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

4.2 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, March 16, 2010
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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 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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian (March 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061442933
  • ASIN: B0041T4NZ4
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,479,648 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Battery: How Portable-Power Sparked a Technological Revolution is a good book to introduce people to the history of electric batteries. Not too technical or period specific, the book traces electric power evolution and its portable applications from the end of the eighteenth century to the present. Although the book fixes on the history of electric power, its principal emphasis is on battery development. I just wish the author had stuck to the topic.

The first few chapters discuss the developments in science which showed how electricity could be generated and stored. There is a drawing of a Leyden jar and discussions of Ben Franklin’s experiments with a kite. Finally we get to Galvani who showed how chopped frogs’ legs could jump if sparked with electricity. This lead to the first battery by Alessandro Volta who discovered dissimilar metals could create electricity. Alternating pieces of silver and zinc separated by wet cards created electricity. In 1800, this became known as the voltaic pile.

Soon the book turns to Michael Faraday, the bookbinder’s apprentice who became one the most prominent scientists of the 19th century. Faraday’s work on electrical power is important in the history of batteries, but Schlesinger felt he deserved an entire chapter. This is my one complaint of the book: historical characters close to the author’s interest get an inordinate amount of attention. I would’ve preferred to hear more about how John Daniell came up with his “constant battery” in 1836. At least the author gives Joseph Henry (who was a contemporary of Faraday) some credit for his work on electromagnets.
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