Umbrex has developed this list of the best books on the media and telecom industry based on input from the management consultants in our community, our clients, and other professionals.
This list of books is a work in progress, not a final answer, and we invite you to submit your recommendations on our Contact page.
We also invite you to check out our list of the best podcasts on the media industry here.
Asa Briggs, Peter Burke & Espen Ytreberg
The first three editions of this bestselling book have established A Social History of the Media as a classic, providing a masterful overview of communication media and of the social and cultural contexts within which they emerged and evolved over time.
This fourth edition has been revised and updated throughout to reflect the latest developments in the field. Additionally, an expanded introduction explores the wide range of secondary literature and theory that inform the study of media history today, and a new eighth chapter surveys the revolutionary media developments of the twenty-first century, including in particular the rise of social and participatory media and the penetration of these technologies into every sphere of social and private life.
Avoiding technological determinism and rejecting assumptions of straightforward evolutionary progress, this book brings out the rich and varied histories of communication media. In an age of fast-paced media developments, a thorough understanding of media history is more important than ever, and this text will continue to be the first choice for students and scholars across the world.Read moreRead less
Hugh R. Slotten
A fascinating account of how the United States established the first global satellite communications system to project geopolitical leadership during the Cold War.
On July 20, 1969, the world watched, spellbound, as NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped off the Apollo 11 lunar module to walk on the moon. NASA estimated that 20 percent of the planet’s population―nearly 650 million people―watched the moon landing footage, which was made possible by the first global satellite communications system, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization, or Intelsat.
In Beyond Sputnik and the Space Race, Hugh R. Slotten analyzes the efforts of US officials, especially during the Kennedy administration, to establish this satellite communication system and open it to all countries of the world. Locked in competition with the Soviet Union for both military superiority and international prestige, President John F. Kennedy overturned the Eisenhower administration’s policy of treating satellite communications as simply an extension of traditionally regulated telecommunications. Instead of allowing private communications companies to set up separate systems that would likely primarily serve major “developed” regions, the new administration decided to take the lead in establishing a single world system. Explaining how the East-West Cold War conflict became increasingly influenced by North-South tensions during this period, Slotten highlights the growing importance of non-aligned countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. He also underscores the importance of a political economy of “total Cold War” in which many crucial aspects of US society became tied to imperatives of national security and geopolitical prestige.
Drawing on detailed archival records to examine the full range of decisionmakers involved in the Intelsat system, Beyond Sputnik and the Space Race spotlights mid- and lower-level agency staff usually ignored by historians. One of the few works to analyze the establishment of a major global infrastructure project, this book provides an outstanding analytical overview of the history of global electronic communications from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.Read moreRead less
Dade Hayes & Dawn Chmielewski
The first comprehensive account of the biggest wake-up call in the history of the entertainment business: the pivot to streaming. Go inside a disparate group of media and tech companies — Disney, Apple, AT&T/WarnerMedia, Comcast/NBCUniversal and well-funded startup Quibi – as they scramble to mount multi-billion-dollar challenges to Netflix.
After spotting Netflix and the deep-pocketed Amazon Prime Video a decade’s head start, rivals from the tech and start-up realm (Apple, Quibi) and traditional media (Disney, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal) all decided to move mountains to enter the streaming game. At a cost of billions, each went after their own piece of the market, launching five new services in a seven-month span. And just as the derby was heating up, the coronavirus pandemic arrived, a black-swan event bringing short-term benefits but also stiff challenges.
The battle for streaming supremacy may end up having more than one winner, but the cost and disruption to decades-old business models have also produced a lot of losers. Binge Times reveals the true costs of the vision quest as companies are turned inside-out and repeatedly redraw their org charts and strategic plans. Stretching from Silicon Valley to Hollywood to Wall Street, it is a mesmerizing, character-rich tale of hubris and ambition, as the fate of a century-old industry hangs in the balance.Read moreRead less
Before smartphones, back even before the Internet and personal computer, a misfit group of technophiles, blind teenagers, hippies, and outlaws figured out how to hack the world’s largest machine: the telephone system. Starting with Alexander Graham Bell’s revolutionary “harmonic telegraph,” by the middle of the twentieth century the phone system had grown into something extraordinary, a web of cutting-edge switching machines and human operators that linked together millions of people like never before. But the network had a billion-dollar flaw, and once people discovered it, things would never be the same.
Exploding the Phone tells this story in full for the first time. It traces the birth of long-distance communication and the telephone, the rise of AT&T’s monopoly, the creation of the sophisticated machines that made it all work, and the discovery of Ma Bell’s Achilles’ heel. Phil Lapsley expertly weaves together the clandestine underground of “phone phreaks” who turned the network into their electronic playground, the mobsters who exploited its flaws to avoid the feds, the explosion of telephone hacking in the counterculture, and the war between the phreaks, the phone company, and the FBI.
The product of extensive original research, Exploding the Phone is a ground-breaking, captivating book.Read moreRead less
Every era has its merger; every era has its story. For the New Media age it was an even bigger disaster: the AOL-Time Warner deal.
At the time AOL and Time Warner were considered a matchless combination of old media content and new media distribution. But very soon after the deal was announced things started to go bad—and then from bad to worse. Less than four years after the deal was announced, every significant figure in the deal -save the politically astute Richard Parsons—has left the company, along with scores of others. Nearly a $100 billion was written off and a stock that once traded at $100 now trades near $10.
What happened? Where did it all go wrong? In this deeply sourced and deftly written book, Nina Munk gives us a window into the minds of two of the oddest men to ever run billion-dollar empires. Steve Case, the boy wonder who built AOL one free floppy disk at a time, was searching for a way out of the New Economy. Meanwhile Jerry Levin, who’d made his reputation as a visionary when he put HBO on satellite distribution, was searching for a monumental deal. These two men, more interested in their place in history than their personal fortunes, each thought they were out-smarting the other.Read moreRead less
When Lucent Technologies was spun off from AT&T in 1996, the new company was full of promise. An old-line manufacturer, it quickly became a sizzling hot stock thanks to the emergence of the Internet and the build-up of telecommunications. The stock market was soaring, and Lucent flew with it. Within a few short years it became the sixth-largest corporation in America and the most widely held stock in the country. Yet only months later, Lucent was gasping for life, victim of the greatest stock-market bubble in history.
Optical Illusions is the story of a financially sound company steeped in world-class talent, dominant in one of the fastest-growing industries, that in the space of two years found itself downgraded to a junk-bond credit rating, under investigation by the SEC for its accounting practices, the value of its stock reduced to the price of a cup of coffee. Lisa Endlich tells the fascinating tale of the company that epitomized the misfortunes of the telecom industry, leaving investors and employees shocked and confused.
In writing this book Endlich had access to more than a hundred people who played a role in the drama, as well as previously sealed courtroom documents. She explains how the conflicting styles of CEOs Henry Schacht and Rich McGinn contributed to Lucent’s woes, and she shows how the loss of skilled executives such as Carly Fiorina hurt the company at a crucial moment. When it was all over, Schacht — Lucent’s first CEO, who was later brought back to right the listing ship — acknowledged that Lucent had allowed itself to be swept up in the market mania, distorting its corporate values in the process.
Although the stock-market mania of the late 1990s is remembered as “the Internet craze” or “the dot-com madness,” as Optical Illusions shows, the damage was more widespread and lasting. In fighting for its survival, Lucent laid off more than 70 percent of its employees, wrecking retirees’ savings and investors’ portfolios alike.
Revolutions in Communication offers a new approach to media history, presenting an encyclopedic look at the way technological change has linked social and ideological communities. Using key figures in history to benchmark the chronology of technical innovation, Kovarik’s exhaustive scholarship narrates the story of revolutions in printing, electronic communication and digital information, while drawing parallels between the past and present.
Updated to reflect new research that has surfaced these past few years, Revolutions in Communication continues to provide students and teachers with the most readable history of communications, while including enough international perspective to get the most accurate sense of the field. The supplemental reading materials on the companion website include slideshows, podcasts and video demonstration plans in order to facilitate further reading.Read moreRead less
Ours is often called an information economy, but at a moment when access to information is virtually unlimited, our attention has become the ultimate commodity. In nearly every moment of our waking lives, we face a barrage of efforts to harvest our attention. This condition is not simply the byproduct of recent technological innovations but the result of more than a century’s growth and expansion in the industries that feed on human attention.
Wu’s narrative begins in the nineteenth century, when Benjamin Day discovered he could get rich selling newspapers for a penny. Since then, every new medium—from radio to television to Internet companies such as Google and Facebook—has attained commercial viability and immense riches by turning itself into an advertising platform. Since the early days, the basic business model of “attention merchants” has never changed: free diversion in exchange for a moment of your time, sold in turn to the highest-bidding advertiser.
Full of lively, unexpected storytelling and piercing insight, The Attention Merchants lays bare the true nature of a ubiquitous reality we can no longer afford to accept at face value.Read moreRead less
From perilous early years through clashes with the BBC and BT, not to mention the News Corporation bid for full control that failed in the wake of 2010’s phone hacking scandal, there has been no shortage of drama in Sky’s history – nor in its likely future. In 2018, the organization was the target of bids from two true titans of the global media industry – Disney and Comcast – with a dramatic bidding war waged for ultimate ownership. Throw in an industry already shaken by the arrival of newer media players such as Netflix, the declining circulation of Murdoch newspapers such as The Sun and The Times, as well as the UK government’s scrutiny of the Murdoch family’s influence on UK media, and the scene was set for a major corporate battle of a size rarely seen on the global business stage.
But how exactly did Comcast win in the battle for shareholder votes? How will the Murdoch empire fare when the dust finally settles? And what does it mean now for the future of entertainment in a streaming, downloadable and digital world?
Featuring interviews with key individuals and stakeholders from around the world, The Battle for Sky offers a timely and intriguing glimpse into the workings of media empires, and a gripping account of one of the largest corporate battles in recent years.Read moreRead less
Analyzing the strategic maneuvers of today’s great information powers—Apple, Google, and an eerily resurgent AT&T—Tim Wu uncovers a time-honored pattern in which invention begets industry and industry begets empire.
It is easy to forget that every development in the history of the American information industry—from the telephone to radio to film—once existed in an open and chaotic marketplace inhabited by entrepreneurs and utopians, just as the Internet does today. Each of these, however, grew to be dominated by a monopolist or cartel.
In this pathbreaking book, Tim Wu asks: will the Internet follow the same fate? Could the Web—the entire flow of American information—come to be ruled by a corporate leviathan in possession of “the master switch”? Here, Tim Wu shows how a battle royale for the Internet’s future is brewing, and this is one war we dare not tune out.Read moreRead less
The astonishing story of America’s airwaves, the two friends—one a media mogul, the other a famous inventor—who made them available to us, and the government which figured out how to put a price on air.
This is the origin story of the airwaves—the foundational technology of the communications age—as told through the forty-year friendship of an entrepreneurial industrialist and a brilliant inventor.
David Sarnoff, the head of RCA and equal parts Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, and William Randolph Hearst, was the greatest supporter of his friend Edwin Armstrong, developer of the first amplifier, the modern radio transmitter, and FM radio. Sarnoff was convinced that Armstrong’s inventions had the power to change the way societies communicated with each other forever. He would become a visionary captain of the media industry, even predicting the advent of the Internet.
In the mid-1930s, however, when Armstrong suspected Sarnoff of orchestrating a cadre of government officials to seize control of the FM airwaves, he committed suicide. Sarnoff had a very different view of who his friend’s enemies were.
Many corrupt politicians and corporations saw in Armstrong’s inventions the opportunity to commodify our most ubiquitous natural resource—the air. This early alliance between high tech and business set the precedent for countless legal and industrial battles over broadband and licensing bandwidth, many of which continue to influence policy and debate today.Read moreRead less
NATIONAL INDIE EXCELLENCE AWARDS WINNER — TECHNOLOGY
As the world rolls out transformational 5G services, it has become increasingly clear that China may be able to disrupt—or even access—the wireless networks that carry our medical, financial, and even military communications.
This insider story from a telecommunications veteran uncovers how we got into this mess—and how to change the outcome.
In Wireless Wars: China’s Dangerous Domination of 5G and How We’re Fighting Back, author Jon Pelson explains how America invented cellular technology, taught China how to make the gear, and then handed them the market. Pelson shares never-before-told stories from the executives and scientists who built the industry and describes how China undercut and destroyed competing equipment makers, freeing themselves to export their nation’s network gear—and their surveillance state. He also reveals China’s successful program to purchase the support of the world’s leading political, business, and military figures in their effort to control rival nations’ networks.
What’s more, Pelson draws on his lifelong experience in the telecommunications industry and remarkable access to the sector’s leaders to reveal how innovative companies can take on the Chinese threat and work with counterintelligence and cybersecurity experts to prevent China from closing the trap. He offers unparalleled insights into how 5G impacts businesses, national security and you. Finally, Wireless Wars proposes how America can use its own unique superpower to retake the lead from China.
This book is about more than just 5G wireless services, which enable self-driving cars, advanced telemedicine, and transformational industrial capabilities. It’s about the dangers of placing our most sensitive information into the hands of foreign companies who answer to the Chinese Communist Party. And it’s about the technology giant that China is using to project its power around the world; Huawei, a global super-company that has surged from a local vendor to a $120 billion-a-year behemoth in just a few years.
For anyone curious about the hottest issue at the intersection of technology and geopolitics, Wireless Wars offers an immersive crash course and an unforgettable read.Read moreRead less