Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World

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Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World [Paperback]

David Bodanis
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 28, 2006 0307335984 978-0307335982 Reprint
In Electric Universe, David Bodanis weaves tales of romance, divine inspiration, and fraud through a lucid account of the invisible force that permeates our universe. In these pages the virtuoso scientists who plumbed the secrets of electricity come vividly to life, including familiar giants like Thomas Edison; the visionary Michael Faraday, who struggled against the prejudices of the British class system; and Samuel Morse, a painter who, before inventing the telegraph, ran for mayor of New York on a platform of persecuting Catholics. Here too is Alan Turing, whose dream of a marvelous thinking machine—what we know as the computer—was met with indifference, and who ended his life in despair after British authorities forced him to undergo experimental treatments to “cure” his homosexuality.

From the frigid waters of the Atlantic to the streets of Hamburg during a World War II firestorm to the interior of the human body, Electric Universe is a mesmerizing journey of discovery by a master science writer.

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Editorial Reviews


“A technological odyssey complete with heroes and villains, triumph and tragedy—a true scientific adventure.” —Simon Singh, author of Big Bang

“Though science is omnipresent in Electric Universe, it’s only part of the literary equation. Living, breathing, laughing, loving, vainglorious, extraordinarily gifted humans get plenty of ink as well.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“Anyone who has considered the inner workings of a computer (or even a toaster) would get a charge out of Bodanis’s history of electricity. . . . [He] adds more than a touch of drama to his lucid and informative science lessons.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Hugely impressive. No one makes complex science more fascinating and accessible—and indeed more pleasurable—than David Bodanis.” —Bill Bryson

About the Author

David Bodanis has taught intellectual history at Oxford and is the author of several books, including The Secret House and E=mc2. A native of Chicago, he lives in London.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (February 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307335984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307335982
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #857,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and interesting April 6, 2006
This book, a popular account of a number of things that relate to electricity and electronics, reads very well and I found it to be one of those gripping books that one wants to finish.

The author makes a few claims that I have never seen before, such as one that Morse, in inventing the telegraph, stole most of his ideas from Joseph Henry, and I'd be curious to see how much of this is generally accepted. But if so, it would certainly appear that Samuel Morse was overrated by history. The book covers both Morse and Henry, and also such well-known inventors as Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, often showing sides of them that we don't see elsewhere. The book devotes a large amount of space to Alan Turing, who is obviously highly regarded by the author. It also covers much of the scientific side of the story, even giving a glimpse of quantum mechanics (the scientific theory which underlies much of modern electronics).

That being said, this is a _popular_ book. It does not attempt to present all the mathematics of Maxwell's electromagnetic theory or quantum mechamics, but simply describes them in terms that a non-physicist can comprehend, and I think it is successful at that level. If you don't expect of it something that clearly was not intended by the author, but want a well-written book on the historical aspects of electric and electronic devices, you will be well-served by this book.

A very extensive bibliography, not just listing the books but explaining what you will find in each one cited, ends the text of this book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as E=mc squared September 17, 2006
Bodanis's prior book "E=mc squared" was a more informative and entertaining read than Electric Universe. Electric Universe was a bit too simplified technically in its attempts to be accessible. More detail could have been paid to Maxwell and his wave equations, and ignoring Nikola Tesla's contributions to electromagnetics is a glaring ommission. Bodanis does present though some interesting observations and anecdotes on the personalities and politics of science; scientists may claim the moral high ground with their vetting of each other when they compare themselves to the non-scientific community, but even the really great scientitsts like Edison though genius are often no morally better than the rest of us.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The 'Cliffs Notes' history of electricity May 26, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Purchased this book after seeing that it won the 2006 Aventis General Prize for popular science writing. While the book is a quick and interesting read, I found that it ultimately left me wanting more... much more. The book certainly manages to hit many of the high points in the history of electricity and electronics. Unfortunately, it fails to provide much detail about any single person or idea. The book does include an extensive "Guide to Further Reading" and numerous notes for those who like more details. Annoyingly, the notes aren't referenced in the main text so you're forced to read in parallel through the main portion of the book as well as the "Notes" chapter if you want the full story.

In the end, I suppose my own expectations got the better of me: I was hoping for an in-depth history of electricity, perhaps along the lines of Richard Rhodes Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", rather than a entertaining afternoon read...
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
"ELECTRIC UNIVERSE: How Electricity Switched On The Modern World" by David Bodanis

WINNER of the 2006 Aventis General Prize for popular science writing.

David Bodanis is one of those rare authors who laboriously researches private diaries and letters to get ..."the rest of the story." This Tour De Force contains a wealth of background of related research.

Bodanis traces the lineage of profound minds which powered the unlocking of the atom and our grasp of electromagnetism. The lineage of Michael Faraday, Joseph Henry, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), James Clerk Maxwell, Alexander Graham Bell, Heinrich Hertz, etc....

Two of the books highlights are the illuminations of Joseph Henry (working with magnets in America) and William Thomson (working with the Atlantic telegraph table). Thomson and James Clerk Maxwell were key figures in the expansion of our understanding of magnetism and electricity.

In a style that is reminiscent of James Burke's "CONNECTIONS" Bodanis shows the process of theoretical cross-fertilization over a period of decades, revealing that with progressive changes in our view of the Electron , a new foundation is established for the release of fresh tecnology. From the late Victorian era view of the Electron as a hard little ball, to Faraday's & Hertz's vision of the Electron as a part of a force field, leading eventually to the idea that
the Electron can pop through space in an abrupt teleporting jump known as a Quantum, Bodanis shows how far our grasp has come, and tells this story in such a compelling manner that "Electric Universe" is hard to put down, once picked up.

There can be difficulties with this kind of literature.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Satisfied May 17, 2007
My 14 year old son had to read this for school. In his words, it took what he thought was going to be a dull subject and made it interesting with all the stories and examples. He actually enjoyed it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Great Read
Provides an interesting account of the importance of electrical forces in the universe and our everyday lives
Published 6 days ago by Scott M.
Readable for the non-technical but something of a disappointment.
Many major and interesting contributors to the development of our
understanding of electricity. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Elliott K. Rand
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book!
This is a wonderful book!! I have read it twice and have read it to my class as well. I will admit that the boys tend to like it better than the girls do, but I think it makes the... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Math Tutor
1.0 out of 5 stars Brainwashed racist....
Someone who writes about history of electricity and doesn't mention Nicola Tesla must be mind controled brainwashed racist.....
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Science is boring. Science is magic
Science is boring. Science is magic. That’s pretty much the way science is presented and viewed in the U.S. Read more
Published 11 months ago by technicat
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview
Really explains how electricity, or electro-magnetism drives everything, from all our modern gadgets to our neurological responses and systems. Could not put it down,
Published on February 6, 2013 by Michael G. Simonetto
4.0 out of 5 stars Great but Incomplete
This is a very well written, engaging book. Although I don't see how a book on the evolution of man's relationship with electricity could exclude the foremost figure in this... Read more
Published on June 30, 2012 by Geoffrey Smith
3.0 out of 5 stars Same book.
I was so excited to see David Bodanis had what I thought was a NEW book! I already have read this one twice. Read more
Published on April 20, 2012 by mannaplanet
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book
I bought this book for my husband who is studying electrical wiring in college, and he hasn't been able to put it down since I gave it to him. Read more
Published on December 19, 2010 by S. Goodyear
2.0 out of 5 stars unclear writing
I liked the idea of this book, but the execution left something to be desired. The writing was clunky and not all the dots were connected.
Published on July 14, 2010 by Kim E. Colwell
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