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The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World Hardcover – March 13, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this entertaining biography, Stross (eBoys: The First Inside Account of Venture Capitalists at Work) approaches the life of Edison from an atypical angle: where scores of other biographers have focused on the genius's technical career, Stross presents Edison as the first self-conscious celebrity, a man deeply aware of the media's power and who wasn't afraid to use "the press's hunger for more sensational discoveries for his own ends." Though branding is now second-nature for famous people (and their handlers), Stross asserts that Edison launched the first successful branding campaign-an achievement arguably further ahead of its time than much of his technical output-by embracing the title "Wizard of Menlo Park," which was coined by a reporter during Edison's brief stay in that New Jersey town. With preternatural skill in image-management, Edison became indistinguishable from his moniker, encapsulating perfectly the air of mystery and wisdom he cultivated throughout his life, for both himself and his "invention factory," which "seemed capable of mastering anything." Stross's clear-eyed biography will show readers why, even at the end of the 20th century, Edison remains, outside the U.S., the best-known American ever.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Biographies abound of inventor Thomas Edison, so Stross distinctively positions his book under the theme of Edison's celebrity. The publicity apparatus of Edison's day, quaint compared with today's multimedia conduits to the public and its tabloid appetites, still served to elevate Edison into the realm of the famous. Stross, who frequently writes about contemporary techno-idols (Steve Jobs and the Next Big Thing, 1993), recounts the onset of Edison's celebrity with several articles published in 1877-78 about his phonograph. Soon trainloads of curiosity seekers, from hustlers to those already famous, such as actress Sarah Bernhardt, descended on Edison's laboratory to gawk at the inventor. With this loss of privacy, Edison learned the difficulty of controlling one's fame. As Stross' narrative explains, Edison attempted to exploit his name to attract attention to his business projects and succumbed to other temptations, such as pontificating on subjects outside his expertise--executions by electrocution, for example. Stross' Edison, capitalizing on his prominence but coping with the importunities of the multitude, becomes a human-scaled character grasping the honeyed thorns of fame. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400047625
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400047628
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #734,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

In summary, a book that shows you the many sides of Edison and a very good study of his life and relationships.
Robert Kirk
He loved the role of wise advisor, and the press liked him to pontificate on all sorts of matters that had nothing to do with his areas of expertise, like diet.
R. Hardy
For example, I particularly liked the story of how J.P. Morgan volunteered to have his study be one of the first rooms to be wired with electricity.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on April 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The greatest American inventor, most would agree, was Thomas Alva Edison, but it may be that his greatest invention was himself, as image in the newspapers and as "Thomas A. Edison", a phrase that was an important addition to any marketable gadget. In _The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Edison Invented the Modern World_ (Crown), Randall Stross has looked at the mechanical and electric inventions, few of which Edison single-handedly originated or developed, but has concentrated mostly on his fame. "Once brought into being," Stross writes, "Edison's image inhabited its own life and acted autonomously in ways that its namesake could not control." Stross, a historian who is a professor of business, makes the case that Edison discovered the importance of the application of celebrity to business. We had celebrities before, of course, presidents and generals, and contemporary with Edison were famous figures like Mark Twain and P. T. Barnum. Edison's celebrity exceeded them all, and oddly, he was famous because he was an inventor. When celebrity came to him, he was not an inventor who had made a practical gadget like a cotton gin, a telegraph, or an elevator; he had invented (and had come far short of perfecting) the phonograph. It was the celebrity from this particular machine that carried him through many ups and downs in his long life.

This is not a complete biography, but a welcome look at particular qualities of Edison's celebrity and its effects on his life and business practices. Edison jumped from the most modern technology of the time, telegraphy, and was working on improved telephones, not on voice recording in 1877.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By John R Drake, PhD on September 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
As a lover of technology, reason, and heroes, I have read several biographies of Edison. This one, by far, is the worst I have read. I must emphatically do not recommend this book. The reason - Mr. Stross seems determined throughout the book to tear down Edison, to find every fault (real or imagined) and detail how Edison was not amazing. Instead of reading about how Edison was able to achieve over 1000 patents in his lifetime, you read about how Edison was not a good businessman, not a good husband, not a good father, not a good friend, not a good philanthropist, and not a good employer. You will read about dozens of examples where Edison over promised results, became insufferably conceited, sought after publicity, claimed credit for inventions he didn't create, and made hundreds (if not thousands) of bad decisions. Stross meticulously documents every negative newspaper article printed throughout Edison's lifetime. In every case where there are two possible explanations for Edison's behavior, Stross writes about the most negative one. One has to wonder why Stross would want to write this biography.

What was noticeably absent was detailed discussions of Edison's genius, of his innovative capacity, of his independence in thought, of his confidence in his own abilities, of his prodigous work ethic, or of his experience creating the world's first industrial laboratory. It wasn't until the last chapter of the book that Stross even discusses the enormous values created from Edison's inventions, spawning several multi-billion dollar industries by the time of Edison's death in the 1930s. It is too little too late. But even then, Stross is quick to point out that Edison's net worth was only estimated at $12 million when he died, just in case you were not convinced of Edison's poor business skills.

All-in-all, this destroyer of the greatest in Edison should be forgotten. I regret I spent money on it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Real Positive Guy on April 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The author brings Thomas Edison to life in these pages exposing all of his brilliance, ineptness, and stubborness. No one can doubt the genius that is Edison, while at the same time appreciating all of the business opportunities lost due to his quirks of personality and failure to recognize them when they are right before his eyes.

It is a fascinating look at someone who I have admired for years from reading about his accomplishments, but now I feel I know him as a person. I had a hard time putting the book down. A must read for anyone and especially people who are innovative and entrepreneurial.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bill Lampton, Ph.D. on July 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Length: 1:52 Mins

In early childhood we heard much about Edison the inventor, yet very little about Edison the man. This book fills that gap. We learn about Edison's prejudices, his workaholic habits that took incessant priority over his family, his resilience, his close friendships with prominent men like Henry Ford, and his adjustment to his lifelong hearing impairment.

My only drawback: the author's style lacks popular appeal, bordering on dissertation style. Still, I recommend the book because we get to know the man who made so many of our modern conveniences possible.

The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication-change Your Life!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Harry Harrison on June 19, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is not about how Edison invented the modern world but rather an attempt to portray Edison as an egotistical bigot more concerned with celebrity than with invention or humanity. My son and I joked that the author must be a descendent who is bitter that his ancestor was not a better businessman and could thereby have left the family better off. I came to this book not knowing much about Edison and I leave it only slightly better informed. I hope to find a less biased biography out there somewhere.
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