through just 16 strands of fiber optic cable. Imagine, millions of computers communicating using just 16 strands! I know what the speed of light is, but obviously can't comprehend such vast numbers as 300 million meters per second because it still seems incredible that millions of people can communicate through just 16 seperate channels sending light pulses at 300 million meters per second. The book's title, Tubes, is a reference to senator Ted Stevens' metaphor of the internet as a series of tubes. We ridiculed the statement, but actually when you look at the fibers and underground sea cables that make up the backbone of the internet, you will realize that Stevens might deserve a bit more credit. This book detailed beautifully the infrastructure behind the internet, and made me wish I knew more about the protocols that govern the internet, and about other types of infrastructure that we take for granted such as sewage systems, the electric grid, and public transit. Overall, I would recommend this book to anybody who likes learning about the gritty underbellies of complex systems, and wants to know more about what are the physical components the make up the internet.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I won't argue with some reviews that point out how much Blum inserts himself into the story, and that "Tubes" can read more like a whimsical travelogue than an exploration of complex technology. Yes, he's definitely a writer, not an engineer. That said, I appreciate the depth of his research, and the approachable style with which he presents it. For readers with only a cursory understanding of "how the internet works," this is likely to an be engaging and informative book. If you're already a ne I won't argue with some reviews that point out how much Blum inserts himself into the story, and that "Tubes" can read more like a whimsical travelogue than an exploration of complex technology. Yes, he's definitely a writer, not an engineer. That said, I appreciate the depth of his research, and the approachable style with which he presents it. For readers with only a cursory understanding of "how the internet works," this is likely to an be engaging and informative book. If you're already a network engineer, or work in any capacity around data centers or ISP's, you're probably not going to learn anything new - but that doesn't make what's written incorrect or superfluous... it just isn't for you. I was captivated in an immediate and personal way by one of the 'hidden histories' that's revealed early on in the book. At the time of reading, I was living a stone's throw from the old MAE-East location, the facility and history of which are described in detail - the crowded telecom closet that served as one of the first internet exchanges, and the underground garage it eventually grew into. The way I experienced my own neighborhood changed immediately! I had no idea that a few years before, more than half of the world's internet traffic was zipping through this banal office building I saw every day. The idea materially changed my perspective of the physical landscape around me. Given how much geography the book covers, there's a chance that could happen for other readers, too, in New York, Cornwall, Oregon, and elsewhere. I would encourage them read it and find out.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth K.

    This was very exciting, in an armchair tech sort of way. The author goes out and visits various physical places where "the internet" happens, like major switching hubs, content storage, and the points where submarine communications cables COME OUT OF THE OCEAN LIKE A KRAKEN. As you can probably tell, the last one was a special geeky thrill for me, because that is still something that boggles my mind, and now I want to go on a field trip to Porthcurno (the whole thing sounds delightfully mundane, This was very exciting, in an armchair tech sort of way. The author goes out and visits various physical places where "the internet" happens, like major switching hubs, content storage, and the points where submarine communications cables COME OUT OF THE OCEAN LIKE A KRAKEN. As you can probably tell, the last one was a special geeky thrill for me, because that is still something that boggles my mind, and now I want to go on a field trip to Porthcurno (the whole thing sounds delightfully mundane, not only the cable part, like you would go, and people would ask what you did, and you would say "I looked at a cable and then did nothing for a week. Nothing!" And not in a relaxing, spa nothing way, but literally nothing.). At any rate, the author then describes all of these places in a fairly accessible way with geeky enthusiasm. I did find it a little odd that he kept framing his descriptions with this theme that "the typical internet user never thinks about WHERE this stuff is happening," which I could believe is true, but rather don't think it's an accurate description that the typical internet user who bothers to read this book never thinks about it. I think about it all the time, and so do a lot of people I know.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Pauline

    This is quite the interesting subject matter that Blum tackles here. The internet is prevalent through all aspects of our life and many cannot even imagine life without it. How and where does this all begin? This is the question that Blum discusses throughout this informative book. It is quite well written and researched and was a good history lesson on the creation and development of what we now know as the internet. However, it fell a bit flat for me. It read like a magazine article...that nev This is quite the interesting subject matter that Blum tackles here. The internet is prevalent through all aspects of our life and many cannot even imagine life without it. How and where does this all begin? This is the question that Blum discusses throughout this informative book. It is quite well written and researched and was a good history lesson on the creation and development of what we now know as the internet. However, it fell a bit flat for me. It read like a magazine article...that never ended. I quite enjoy non-fiction books but something about this particular one just didn't capture my attention. It was one of those books that I would forget what I was reading about as soon as I put it down. This may not be the case for everyone though. It is a highly informative books. So if you want to brush up on internet history knowledge I would recommend this book. Disclaimer: I won this as a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    This is a mildly interesting idea for a book: the author gets it into his head that he needs to understand the physical structure underlying the Internet and writes a book about his experiences. I understand the basic underpinnings of the Internet in terms of routers, fiber, and data centers, so to me this is much more a travelogue of places the author went and people he met. It's readable and interesting if you like reading or watching about other locations in the world. However, I suspect the This is a mildly interesting idea for a book: the author gets it into his head that he needs to understand the physical structure underlying the Internet and writes a book about his experiences. I understand the basic underpinnings of the Internet in terms of routers, fiber, and data centers, so to me this is much more a travelogue of places the author went and people he met. It's readable and interesting if you like reading or watching about other locations in the world. However, I suspect the author just doesn't understand the abstract nature of computers and what they do. It's ironic given his profession; has the author gotten as interested in the physical structure underlying how books are printed and distributed? The wonder is not so much in how it's done as what you can do with it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Cassie

    I liked "Tubes," but in fairness, I wanted to like it a lot more. Blum asked the kind of question I bet a lot of us have asked - exactly where is the Internet? A fair question, and one that most of us don't know the answer to - particularly if we mocked Sen. Ted Stephens' infamous "it's a series of tubes comment." Turns out, Stephens was largely right. The question of where the Internet is got Blum to range far and wide and to visit strange buildings whose only purpose is to route Internet traff I liked "Tubes," but in fairness, I wanted to like it a lot more. Blum asked the kind of question I bet a lot of us have asked - exactly where is the Internet? A fair question, and one that most of us don't know the answer to - particularly if we mocked Sen. Ted Stephens' infamous "it's a series of tubes comment." Turns out, Stephens was largely right. The question of where the Internet is got Blum to range far and wide and to visit strange buildings whose only purpose is to route Internet traffic, the one place in Cornwall where the transatlantic cable rises from the Atlantic floor and to the lunchroom of a data center. As is often my wont, I would have preferred a book with more research depth, science history and the like OR a Bryson/Rakoff sardonic take on the question. As it is, it's a little too light for my taste, without the irony that would have made that serviceable.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt Moyer

    Blum's journey to find the physical presence of the Internet was very enlightening. Our default perception of the infinity of the online world is juxtaposed with the real-world tracing of the tubes that make our world-wide connections. From his own couch to the networking hubs of Palo Alto and MAE-East, onto the worldwide internet exchanges in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London, under the sea with the tubes connecting continents, or even to the data warehouses in remote rural America, Blum takes us Blum's journey to find the physical presence of the Internet was very enlightening. Our default perception of the infinity of the online world is juxtaposed with the real-world tracing of the tubes that make our world-wide connections. From his own couch to the networking hubs of Palo Alto and MAE-East, onto the worldwide internet exchanges in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London, under the sea with the tubes connecting continents, or even to the data warehouses in remote rural America, Blum takes us to places we've been but never really known. At times, his wonder sounded forced and his findings harder to place in the context of his premise. Overall, he brings us to the places we take for granted on our travels across the Net and shows us where it all fits together--except for the mysterious data center of Google.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kent Winward

    An amusing diversion of a tech book exploring the hard realities of the internet infrastructure. Yet, the title is misleading, since the "I"nternet is really centered on you in sort of a Ptolemaic reversal where the user is the center of a diversified mass of cables, routers, blinking lights and desktops. If Alice goes down the Internet rabbit hole, she gets broken into packets, re-routed and reconstituted wherever she is called. Blum tries to invoke the Transcendentalist calling on Emerson and An amusing diversion of a tech book exploring the hard realities of the internet infrastructure. Yet, the title is misleading, since the "I"nternet is really centered on you in sort of a Ptolemaic reversal where the user is the center of a diversified mass of cables, routers, blinking lights and desktops. If Alice goes down the Internet rabbit hole, she gets broken into packets, re-routed and reconstituted wherever she is called. Blum tries to invoke the Transcendentalist calling on Emerson and Thoreau in his discourse, but this is not a trip to Walden, rather the transformation of human experience into bits of light. I still don't know where the center is, but that is the beauty as well.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ankit Mittal

    Good introductory book to understand and appreciate what exactly is internet. Not for people who already work in internet related industries.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    With the admission that I may be buzzing through books too quickly, this one didn't really grab me. The author seemed to be pretty good at painting physical scenes critical to the Internet but lacking in narrative connection and almost entirely uninterested in a story pregnant with sociological metaphor. With the admission that I may be buzzing through books too quickly, this one didn't really grab me. The author seemed to be pretty good at painting physical scenes critical to the Internet but lacking in narrative connection and almost entirely uninterested in a story pregnant with sociological metaphor.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    a lyrical book about the physical internet ... at times it felt like he was adding travel fluff to lenghten the book, but overall smooth and impressionistic, with interesting history and explanations ... more later

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