Weightman, Gavin 1945–

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WEIGHTMAN, Gavin 1945–

PERSONAL: Born March 4, 1945, in Gosforth, Northumberland, England; son of John George (a professor of French, author, and broadcaster) and Jesse Doreen (a teacher; maiden name, Wade) Weightman; divorced; married Clare Beaton (an illustrator); children: (first marriage) Lucy, Ben, (second marriage) Tom. Education: Bedford College, London, B.S. (with honors).

ADDRESSES: Home—9 Court Hope Rd., London NW3, England. Agent—PFD, Drury House, 34-43 Russell St., London WC1B 5HA, England.

CAREER: Author, journalist, documentary filmmaker. New Society, feature writer, 1973–78; London Weekend Television, London, England, reporter, producer, director; Court Hope Presentations Ltd., director.

MEMBER: National Union of Journalists, Association of Cinematographers and Television Technicians.

WRITINGS:

(With Steve Humphries) The Making of Modern London, 1815–1914, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1983.

The Making of Modern London, 1914–1939, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1984.

(With Mike Birkhead) City Safari: Wildlife in London, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1986.

(With Steve Humphries) Christmas Past, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1987.

London River: The Thames Story, Collins & Brown (London, England), 1990, published as London's Thames: The River that Shaped a City and Its History, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2005.

(With Mike Birkhead) Brave New Wilderness, Weidenfeld and Nicolson (London, England), 1990.

London Past, Collins & Brown (London, England), 1991.

Picture Post Britain, picture research by Philippa Lewis, Collins & Brown (London, England), 1991.

The Seaside, Collins & Brown (London, England), 1991.

Bright Lights, Big City: London Entertained, 1830–1950, Collins & Brown (London, England), 1992.

Rescue: The History of Britain's Emergency Services, Boxtree (London, England), 1996.

The Frozen Water Trade: How Ice from New England Kept the World Cool, HarperCollins (London, England), 2001, published as The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.

Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the Nineteenth Century and the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution, De Capo Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003, published as Signor Marconi's Magic Box: How an Amateur Inventor Defied Scientists and Began the Radio Revolution, HarperCollins (London, England), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: British author Gavin Weightman has written a number of historical studies, most, but not all, focused on England. His The Frozen Water Trade: How Ice from New England Kept the World Cool is the story of New England entrepreneur Frederic Tudor, who on February 13, 1806, left Boston harbor for Martinique with his ship Favorite packed with 130 tons of ice harvested from a Massachusetts lake. Tudor was ridiculed from the start, but he eventually made a fortune as ice was hauled to Cuba, London, Charleston, New Orleans, and to India. In 1833, more than one hundred tons of ice were delivered to Calcutta, surviving a four-month trip and two crossings of the Equator. Tudor lost money in the beginning, but his fortune changed for the better when he built ice houses at his destinations and learned how best to keep the ice intact. He also found the American South to be his best market.

Others joined Tudor in expanding ice delivery, and it is estimated that in one year, between 1879 and 1880, eight and ten million tons were harvested from New England lakes and ponds and from the Hudson River. One of Tudor's sources was Walden Pond, and the ice harvesting was an annoyance to Henry David Thoreau who, for approximately two years during the period, made his retreat at Walden. During the winter of 1846–1847, Thoreau wrote that "a hundred Irishmen, with Yankee overseers, came from Cambridge every day to get out the ice. They divided it into cakes and these, being sledded to the shore, were rapidly hauled off. Thus it appears that the sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well."

The ice trade flourished in the United States as well, and thousands were employed in this industry early in the twentieth century to meet the demands for ice cream and cold beer. By the 1880s, ice was being manufactured, both in India and the American South, although the ice trade survived until the 1920s in the Northeast. With the advent of electric refrigerators, the iceman was no longer needed by the 1950s. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Weightman, in addition to documenting Tudor's trade, "also pays close attention to the development of our understanding of how ice behaves, the evolving design of icehouses, the creation of name brands, and the death of the industry," which the reviewer noted was due, in part, to pollution of the Hudson River. A Publishers Weekly contributor, who called The Frozen Water Trade "a riveting read," wrote that Weightman "takes a relatively unknown part of history (and the figure at its center), and creates a funny, rollicking human adventure."

Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the Nineteenth Century and the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution is a his-tory of the beginnings of radio and telegraph communications, begun when Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937), at the age of twenty-three, first demonstrated the wireless technology that he really did not understand. Marconi's mother was Irish and his father Italian, but the Italian government had no interest in his invention, and it was the British who supported his work. Seven years passed before the possibilities became known, when Theodore Roosevelt exchanged Morse code messages with King Edward VII. Contemporary Review contributor Jonathan Doering wrote that "the book's title is perfect, as the true star is wireless itself, as a pure concept of revolutionary dusty paradigms. We often leave Marconi behind at his stations in Cornwall or Newfoundland and see wireless in action, sailing aboard the Titanic, chasing after Dr. Crippen. The people who truly breathe in the story are the supporting characters." Book reviewer Sean McCann wrote that "Weightman's vivid narrative not only chronicles Marconi's success, it captures the enthusiasm and competitive drive that made it possible."

Weightman once told CA: "I am a factual writer, with a great admiration for successful fiction. I would rather succeed as a novelist, and I try to bring the style and vision of the novelist to documentary studies. A particular interest is the social history of the past two centuries, especially the American influences on European culture."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Weightman, Gavin, The Frozen Water Trade: How Ice from New England Kept the World Cool, HarperCollins (London, England), 2001, published as The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.

PERIODICALS

American Scientist, May-June, 2004, Harold M. Green, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the Nineteenth Century and the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution, p. 274.

Book, September-October, 2003, Sean McCann, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box, p. 95.

Booklist, December 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story, p. 713; September 15, 2003, Gilbert Taylor, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box, p. 191.

Bookwatch, June, 2004, review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 7.

Business Week, February 24, 2003, Hardy Green, review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 22.

Contemporary Review, November, 2003, Jonathan Doering, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box, p. 312.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 1605; July 15, 2003, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box, p. 959.

Library Journal, February 15, 2003, Charles K. Piehl, review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 153; September 1, 2003, Dale Farris, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box, p. 178.

Maclean's, March 3, 2003, review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 51.

National Geographic Adventure, February, 2003, Anthony Brandt, review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 34.

New England Quarterly, March, 2005, Tamara Plakins Thornton review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 146.

Publishers Weekly, October 21, 2002, review of The Frozen Water Trade, p. 61; July 21, 2003, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box, p. 186.

Science News, September 6, 2003, review of Signor Marconi's Magic Box, p. 159.

ONLINE

Main Harbors, http://www.maineharbors.com/ (February, 2003), Carol Standish, review of The Frozen Water Trade.

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