From Publishers Weekly
Thomas Edison was deeply concerned about public safety and stoutly opposed to capital punishment. Yet except for the rivalry with George Westinghouse, he would have remained a closet humanitarian. Or so historian of science Essig argues in his first book. The race between Edison, advocate of direct current (DC), and Westinghouse, champion of alternating current (AC), to build an electrical empire in the 1880s is a classic example of runaway Gilded Age capitalism. Essig recounts Edison's early work on electricity and the opening of Manhattan's Pearl Street power plant in 1882. Just four years later, Westinghouse opened his own plant and quickly outpaced Edison in acquiring municipal contracts. Edison publicly decried AC as a safety hazard and convinced New York legislators that electricity offered the cleanest execution method available-provided it was done with AC. Thus in 1890 William Kemmler became the electric chair's first victim. He was not, however, the first victim of electrocution. Around this time, a spectacular series of fatal accidents triggered a citywide panic; and New York ordered unsafe wires cut down. Westinghouse protested while Edison applauded: DC cables were underground. Nonetheless, AC triumphed in the end. Whereas Essig recites the well-known history of public execution and follows the death-penalty debate into the 1990s, he passes over the opportunity to discuss the history of risk and regulation, leaving readers to deduce for themselves the significance of the "battle of the currents" for all citizens condemned to live-and die-in a modern technological nation. 40 b&w illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
“A thoroughly modern view of Edison, removed from his pedestal.” ―The Washington Post Book World
“. . steeped in historical scholarship and written with sober elegance.” ―Newsday
“Reads like a good novel.” ―The Economist
“[An] engaging and meticulously researched book. Edison & the Electric Chair delivers a thrilling jolt of discovery.” ―Entertainment Weekly