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AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0787982676
ISBN-10: 0787982679
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A little more than 100 years ago, two titans of industry faced off in one of the most vicious battles the marketplace had ever seen. On one side, Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, the creator of the phonograph and the electric light; on the other, George Westinghouse, tycoon and titan, backing the mysterious eastern European inventor Nikola Tesla. They fought over the very nature of the electrical system in America: would it be built on alternating current (as Westinghouse proposed), or direct current à la Edison? Though a battle over electrical standards sounds dry, this tale is anything but. McNichol's solid if brief survey of this relatively unknown moment in the history of technology ranges from macabre electrocutions of hapless animals (and eventually prison inmates) as demonstrations of the "Death Current" to the gleaming "electrical wonderland" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Though the author focuses on when it's wise to fight a standards battle and when to give in, some might wish that he had another 200 pages in which to flesh out the story. His book tantalizingly scratches the surface of Edison's ingenuity and force of will, Westinghouse's shrewd business sense, and most of all the sheer eccentricity of Nikola Tesla. (Sept.)
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Review

A little more than 100 years ago, two titans of industry faced off in one of the most vicious battles the marketplace had ever seen. On one side, Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, the creator of the phonograph and the electric light; on the other, George Westinghouse, tycoon and titan, backing the mysterious eastern European inventor Nikola Tesla. They fought over the very nature of the electrical system in America: would it be built on alternating current (as Westinghouse proposed), or direct currentà la Edison- Though a battle over electrical standards sounds dry, this tale is anything but. McNichol's solid if brief survey of this relatively unknown moment in the history of technology ranges from macabre electrocutions of hapless animals (and eventually prison inmates) as demonstrations of the "Death Current" to the gleaming "electrical wonderland" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Though the author focuses on when it's wise to fight a standards battle and when to give in, some might wish that he had another 200 pages in which to flesh out the story. His book tantalizingly scratches the surface of Edison's ingenuity and force of will, Westinghouse's shrewd business sense, and most of all the sheer eccentricity of Nikola Tesla.(Sept.) (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (August 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787982679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787982676
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald E. Fulton on October 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
AC/DC, subtitled The Savage Tale of the First Standards War, is a quick read that does a pretty good job telling the PR and human side of the AC/DC story, but skimps badly on technical issues related to the AC/DC battle. This book is less than half the length of the much better book on the same topic, Empires of Light --- Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, by Jill Jonnes (2003).

McNichols has two chapters on the bizarre electrocutions of animals and prisoners with details of every voltage used and electrode placement. But on a key technical point, getting Tesla's induction motor to actually work outside the laboratory, McNichols says next to nothing. The fact is that even though Westinghouse had bought the patent rights to Tesla's AC induction motor, Tesla's AC motor would not run on Westinghouse's early AC power. In the lab Tesla was running his motor on a polyphase AC generator that he had designed. McNichol says (page 83), "Tesla moved to Pittsburgh ... adapting the Tesla motor to the Westinghouse system". McNichols has got it backwards.

Tesla in Pittsburgh probably did teach Westinghouse's engineers about his AC induction motor, but the important point historically and relevant to today is that Tesla worked to get Westinghouse to redesign his power plants and distribution systems so that the AC induction motor would start and run well. This required lowering the AC frequency from 133 hz to 60 hz and changing from single phase to three phase power. The latter meaning the distribution wiring had to change, going from two wires to three wires.

The reason that Tesla's induction motor needed three phase AC is that it worked by establishing a smoothly rotating magnetic field that dragged the shorted rotor around with it.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have not yet finished reading this, but permit me to jot some thoughts as I progress.

I had this book in my wishlist for a long time now. With the gift of my Kindle Fire, I downloaded this as my inaugural Kindle book.

The pre-history of electricity is long and torturous. I don't think it adds much to the overall discussion of the AC/DC "war".

Then I encountered a jagged note, that smacks of poor proof-reading. Towards the end of chapter 4, when Edison had completed the invention of his electric lamp, we read the following: "In the week following Christmas 1889, hundreds of visitors made a pilgrimage to Menlo Park [New Jersey] to see the marvel for themselves."

Then turn the page to Chapter 5 (titled: Electrifying the Big Apple)and read this: "In February 1881, Edison moved from Menlo Park to New York City to fulfill his next mission: bringing electric power to to the Big Apple."

I guess since the author was writing about electricity, he did not feel the need to mention that Edison also invented time travel.

Anyway, I am at about chapter 5 of the book and only Chapter 4 started making it interesting. No mention about the standards dispute though.
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Format: Hardcover
As I get old(er), I realize that most history we know about is highly sanitized, and what we remember and/or know about the details of how it happened are glossed over or forgotten in time. That's why the book AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War by Tom McNichol appealed to me when I saw it at the library. I do know there was friction between Thomas Edision (DC - Direct Current) and George Westinghouse (AC - Alternating Current) as to which was better and which electrical standard would end up dominating the market. What I wasn't fully aware of was the levels of cruelty that Edison and his team would descend to in order to try and persuade the public. It wasn't pretty, but one hundred years later, it's not something that's often talked about in the race to electrify the world.

McNichol focuses on Edison's determination and blindered focus on making DC power the North American standard. He knows that with the advent of the light bulb, there will be an entire industry built up around the creation of a power grid. Westinghouse also understands that there's big money to be made in generating and supplying power, but he knows that the DC market is already established and dominated by Edison. He decides to focus on AC power with Telsa's help, and it's at that point that things get ugly.

Edison was ruthless in trying to quash any rival to his DC infrastructure, and AC power was the biggest threat. The key element was that DC power would only transmit for about one mile, while AC power had a far greater reach. Edison started using media to warn about the "dangers" of AC power and the higher voltage involved. The rhetoric continued to escalate, due primarily to one Harold P. Brown, who was calling himself an "electrical engineer.
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Format: Hardcover
Something that everyone takes for granted, electricity, has a very interesting history. The book, AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War, by Tom McNichol, does a very nice job of giving the reader an overview of the early days of electrical power generation. I say "overview" because at 190 pages, there isn't a lot of room for an exhaustively researched subject. But for what McNichol does, he does it quite well.

Contents:
Prologue: Negative and Positive
Chapter 1: First Sparks
Chapter 2: Lightening in a Bottle
Chapter 3: Enter the Wizard
Chapter 4: Let There Be Light
Chapter 5: Electrifying the Big Apple
Chapter 6: Tesla
Chapter 7: The Animal Experiments
Chapter 8: Old Sparky
Chapter 9: Pulse of the World
Chapter 10: Killing an Elephant
Chapter 11: Twilight by Battery Power
Chapter 12: DC's Revenge
Epilogue: Standards Wars: Past, Present, and Future
Further Reading in Electricity

Picture a world without electricity. Hard to do, isn't it? Everything we use consumes electricity. But there was a time when there was no electricity. But as some people began to study it, there arose two competing men, who would fight to have their standard be the one that delivered power to the masses. The great inventor, Thomas Edison backed DC. An industrial titan, George Westinghouse, and a very eccentric inventor, Nikola Tesla, backed AC. Each man, Edison and Westinghouse, had factories churning out parts for their standard. They employed any means possible to get the public to back their method of electrical distribution. Edison, for his part, developed (or perfected) the electric chair, using AC, to show that it kills.
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