From Publishers Weekly
Obscured by the handheld electronic devices that pervade our high-tech culture is the battery that powers them all. Technology journalist Schlesinger provides an illuminating historical account of a device whose enormous influence has been downplayed or misunderstood. The term battery is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who arranged Leyden jars in a manner akin to a battery of cannon. But possible early electrochemical batteries—the centuries-old Baghdad batteries—discovered by archeologists in the 1930s remain controversial, as the appendix details. Schlesinger (Spycraft
) discusses the battery's evolution from the Italian Alessandro Volta's early 19th-century copper and zinc model through 21st-century advances in nanotechnology. In 1800 Volta constructed his famous pile of metal discs; touching each end generated a shock that could then be repeated. Yet the process remained mysterious for decades. While electric outlets replaced batteries in much of the 20th century, that process has recently been reversed, as laptop users surely appreciate. Combining enormous learning with a lively and entertaining style, this book deserves a wide general readership. 30 b&w line drawings. (Mar.)
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From its witty subtitle (“sparked,” get it?), to its lively writing style, to its sheer abundance of fascinating and frequently surprising stories, this is a delightful book. The author acknowledges that batteries might not be the most instantly intriguing of subjects, but think about it: without batteries—without the ability to generate power, store it, and use it later—modern scientific research and experimentation would have been nearly impossible. Pick any subject, Schlesinger says, from home appliances to the battlefield, and you will eventually be led back to batteries. And you might think a battery is a pretty simple thing, but its invention was an amazing process of insight, experimentation, and blind luck. The development of a power-storage device pretty much paralleled the evolution of science from “experimental philosophy” (the seventeenth-century term) to a rigorous, highly methodical process. Batteries might be humble, but they are also essential and indispensable to life as we know it. One might say that this book is the technological equivalent of Mark Kurlansky’s Cod (1997). --David Pitt