In This Review

Ruling the Waves: Cycles of Discovery, Chaos, and Wealth from Buccaneers to Bill Gates
Ruling the Waves: Cycles of Discovery, Chaos, and Wealth from Buccaneers to Bill Gates
By Debora L. Spar
Harcourt Brace, 2001, 416 pp
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In this unusual book, Spar finds a common thread running through the early developments of ocean commerce, the telegraph, radio and TV, computer software, and the Internet. In each case, technological breakthrough opened new opportunities. But these changes were followed by commercialization, chaotic and sometimes unsavory exploitation, growing mainstream dependence on the new medium, and finally, appeals for both government intervention and the establishment of standards and property rights. In describing the process, this Harvard Business School professor offers engaging capsule histories of the growth and eventual control of (maritime) piracy, independent radio broadcasting, encryption, and use of the Internet -- for example, for the transmission of music. New media may flourish without government control, she concludes, but once someone tries to profit from these opportunities, he or she will seek government protection.