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The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution Hardcover – March 16, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian; First Edition edition (March 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061442933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061442933
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #640,435 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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

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Customer Reviews

In addition, the book is full of errors.
Jay P
The author combines the drama of scientific discovery with an enlightening history of portable technology.
Iona Igaly
This was a very informative and entertaining book .I really enjoyed it.
andrew Zuddans

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By C. Griffith on March 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Henry Schlesinger's well-written and interesting book "The Battery: how portable power sparked a technological revolution" is in many ways more of a history of electricity and its uses than it is about batteries. Much of the text is about the uses of batteries, and the devices that required batteries, than about batteries themselves. Batteries do not make an appearance before page 38, the previous pages being devoted to the earlier history of electricity and magnetism, including the Leyden jar, a sort of capacitor which stores electricity, and also to the work William Gilbert and Benjamin Franklin. Even after batteries make an appearance, much of the text is devoted to the devices that used them, such as the telegraph, early telephones, and radios. The use of batteries for chemical research in the 1800s by Humphrey Davy is also highlighted. The author offers apparently contradictory definitions of anode and cathode- see page 77 and page 177.
The development of transistors and integrated chips reduced the power requirements for existing devices, such as radios, as well as making new devices (among the older ones, electronic watches and calculators) possible, thereby extending the uses of batteries. The last two short chapters 18, and 19, as well as the epilogue, do focus more specifically on battery and capacitor development since roughly the 1980s.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Witzel on June 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought this book was well worth the money even though the author really needed to run this past a technical reviewer before submitting it for publication; I can't believe the publisher HarperCollins didn't bother with this either. I will wait and pay more attention to others peoples reviews nexttime before I buy a technical book from HarperCollins.

Being an Electrical Engineer I found the authors credibility sink lower each time I came across another of many technical errors. At the very least I expect any technical author to know the difference between voltage and current when writing a book on batteries; I found well over a dozen different technical errors in the 300 pages.

Having said all that I also have to say I did very much enjoy the book, it was a good historical read and held my attention until the last pages. I would recommend it to others as long as they read it like a novel and not try and expand themselves technologically from it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jay P on November 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
I didn't learn much about batteries from reading this book.

There is very little information on the development or details of various kinds of batteries. What technological problems had to be solved? Why were some battery chemistries chosen over others? (Why, for instance, is the lead-acid battery still used to start cars, even after all these years?) Why do we have today's particular sizes and voltages?

In addition, the book is full of errors. For example, the terms "charge", "current", "voltage" and "power" are often used as if they mean the same thing; frequently one of these words is used when another is called for. There are mis-statements about chemistry and sometimes seeming confusion about the meaning and use of series versus parallel connections of batteries. (The correct principles here would be clarified in an introductory physics or chemistry class; one doesn't need an advanced degree to discover them.) Being that this is a book about batteries and electrical devices, these errors matter.

There are other cases of attempted explanations or descriptions of devices (vacuum tubes, for instance) that don't give one any idea of how they work, but instead just name a few trivial, unconnected facts about them.

There are some mildly interesting stories in the book, but usually they are only remotely related to batteries.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on March 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In our society, batteries are indispensable, yet they are usually taken for granted. Few people may know that batteries have a fascinating history of their own. In this book, the author recounts the history of electricity - from the first millennium B.C. to the twenty-first century. The first two thousand years or so are covered in the first fifty pages of the book. A more detailed history is provided from about 1800 onwards. In relating this history, the author has devoted much space to the uses that were (and are being) made of electricity. Extensive discussions are included on the telegraph, the telephone, wireless communication, radio, vacuum tube technology, transistors, integrated circuits, printed circuit boards, miniaturization, military applications and a great variety of miscellaneous gadgetry. The evolution of what we now call "batteries" is told in parallel with these technological developments. However, the last couple of chapters focus almost exclusively on recent advances in battery technology, as well as astonishing information as to what the consumer may expect in the next few decades.

Since this is a book aimed at the "nontechnical reader", as pointed out in its introduction, these discussions slant mainly on the human side (social, military) rather than on the hard scientific/technical details of construction and operation, although some such descriptions were attempted. Unfortunately, where they were attempted, I found that some (but by no means all) were seriously lacking in clarity. I read some such descriptions several times in order to try (unsuccessfully) to make sense of them. That can be rather frustrating for a technically-minded reader.
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