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Edison: A Life of Invention Hardcover – September 7, 1998
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From Publishers Weekly
It has been said of Edison that his inventive gifts consisted of 1% genius and 99% hard work. Israel, coauthor of Edison's Electric Light and managing editor of the Thomas Edison Papers (in progress), in effect confirms that assessment. Weighing the competing demands of biographical narrative and technological elucidation, he opts for the latter, showing Edison as tireless experimenter rather than inspired wizard. Israel portrays Edison as an improver of inventions and transformer of concepts into products, someone who applied himself pragmatically to the uses of electricity?from the telegraph and telephone and storage battery to the phonograph, incandescent light and motion picture. Israel shows Edison as a manager of innovation, making the shift from private workshop to corporate research and development with income from royalties. An effective self-publicist, he became in the public mind the central figure of 19th-century invention. He lived, however, into 1931, by which time his brand of empiricism had given way to industrial laboratories on a scale he could not have imagined as a teenage telegrapher in the 1860s. For a flesh-and-blood life one must return to such biographies as Robert Conot's A Streak of Luck (1970) or Neil Baldwin's recent Edison: Inventing the Century. But Israel draws on his subject's notebooks to provide an authoritative look into Edison's working methods, here leavened by enough personal detail to give the achievements shape. When Edison died, the nation extinguished its lights for a minute in tribute. He had not invented either, but he had made electricity work as no one else had. 20 illustrations.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Scientific American
Edison's name is on 1,093 U.S. patents--more than any other person's. It is a measure of his renown that his surname alone suffices for the title of this book. Israel, managing editor of the Rutgers University edition of Edison's papers, has explored thoroughly the five million pages of documents housed at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange, N.J., and so he is well positioned to discuss the eminent inventor's achievements. That he does with care and clarity. The well-known inventions--the incandescent lightbulb, the phonograph, the kinetoscope for motion pictures, the carbon transmitter for telephones--are all here in detail, and so are the lesser-known ones as well as some Edisonian projects that did not succeed. Israel also paints a clear portrait of the man. One learns, among other things, of Edison's difficult relationships with his children, his indifference to his appearance and his singular notions about diet. (In his last years, when he was suffering from stomach trouble, "he consumed nothing more than a pint of milk every three hours.") Edison may well have been the "Inventor of the age," as he was orotundly described in the Grand Prize that he won at the Universal Exposition of 1878 in Paris, but he was in addition a complex and intriguing human being.
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I emjoyed the fact that Israel divided the biography between Edison's professional scientific life and his complicated and sometimes bizarre private life, with strained relationships with his children and two marriages. Despite the fact Edison left much to be desired as a father, one almost feels sorry for him. Apparently his towering intellect made it difficult for him to connect emotionally with the more "plebian" sorts of people (which was everyone else on the planet). His sons struggled under the mighty shadow their father cast.
I highly recommend this book for anyone with a casual or serious insterest in the Wizard of Menlo Park.