An incredible melding of science and history, invention and majesty, here is the gripping story of the race among three titans of the Gilded Age to bring electricity to the world.An incredible melding of science and history, invention and majesty, here is the gripping story of the race among three titans of the Gilded Age to bring electricity to the world.Read Less
"Empires of Light" is a well researched and scholarly, yet extremely entertaining look at the 'electricity wars' in the US. Truly a pageturner in the best sense of the word, the book examines the rivalry between Edison and Westinghouse for the dominant electrical format. Nikola Tesla figures prominently in the exciting saga.
Jill Jonnes did her homework on this book and it shows. The characters fight it out in the labs, in court, in the press and at exhibitions worldwide to establish the supremacy of either Edison's Direct Current system or the Alternating Current system of Tesla and Westinghouse.
Today, we know by daily experience how it turned out, but the story of how we finally ended up with AC is one of the more riveting accounts of the Industrial Revolution. One of the more surprising bits of history that we learn is that Edison wasn't really a very nice guy.
Publishers Weekly, 2003-05-05 Jonnes, a historian at Johns Hopkins (We're Still Here; Hep-Cats, Narcs and Pipe Dreams), details the rise and fall of the three visionaries who harnessed electricity, while also offering a critique of corporate greed. Her tale emphasizes the "War of the Electric Currents," in which Thomas Edison sought to defend the primacy of his direct current electrical system against George Westinghouse's higher-voltage and more broadly applicable alternating current system. Nikola Tesla, the somewhat kooky Serbian genius (and former Edison man), joined the fray on Westinghouse's side with his AC induction motor. Jonnes serves up plenty of color in an engaging and relaxed style, detailing how Edison capitalized on the "deaths by wire," or accidental electrocutions, from the AC system, sensationalized in the newspapers of the time. As she shows, Edison's "holy war" led to Westinghouse's AC being used in the first prison execution by electric chair, in 1890-which proved considerably more grisly and less humane than originally billed. For Jonnes, this history culminates neatly in a rather trite moral lesson: that corporate greed is bad. She contrasts it with the three public-minded men sketched here, who embody what Jonnes believes capitalism ought to be. Edison wanted only "the perfect workshop"; Westinghouse was interested "in helping the world" and giving his workers disability benefits; Tesla wanted to "liberate the world from drudgery." Jonnes's titans loom as monumentally as the allegorical Good Capitalists in an Ayn Rand melodrama. For those who view history as less tidy, this may strain the patience at times. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW. (On sale Aug. 19) FYI: Much of this story was covered, with more emphasis on the first execution by electric chair, in Richard Moran's Executioner's Current: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the Invention of the Electric Chair, published last October. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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