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on November 8, 2003
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE POOR REVIEW FROM johnjones2! I will base my review of this book based on his ridiculous 2 star review. I have been an Electrical Engineer since the mid-1980s. I enjoyed this book tremendously! This is a book that deals with the history of the THREE PRIMARY men who began the war of AC vs. DC electric currents. They are Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla.
Apparently reviewer johnjones2 does not know his history. Charles Proteus Steinmetz never worked for Westinghouse; he worked for GE (that's common knowledge). He didn't join the GE staff until 1893, which was the year of the Colombian Exposition in Chicago. The war of electric currents was well under way before Steinmetz ever joined the GE staff. As you'll learn in this book (and others), the Colombian Exposition was a major battle ground for the war of electric currents. Steinmetz was an outstanding electrical engineer who later worked (for GE) to help optimize the AC motor by solving hysteresis issues. It was TESLA'S (who began working for Westinghouse in 1888 after a short stint with Edison), NOT Steinmetz's, ALL-IMPORTANT PATENTS that were needed to get the AC business going. That's the way business works! This book is about how the AC / DC war began and how AC proved to be the better technology (that's why our homes are now wired for AC). It's not about how AC systems were later perfected.
Am I bothered that the author didn't mention Steinmetz - heck no. There are many other engineers who have worked on AC systems to make them better and more efficient, did I expect all of them to be mentioned in this book as well - again, heck no! For reviewer johnjones2 to say that the author had ulterior motives for leaving out Steinmetz is completely hilarious!
In 1889, Steinmetz had to flee Germany because of his SOCIALIST activities (ulterior motive?), he then came to the United States. Rudolf Eickemeyer, who had begun building electrical apparatus in his factory in Yonkers, N.Y., gave Steinmetz his start in electrical engineering research. When GE bought out Eickemeyer in late 1892, Steinmetz remained on the staff and began working under the new owners.
Now lets move on to reviewer johnjones2's technical issues. Really, there are none. The author does a good job setting the groundwork for how scientists began studying and discovering the basics of electricity and how that knowledge was developed so that man could harness the power
of electricity and use it in the way that we use it today. The so-called technical errors that are pointed out by johnjones2 are based on very trivial issues. I found his complaints about the authors "scientific drawings" completely off base and without merit. The author provides 11 diagrams and basic electrical schematics that help give the average reader an idea of the concepts involved. They are very basic in nature and are diagrams that are still used today to help explain the fundamentals of electricity. These are not "misleading" in any way. When reviewer johnjones2 complains about the author rating electrical generators in horsepower and says "something that certainly hasn't been done for a century", well, I think he missed the point. This book is about the history of AC/DC electricity and how it was developed a CENTURY ago.
Lastly, as far as johnjones2's comment "she (the author) specifies early systems by the number of bulbs they could light-- as if all light bulbs had the same power consumption (but perhaps they did in the earliest days)", what an ambiguous statement. This one's not even worth the time.
This is an excellent book written by a historian, not an Electrical Engineer (can you imagine how boring this book would have been if an Electrical Engineer had written it). This book is a good read for anyone and especially those who love reading about the Gilded Age era of American history.
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on February 16, 2005
Jonnes gives us a look at the story of electrification from Edison's discovery of the incandescent light to completion of the Niagara Falls hydroelectric generating station (using Westinghouse equipment based on Tesla's AC patents). She begins with an overview of what was known about electricity-the relationship between electricity and magnetism, discovered by Michael Faraday, and the development of electromagnets by Joseph Henry. Development of practical generators in the 1870s, was soon followed by the first arc lights, but they were cumbersome and too bright for home use. Edison took up the challenge to develop an electric light suitable for home use in 1878, completed in 1879, and installed in New York City in 1882.

Edison firmly believed in his DC power system, but it was poorly suited to transmitting power long distances. Once AC transformers were invented, in 1885, George Westinghouse realized that AC was the more practical system. He licensed Tesla's patents for AC generator and motor and began installing systems. A major battle ensued with Edison promoting DC and charging that AC was unsafe. That resulted in the adoption of the AC powered electric chair as a means of execution. Edison General Electric and Westinghouse found themselves in direct competition many times.

Edison was a darling of the media. His side of the story has been told many times. Westinghouse was personable, but far less open to the press. No biographies have appeared since 1926. Tesla was a frequent publisher, gave numerous demonstrations especially at technical meetings. His eccentric nature leads to some treatments as a man of mystery.

The detailed treatment of the Niagara Power project is much appreciated. This was the first major hydroelectric project in the US. It was financed by a Wall Street syndicate headed by JP Morgan. We see the details of how the bankers brought in experts to get the best available advice on the project. Finally Westinghouse won the competition because he had licensed the Tesla AC patents. There was no nearby customer for the power from Niagara. Buffalo, 26 miles away was the logical one. But the project also spawned numerous industries that took advantage of low cost electric power. This is the founding of well known companies. Among them Alcoa (first production of low cost aluminum), Carborundum (abrasives made by electric furnace), Union Carbide (acetylene made by electric furnace), and Hooker Chemical (chlorine, bleach, alkalis, sodium hydroxide, sodium all made by electrolysis of salt water). Niagara began supplying power to Alcoa on Aug 26, 1895.

The book also gives us a profile of three inventors: Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla. We are shown how financiers dealt with them. In Feb, 1892, JP Morgan and associates merged Edison General Electric with another holding, Thompson Houston, renamed the combine General Electric Co., and put CEO Charles Coffin in charge without even consulting Edison. George Westinghouse lost control of his company after it sank into bankruptcy in the Panic of 1907. He was soon forced out of the company. A proxy fight to regain control in 1911 failed. Tesla licensed his key AC patents to Westinghouse and initially received generous royalties. But he agreed to give up those royalties as part of a Westinghouse rescue plan in the Panic of 1891. His other patents were tied up in a deal with JP Morgan to fund radio development. After Marconi beat him to market, he was unable even to defend his own patents. He died penniless.

This is a great read for those interested in technology and how it all came together. We are left hungering for a second volume to cover the rest of the electrification story. We hear nothing of Samuel Insull, very little of the development of electric street cars, electric railroads, interurbans, the electric automobile, TVA, rural electrification, or the expansion of electrical systems throughout the country. Excellent bibliography. Many references. Index.
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What does one do when they are on a red-eye flight for six hours and can't sleep? They read! The target of my insomnia for this trip was Empires Of Light - Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, And The Race To Electrify The World by Jill Jonnes. If this is a part of history you haven't ever been exposed to, it's a fascinating read...

Jonnes goes back to the mid-to-late 1800's and covers the story of how Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse transformed society with the power of electricity. Back then, the predominate form of lighting was the gaslight... dirty, smoky, and not very efficient. Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse all had ideas about electricity and how it might be packaged in a form that could illuminate the night and run motors. Edison was a proponent of Direct Current, or DC, power, while Westinghouse was pushing the Alternating Current, or AC, power type. Since we obviously now have an AC power grid worldwide, you can tell who won the war over the long term. But in the beginning, things were far from settled. DC is a much safer power source, but it can not travel very far. As a result, power stations had to be built all over a city to provide the necessary electricity to that area. On the other hand, AC can travel great distances and is much more efficient, but it can be much more dangerous and deadly. It was this safety issue that led to some of the more "memorable" events of the time, like Edison pushing AC power for an electric chair to kill someone, so that AC would be associated in the public mind as dangerous. While Edison and Westinghouse were fighting things out on the lighting side, Tesla was a complete eccentric who wanted to invent the first AC powered motor (when it was thought that it couldn't be done).

Being in the tech industry, what kept standing out to me was how those times were nearly identical to the dot.com era. There are new technologies that are changing the way that people live. Standards are nonexistent, and everyone is fighting to become the king of the new economy. A quote that seemed so appropriate: "For many years the Edison Company contented itself with flooding the country with circulars trying to ridicule the Westinghouse system. One morning it suddenly awoke to find it had a competitor. Now it says that if the contract is given to Westinghouse an injunction will head him off." Remind you of any software companies today?

While the overall writing style may not be as riveting as a techno-thriller, it's good enough to carry the reader back to a time where technology was *truly* changing people's lives. This is a must-read for people who think we are in "unprecedented times", when in reality we are just replaying the past.
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on March 5, 2007
More description always makes books longer, but it does not always make them better. This is the first lesson I learned from Empires of Light: save the details for when they can be truly useful. Jill Jonnes writes like a historian who just finished an intro-to-composition course; however, for this book she probably should have spent more time with aspiring electricians at her local trade school. A book about "the race to electrify the world" would better benefit from its author knowing too much about electricity than from her ability to generate great varieties of adjectives for the same basic subjects--Nikola Tesla is always elegant and awkward, the weather is either oppressively hot or frigidly cold, and the men's Gilded Age facial hair is always worthy of description. Jonnes even repeats some of the same proper descriptions chapter after chapter, as if some readers might read the book as a collection of essays--George Westinghouse travels in "Glen Eyre, his private railcar" and Tesla dines at "Delmonico's, America's most famous restaurant." On the other hand, I found myself wondering about the basic voltage equals current times resistance (V=IR) electricity equation: was Jonnes avoiding it because the inventors of electricity didn't understand it yet, or did she just not think it was important to her readers' understanding of the subject?

There may not be any better books available on this subject, but Jonnes does neither the Gilded Age nor the birth of electrification justice. This book would benefit either by being edited to half its length or expanded to improve the social and technical context; as written, it's a lukewarm offering which I give three stars.
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on November 7, 2004
The story in this book deserves to be told. The bibliography contains biographies of the main characters and accounts of such events as the construction of the Niagara power plant. This book brings a new perspective by pulling together the intersecting threads of these lives through these events, and thereby makes them more interesting and easier to understand.

For someone who has lived in Silicon Valley for two decades, the similarities in the behaviors of entrepreneurs, managers and investors between today and the late 19th century are striking. The investors in a hurry to fire company founders are familiar characters, as is the behavior of companies that pick the brains of suppliers through a bidding process before developing their own technology, or the constant conflicts about intellectual property.

Despite its merits, I cannot give this book five stars because it contains irrelevant materials and inaccurate details, and is written in a florid, sloppy style. For example, the two pages about the assassination of James Garfield are unnecessary, because it has nothing to do with electrification. As a milestone in time, it might rate one line, but not more. Otherwise, as a reader, you keep expecting it to be connected somehow with the subject, but it isn't.

Minor inaccuracies in the text also bothered me, not for their intrinsic importance but for the doubt they cast in my mind about the validity of everything else. Tesla, for example, is introduced as a Serb. Then he is a Croat, and finally a Serb again. As another reader pointed out, the author does not seem to know the difference between power and energy. Chapter 2 is a short history of electromagnetism up to the 1870s, which does not mention Maxwell. In the afterword, Edison is also described as the inventor of motion pictures through his Vitascope system, which was introduced five months after the Lumiere brothers' cinematograph... I agree with another reviewer that the book might have been boring if written by an engineer, but a good engineer might have been useful as a fact checker.

In the writing style, statements that Galvani had lost his "beloved" wife and "happily" practiced anatomy beg the question of how the author could possibly have known. A fiction writer may know such things about his characters, but a historian doesn't about real people who died 200 years ago. Barbara Tuchman could thrill the reader with history without ever presuming to know the private feelings of the people she wrote about. Why does the author refer to dynamo inventor Gramme as "Monsieur Gramme," when she never uses any such form about anybody else? Is she trying to make him sound like inspector Clouseau?

She also uses different words for the same things for no obvious reason. Referring to the same event as the "War Between the States" and the "Civil War" in the same paragraph, or to New York as "Gotham," while gratuitous, may be harmless to American readers but it is guaranteed to confuse to readers in, say, New Dehli or Kiev who may be fluent in English but not familiar with these idioms.
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on February 2, 2004
This is a fairly good book on three pioneers of the electrical revolution: Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse. Only the last was a true industrialist, while the first two were inventors who more or less failed to capture the full value of what they created. The field of battle was was between direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). Jonnes also attempts to evoke the era - one of huge transition, both technological and social/organizational - in which they lived.
The best things about this book are in overview and context. I learned about the business environment and practices during the Gilded era, which was indeed extremely interesting and useful for my current project. This is well researched and clearly written. Moreover, what each of these individuals faced - their frustrations, ambitions, motivations, and methods - are also examined in some detail. While I know a lot about Edison from previous research, this was a gold mine of info on his principal competitors, Westinghouse and Tesla, whose technology (AC) won the battle to become the standard of wire-furnsihed electric power. Edison was an incredible inventor, but his obstinancy for sticking to what he created led him to bypass AC for the less workable DC (this is a pattern that led him to many strategic mistakes thru his career). Tesla was an eccentric visionary and loner, who made great discoveries early on only to get mired into megalomanaical schemes during the last decades of his life. Westinghouse was a true "broker of innovation" - finding and using talent with great efficiacy - and in many ways a brilliant pioneer of corporate and industrial organization; he was also a decent man with populist ideals in a time of ruthless exploitation and manipulation.
However, this book failed for me on many counts. First, it did not go into enough technological detail for me - I still don't understand the difference between AC and DC from a scientific point of view. Second, I did not get much of a feeling for a story (billed on the cover as a titanic struggle) that was unfolding: instead, the book jumped around and got bogged down in certian details, such as the grizzly chapter on Edison's promotion of an AC-current electric chair (to scare the public) or the maneuvering that preceeded the COlumbian Exposition.
Third, and this is a very personal perception, I did not like the way that Jonnes writes. While her book certainly was not as dry or lifeless as so many academic studies tend to be, I felt she was straining to write as eloquently as McCullough or Schama, which I believe is beyond her talent. This criticism may come from writing 101, but she uses too many adjectives. Waves of panic are "ungulating," electicity is "ethereal," etc., each time failing to find "le mot juste." I really don't mean to be a snob about this - she is a better historian than I ever could be - but her writing style irritated me several times on every page.
Recommended with these caveats in mind.
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on March 25, 2008
Its fascinating to imagine the world as electricity was coming into its own. And then there's the reality.

This book offers a perspective rarely seen of someone we consider a major American icon, and two others we all know were important but, unfortunately, often can't remember why.

Living in Pittsburgh, I of course know the legend of George Westinghouse -- but most of my knowledge is of the more recent divestiture of his amazing company after years of mismanagement. I have to say I was pleased to find that while he was a Gilded Age industrialist -- perhaps with many of the characteristics that label implies -- his goals and intentions for his products, as well as his sportsmanly handling in many ways of Edison's ridiculous and often atrocious behavior, were quite noble.

I was shocked to learn more about Edison -- our most celebrated inventor -- particularly his tunnel vision and ruthlessness in preserving his self-decided reign over a technology that had more to offer society than any one man could take credit for. Condoning Brown's dog experiements with AC was sick enough -- to hear that he promoted the development of the electric chair simply to get a leg up on his competition (Westinghouse)was truly sad.

As a publicist, I find Jonnes descriptions of information, disinformation and yellow journalism paint a picture of Gilded Age America steeped in lessons we should have learned long ago about news, business and the legends of American icons.

Well worth the read for anyone who loves to find those places where history repeats itself over and over again.
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on March 21, 2007
This book is so good they could make it into a movie. I've worked for an electrical power utility for over 38 years and I'm a history buff so this was a double pleasure for me. Jill Jonnes gives us a fascinating look at the origins of electrical power in the U.S.

There is something here for everyone: the macabre account of the first execution by electrocution, and the equally gut-wrenching story of the lineman in New York who died a horrible death dangling from high-voltage wires forty feet above the pavement. His body burned and spewed blood while the frightened onlookers could do nothing to save him. Then there is the inspiring story of Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla, the three who get the most credit for advancing and solidifying electrical power as a viable business in the U.S. Whether they were "geniuses" or not is a matter of your own perspective. They were certainly workaholics who had extraordinary intelligence and vision about what could be done with new technology. (Edison once worked five days straight while inventing the phonograph.)

There was a great battle between alternating and direct current. Edison stubbornly fought AC all the way. He felt it was unsafe for use by the general public because of the danger of lethal electric shock. He bragged that with his DC system, anyone would survive accidental contact, although the proponents of AC led by Westinghouse countered with the fact that Edison's DC system had caused many fires, both in customers' houses and in the central generating plants. The author points out that Edison may have had another reason, his own pride. Anyone in the business at that time could see the obvious advantage of AC over DC. DC was limited to about a one-mile radius of the generator, where AC could be transmitted several miles by stepping voltage up or down as needed with Westinghouse's new transformers. And once Tesla's AC two-phase motor was developed for commercial use, Edison's DC system was doomed.

Tesla turned into a sort of benevolent mad scientist after the Niagara project--Dr. Frankenstein with his gigantic Tesla coils, shooting lightning into the atmosphere. At one point his lab pulled so much power he caused the Colorado Springs powerhouse to trip off line, throwing the entire area into a blackout. Tesla's visionary dream, apparently, was to develop a means of transmitting power wirelessly. All humanity could tap into the standing wave generated by the Tesla coils, or whatever, and thereby receive free electricity. Tesla naturally needed huge financial support for this and he turned to J.P. Morgan who had financed the Niagara project and many other large ventures. But Morgan had seen too many of Tesla's projects come to naught, so he declined to back any more of them. Among Tesla's many experiments were the fluorescent light and the radio transmitter-receiver, the later being carried forward by Marconi who may have purloined some of Tesla's patents.

Two great projects did the most to advance electric power: the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, and the Niagara Falls hydro-generator plant. Tesla and Westinghouse were the brains and brawn behind the Niagara project completed in 1895, and it was Westinghouse who got the contract to light up the Chicago World's Fair. In 1893 only the wealthiest Americans could enjoy the advantages of electric light. The fair, known as the White City, showed all Americans the marvels of electrical light and appliances.

The advent of electrical power in the U.S. was a struggle of hard-driven men plowing new ground against constant financial and legal setbacks, the intrigues and subterfuge of their competitors, and the race forward with a technology that was only barely understood at the time. But once it took hold it spread like wildfire as almost everyone, rich or poor, wanted to convert to electric. Indeed, the success of America in WW II, the great arsenal of democracy, was due in large part to the fact that by 1940 cheap electrical power was available in every part of the country, even the desert of New Mexico.
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on April 8, 2011
Why is it that histories of technology are all inadequate and inaccurate? It is easy to find, from many sources, the exact order of battle at Gettysburg, but not why appliances in North America require 120 volts (AC) as opposed to double that in the rest of the world. "Empires of Light" by Jill Jonnes is an ambitious book, and it covers more than simply the bizarre War of the Currents between Edison and Westinghouse. It's a general history of electrical technology until about 1907, and it is highly detailed and descriptive. The book has much to recommend it, especially a profile of George Westinghouse, who, among industrialists in the age of the Robber Barons, was a remarkably admirable man. (If only there were more like him today!)

Unfortunately, this book is flawed in three ways, and although I'll keep it on my shelf, I can't bring myself to review it with any enthusiasm.

(1.) We in the USA like to think that everything of any value was invented here, by patriotic (white) Americans. (Ask your friends and neighbors where the automobile was invented, and they'll no doubt say America.) So it is that, from page one, Ms. Jonnes gives absolute and unqualified credit to Thomas Edison for being the sole inventor of the incandescent light bulb. The more one researches the matter elsewhere, it becomes apparent that Edison invented nothing, and there were many light bulbs made by many different men for at least fifty years before Edison first tried his hand at it. Many of these bulbs had carbon filaments, and many of the carbon filaments were made from bamboo fiber. Most were vacuum bulbs. According to Gavin Weightman's book, The Industrial Revolutionaries: The Making of the Modern World 1776-1914, "The use of [Joseph] Swan's lamps in Godalming in 1881 was the first practical use of the modern light bulb." But the name of Englishman Joseph Swann is absent from "Empires of Light" as an inventor, and the name Swann is mentioned only in passing when the Edison Company had to merge with the Swann Company in the UK so as to avoid infringing on Swann's patents for the light bulb.

Why has Edison been given so much credit for inventing the incandescent bulb? According to Weightman, at an electrical exposition in Paris, Edison's lackeys bribed the judges comparing the merits of various bulbs to choose Edison's bulb. (Highly plausible, considering Edison's knavery against alternating current.) Also, Edison was a tireless self-promoter, eager to impress gullible people (such as Ms. Jonnes). In his endnotes, Weightman adduces some impressive sources, but Ms. Jonnes seems to have gleaned all her information from a recent laudatory biography of Edison. Ms. Jonnes makes no mention of the development of the modern tungsten filament by William Coolidge of GE in 1910. In the matter of the origins of the light bulb, you can find, at many web sites (including Wikipedia), far more information and far more accurate information than in this poor book.

(2.) I am certainly not among those who hold that those of the distaff side are incapable of understanding technology, but this is the second book by a woman that I've read recently (the other being Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light) which garbles the fundamentals of electricity. On page 19, Ms. Jonnes speaks of both "positive and negative" electrons. On page 62 we learn of lampblack being "carbonized." (Will graphite one day likewise be "carbonized"?) On page 70, there is a diagram of an "Ordinary Parallel Circuit" in which the voltage drops as the wiring gets further away from the source. This is not particle physics; this is tenth-grade science, and someone should've told her that the voltage remains the same at all points in a parallel circuit. (You can demonstrate this with a voltmeter and your car. Check the voltage at the battery, the starter post, the dome light, the license-plate light, or anywhere else, and you will see that it's always 12 v. The last lamp doesn't get any less, as in her diagram.) On page 91, Ms. Jonnes describes the *brushes* of an electric motor as "segments of copper that rotated with the armature . . .". Instead of spending so much time in libraries reading the encomia of Edison's press agents, Ms. Jonnes would have profited by going to the corner garage and inspecting a real electric motor.

I don't blame Ms. Jonnes for these errors as much as I blame the book's publisher, Random House. The errors in "Empires of Light" are nowhere near as bad as in other books, and it's impossible for anyone to get all the facts right, especially when they're unfamiliar with any technology, and that's why publishers *used* to have fact checkers and proofreaders. Unfortunately, many new books I've read in the past few years have glaring errors in them, errors which should've been caught during editing. Publishers apparently just don't care anymore.

(3.) The worst thing about "Empires of Light" is the writing. Ms. Jonnes's style is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard in print. The trend in modern popular history books is to add imagined details or dialogue or thoughts that a subject *may have* thought or *perhaps* had spoken. In this book, we get long paragraphs of descriptions of scenes, usually in cities, as Ms. Jonnes imagines them. She takes us back to the morning of July 9, 1889 by painting a picture with her words:
"Through the open windows, for it was summer, came the muted cacophony of Broadway below, newsboys yelling the day's headlines, hawkers tempting passersby with corn on the cob, teamsters lashing their horses forward."
[Sweet corn in early July?]

or

"November 15, 1890, dawned crisp and azure in Manhattan, one of those delicious fall Saturdays where the air shimmers sweetly, full of life's promise and tempered by autumnal tristesse."

Well, yessss . . . [clearing of throat] That may be quite nice for Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, but I don't believe that people who pick up a book about the history of electrical service are looking for the setting of a fanciful scene of "autumnal tristesse." I doubt that even the poetry magazines are accepting such claptrap.

Ms. Jonnes adores her own words, so the more of them, the better. There is not a noun in this book which lacks an adjective. Pronouns are shorter, so each gets two adjectives. In this book
no man has a jaw; he has a "jutting jaw"
there is no mustache but a "huge mustache"
there is never wind; instead, there is a "sultry spring zephyr"
it doesn't rain; there is "a gusting downpour"
it doesn't rain; there is a "stubborn drizzle"
there is no lake; there is "glistening water"

Redundancies mean nothing to her: ". . . working largely at night when the city's much maligned street-cleaning crews spread out to remove the two or three million pounds of equine manure left behind each day by the city's 150,000 horses." [Is that as opposed to *feline* manure from horses?] There is "squishy mud" and "powerful locomotives" and ". . . stank of horses for equine trams."

Throughout the book, Tesla never speaks in public without yet another reminder that he spoke "perfect, but accented English."

Of course, every threadbare cliché that one can image must make an appearance:
stifling dust
sweltering heat
blistering heat
pelting rain
a warm sultry evening

At first, I thought, If I can make it through a book by Jacqueline Susann, I can slog through this mess, but then I kept on reading out of morbid curiosity, eager to see how many superfluous adjectives she could pile-up.
"The soaring Eiffel Tower and the amazing American wizard Thomas Edison, whose multilingual phonographs dazzled all visitors to the exposition's huge . . ." [pg.225]

I see by the dust jacket that Ms. Jonnes has a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University! In Baltimore! The home of H. L. Mencken and James M. Cain and Russell Baker and Upton Sinclair? Where Poe is buried?

And now this? O alas and alck! Pity yon Baltimore! Dismay! Dismay! Fie on thee, O prolix autumnal tristesse! Begone!

But other than those three things, the book is OK.
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on March 3, 2004
This is a book about an important topic in our lives: electrical power. Although the author discusses early discoveries in electricity, the main focus is on the period from the late 1800s to the early 1900s - a period when great advances were made in the development of large scale electrical power generation, as well as on the giants who led the way. The science is discussed, at least to some degree, as are the economics of the time. Mini biographies of Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla are also presented. The writing is clear and engaging such that the book is difficult to put down. My only disappointment was that, in my opinion, the science and engineering aspects were not discussed enough; I think that an appendix with more scientific details would have complemented the book very well. But despite this minor shortcoming, the book certainly succeeds in giving the reader a flavor of those exciting times. Highly recommended!
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