Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World

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My area of expertise being crime and sociology there was plenty to pique my interest. The use of electricity as a means of punishment was new at that time and the author took a painstaking interest in describing for the reader just how those early attempts at the death penalty went.

It grossed me out and I have a pretty high tolerance for reading about that kind of stuff in a historical context. I was able to make ties between this book and Devil in the White City by Erik Larson because Edison makes a large contribution to the electrical demonstration in the Columbian Exposition which was also a focal point of that book too. While I struggled with some of the science, there was a lot that I could get behind here too.

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Audiobook Discussion I think I would have been better off reading this book in print over listening to it on audio for a couple reasons. I think with the subject matter being something almost beyond my ability to comprehend it, if reading in print I would have been more apt to put it down, look some things up, and then come back to it.

I also had a little struggle with settling in with the narrator. His manner of speech and intonation always made it sound like he was asking a question at the end of every sentence. It took me a LONG TIME to get past this being an issue that was driving me to distraction also probably a contributing factor in my need to only listen to short bursts at a time. A different choice of narrator might have made it more palatable, but I still stand by the concept that the material here is just a little dense for the casual reader to be comfortable with, however if you are an engineer or has a solid grasp of physics where the technical aspects of electricity are commonplace, you might not have as difficult a listen as I did.

This review was previously posted on The Maiden's Court blog, and a copy was received for review. Dec 19, Eric Means rated it really liked it Shelves: history , want-recs , favorites. I discovered this book in the gift shop of Edison's winter home in July during a torrential downpour. At the time, lightning was crackling above a truly immense tree standing on the grounds, which was perhaps fortuitous.

If you've ever plugged in a lamp or an appliance, if you've ever had power go out in your neighborhood due to an overly exploratory squirrel, especially if you've ever shocked yourself changing out an outlet or a light fixture and wondered, "Why the hell did that happen," you sho I discovered this book in the gift shop of Edison's winter home in July during a torrential downpour. If you've ever plugged in a lamp or an appliance, if you've ever had power go out in your neighborhood due to an overly exploratory squirrel, especially if you've ever shocked yourself changing out an outlet or a light fixture and wondered, "Why the hell did that happen," you should read this book.

Nobody thinks, in our current time, about the why and the how of electricity; how it gets to your house, how it makes the washer and dryer run, whether things could have been different. It could have. Edison championed direct current DC The requisite voltage for DC is so low that death by electrocution would be virtually unknown. Edison also believed all electricity supply wires should be buried below ground, so again Sorry California, earthquakes would probably still take out your electric On the other hand There's the kicker.

Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World

On the other hand, you'd have to live within half a mile of the plant that produced your electricity. Which would probably suck. Your electric motors would require physical brushes as part of their workings, which would have to be replaced regularly The AC transition, and Tesla's role in it in particular, are a heavy focus of the book and a huge reason to read it. How we got from an age when most people had naked pipes allowing gas into their homes for heat and light, to an age when a simple wire connection could power literally anything in your home for pennies a day Sep 23, Gary Brecht rated it it was amazing.

In a way Jill Jonnes has accomplished what the principal subjects of her book did for the world; she sheds light on the evolution of the harnessing of electricity. What a fascinating tale it turns out to be! She identifies three main protagonists. Numerous others precede them, like Galvani, and Benjamin Franklin, and there is an assortment of bit players in the history of electricity. Jonnes gives them their due. But Edison, Tesla and In a way Jill Jonnes has accomplished what the principal subjects of her book did for the world; she sheds light on the evolution of the harnessing of electricity.

But Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse play the most significant roles in promoting the electrification of America, and ultimately, the world. The story is more than the retelling of their genius for invention. It is also the drama of their struggle for supremacy as they attempt to define the role of this new technology for the betterment of mankind. Development of alternate current as the preferred method of delivering electricity long distances culminates in the taming of Niagara Falls. In this book we are reminded that what we now take for granted…the casual flip of a switch to turn on our lights, televisions, personal computers and other household appliances…did not evolve easily.

The inventiveness and dogged persistence of the big three is what eventually transformed the magical, mystical attributes of electricity into the silent slave of modern industrialization. May 21, Katherine Cowley rated it really liked it Shelves: nonfiction , adult , history , science. Jonnes takes a fascinating look at what is known as the War of Electric Currents--an all out corporate, scientific, patent, and journalistic battle between the likes of Edison who wanted Direct Current Power , Tesla who wanted Alternate Current Power , and dozens of other players, most notably Westinghouse, a fascinating scientist who may not have had the flair of Tesla but had the business acumen to bring Tesla's visions to the world.

Did you know that there were seven years of patent battles Jonnes takes a fascinating look at what is known as the War of Electric Currents--an all out corporate, scientific, patent, and journalistic battle between the likes of Edison who wanted Direct Current Power , Tesla who wanted Alternate Current Power , and dozens of other players, most notably Westinghouse, a fascinating scientist who may not have had the flair of Tesla but had the business acumen to bring Tesla's visions to the world.

Did you know that there were seven years of patent battles about whether or not Edison actually invented the light bulb? Or that public demonstrations of dog electrocutions were done to try to vilify Alternating Current, which led to the first, very botched and gruesome capital punishment electrocution?

This and many other stories are woven together in this highly readable science history. This book does a great job painting the historical context of the time, explaining the science, and focusing on individuals and the role they played.


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I was frankly surprised at how much of a corporate battle this was, and at the fact that while there may have been a happy ending for electricity and society, there was not necessarily a happy ending for any of the main players who worked to bring it about. Nov 21, Becca Guillote rated it really liked it.

This is a great read, entertaining and certainly educational. I love how Jonnes wraps in historical details of the time, and paints a picture of what life was like at the time that the electricity war raged. The book took me a long time to get through though.

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While it was interesting, I think the density of it led me to distraction pretty quickly. But in the end I loved getting to know the main characters in such a drastic technological time. Jul 27, Tom Blumer rated it really liked it. This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers.

Empires Of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, And The Race To Electrify The World

To view it, click here. I did not realize that there was such a battle over how electricity was to be delivered and that Thomas Edison was on the wrong side of the battle. But with that said it was most interesting to see how the merger of technology and investor financing resulted in the ultimate electrification of America.

I enjoyed the book. Mar 31, Eric Plunkett rated it it was ok. The story is fascinating. Would be a great movie. The writing was pretty brutal. Oct 09, Vishaka Datta rated it liked it. If you thought the patent wars between Apple and Samsung over smartphone design are messy and adversarial, Empires of Light documents a series of battles far more brutal, and with consequences arguably more epic. Unlike Apple and Samsung, this wasn't just about the rights to manufacture products that are technically identical to each other. This was a battle over rival technologies, personalities and competing visions of the future, fought at a time when most of the refined legal weaponry availa If you thought the patent wars between Apple and Samsung over smartphone design are messy and adversarial, Empires of Light documents a series of battles far more brutal, and with consequences arguably more epic.

This was a battle over rival technologies, personalities and competing visions of the future, fought at a time when most of the refined legal weaponry available to companies today were non-existent. The initial chapters make for slow and relatively dull reading while Jonnes introduces us to the cast of characters in this battle. We are introduced to Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse. All three men would amass fortunes with their inventions and create wealth all around, but importantly, they were self-made men.

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This was in an age of inherited fortunes in an economy that was just beginning to mint industrial millionaires, starting with the railroad industry. Jonnes does a reasonable job portraying and describing the temperament of these people, but it feels incomplete. Tesla's education is left as somewhat of a mystery.

After all, Tesla displayed a deep understanding of electromagnetism that seemed to have far outstripped Edison. Why was that? And while Westinghouse is described as a mechanical genius of sorts, there are few anecdotes or testimonies to bear out the hagiographic portrayal of his smarts. Jonnes also delves briefly into the history of electrical discoveries in these early parts of the book, which is pretty poorly done.

Save for her description of the Leyden jar and Benjamin Franklin's experiments, I found myself at a loss trying to imagine and understand exactly how these experiments worked. But this isn't a history of electricity per se, so perhaps glossing over these details is justifiable.

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