Cyrus Field’s Big Dream: The Daring Effort to Lay the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable by Morton Cowan. September 11, 2018. Calkins Creek Books, 224 p. ISBN: 9781629795560. Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.7; Lexile: 980.
In this nonfiction middle-grade title, award-winning author Mary Morton Cowan explores the extraordinary achievement of Cyrus Field and one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century: laying a transatlantic telegraph cable to create instant communication between two continents.
Cyrus Field had a big dream to connect North America and the United Kingdom with a telegraph line, which would enable instant communication. In the mid-1800s, no one knew if it was possible. That didn’t dissuade Cyrus, who set out to learn about undersea cables and built a network of influential people to raise money and create interest in his project. Cyrus experienced numerous setbacks: many years of delays and failed attempts, millions of dollars lost, suspected sabotage, technological problems, and more. But Cyrus did not give up and forged ahead, ultimately realizing his dream in the summer of 1866. Mary Morton Cowan brilliantly captures Cyrus’s life and his steadfast determination to achieve his dream.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language
Booklist (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 6-10. Long before email and texting, Cyrus Field understood the value of instant communication. When the paper-merchant tycoon learned in 1854 about an opportunity to invest in the first transatlantic telegraph cable, which would reduce message delivery between Europe and North America from weeks to minutes, he couldn’t resist. This detailed biography, filled with archival reproductions, chronicles Field’s rise from a penniless paper-mill worker to one of the richest men in New York City. An interesting chapter on his hiatus from his paper company describes an adventure through South America with then budding artist Frederic Church. The bulk of the text focuses on Field’s 12-year endeavor to create a telegraph company, acquire investors, and procure 2,000 miles of cable, and the tension-filled methods of laying it. Cowan relates the scientific and historical events that shaped the process. While the topic seems most applicable to STEM readers, there is much for young entrepreneurs to learn. The project failed multiple times, but Field’s incessant determination finally succeeded with a telegraph from Queen Victoria to President Andrew Johnson.
Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2018)
The relentless persistence of one man resulted in one of the greatest engineering feats of the 19th century and the transformation of international communication. Cyrus Field’s success in business enabled him to amass enough of a fortune to partially retire at the age of 34. His interest in telegraphy was sparked by Canadian engineer Frederic Gisborne, who aimed to establish a telegraph connection between St. John’s, Newfoundland, and New York City. Field formed a new company to take over Gisborne’s venture and convinced investors to lay a cable line from Newfoundland to Ireland. In 1857, after securing financing in England and backing from the American and British governments, Field’s Atlantic Telegraph Company established the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. The cable officially opened on Aug. 16, 1858, when Queen Victoria sent President James Buchanan a message in Morse code. Widespread jubilation over this feat was short-lived when the connection broke down and was not reconnected until 1866. Making extensive use of primary sources, Cowan admiringly chronicles how, in those intervening years, Fields endured delays and failed attempts, millions of dollars lost, suspected sabotage, technological problems, and public accusations of fraud and treason. Her well-paced, vivid account makes for a read that is at times gripping. The principal figures in her tale are white. An inspiring portrait of a man with a dream and his steadfast determination to achieve it. (charts, maps, diagrams, photos, timeline, source notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
About the Author
Award-winning author, Mary Morton Cowan, writes for young readers. She is a native of Maine and a graduate of Bates College, where she concentrated her studies in English and Music. In addition to books, more than eighty of her articles, stories and activities have been published in children’s magazines, and several have been reprinted in textbooks and anthologies.
Her website is www.marymortoncowan.com
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