- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (February 28, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307335984
- ISBN-13: 978-0307335982
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 76 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #623,793 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World Reprint Edition
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Despite the fact that our lives are powered by electricity to an astonishing degree, most of us have little or no understanding of how or why it works. Instead, we rely on a blurry notion that it flows--like water--through wires to turn on our appliances. In Electric Universe, David Bodanis fools readers, by keeping them entertained and intrigued, into learning the science behind electricity. He does this by telling a series of stories, starting with how a backwoods American really invented the telegraph and how Samuel Morse stole the credit for it. From there, he works through the lives of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, and other pioneers. He shows how their experiments affected their lives--never more poignantly than with the tragic story of Alan Turing, whose early work designing computers wasn't enough to prevent him from being driven to suicide. It's surprisingly easy to identify with some of these brilliant scientists, because Bodanis relates their failures as well as their successes. In the end, although we may continue using words such as "current" to describe the "flow" of electrons, Bodanis makes certain that we see electrical energy for what it really is, at a subatomic, quantum level. Even so, there's not a single boring bit in the book. Electric Universe is an excellent scientific history, one that reveals both the progress of knowledge and the strange science of the wiggling electrons that run our lives. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
This entertaining look at how electricity works and affects our daily lives is highlighted by Bodanis's charming narrative voice and by clever, fresh analogies that make difficult science accessible. Bodanis examines electricity's theoretical development and how 19th- and 20th-century entrepreneurs harnessed it to transform everyday existence. Going from "Wires" to "Waves" to computers and even the human body, Bodanis pairs electrical innovations with minibiographies of their developers, among them Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi, Heinrich Herz and Alan Turing. In each case, Bodanis deepens his narrative by charting early failures—Edison's difficulty in finding a workable filament for the electric light bulb, for example—and financial struggles. And Bodanis can be a wry commentator on his subjects, noting, for example, how bedeviled Samuel Morse was by his telegraph patents—when the telegraph was actually invented by Joseph Henry, who refused to patent it. Surprisingly, Bodanis goes beyond the inorganic world of devices, delving deeply into the role electricity plays in the seemingly inhospitable "sloshing wet" human body, such as why being out in the cold makes us clumsy, or how alcohol works in the nervous system. Those who don't generally read science will find that Bodanis is a first-rate popularizer—as he also showed in his earlier E=MC2—able to keep a happy balance between technical explanation and accessibility.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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He obviously believes these half-understood explanations and it's sad that he didn't have anyone technically competent read the book. He doesn't really understand voltage, current, resistance, and power, let alone AC and wireless.
Fortunately, the technical gobbledegook is secondary to the book's mostly human story and if you overlook technical details, it's still good. But too bad: it could have been great.
Read the book for the story. Read it to learn some human and scientific history. Read it to gain some perspective on how knowledge and innovation fed history. But skim through the technology explanations and give them no credence.
Many major and interesting contributors to the development of our
understanding of electricity.are not mentioned.
Not a word about Oliver Heavyside or how Benjamin Franklin's
wrong guess about which way electricity flows has bedeviled
the electromagnetic-world ever since. Many others are unmentioned.
Faraday is better covered but nowhere is found an explanation of
how the speed of light was determined by James Clerk Maxwell
"So what are you reading?" I looked up to see my waitress looking disinterested and not even looking in my direction when she asked.
"Electric Universe by David Bodanis." I replied.
"Sounds boring." She exhaled as if stifling a yawn.
Now ordinarily I would just let it go at that but I got the distinct impression that her quick dismissal was not just about the book but of me. And I can understand that upon first impression this stocky guy was paying more attention to his book and the hockey highlights on the TVs and the beer placed in front of him than on the variously scantily clad waitresses this establishment is famous for. But hey, I was vying for time so traffic home would diminish. But she did not know that.
"You would think, right?" I replied "But consider this..."
I went on to tell her of the story of the young teacher for the deaf who was so in love with one of his students had to go to extremes to prove to her affluent family that he was worthy of her hand in marriage. With the foreknowledge on how vocal chords produce sound he surmised that a box full of carbon interacted with electric current could produce a device to talk for miles and miles. And with the invention of the telephone Aleck Bell won the hand of his true love Mabel.
How a racial purist was so sure that blacks and immigrants were undermining the integrity of the United States and whose conspiracy theory to the hilt believed that they were all masterminded by the king of Austria decided to create a code to subvert this suspected American coup. Much to Samuel Morse's chagrin that same code was later used to transmit to Europe, via undersea telegraph cable, to send their tired and weary. We have jobs and plenty of land for them.
How a troubled WWII code breaker was so brilliant that he devised, through quantum mechanics, on how a computer was to function. All in his head for the technology was not there yet. Try as he might he couldn't get others to understand how atoms that pop in and out of existence could be used as great data reservoirs. Tried for homosexuality (illegal in England of that time) he was forced to take hormone pills, which started transforming his body and stunted his thinking. No longer able to envision his computer workings placed him in a deeper malaise that in the end decided not to go on. Fascinated since childhood in Disney's Sleeping Beauty Alan Turing decided to take an apple, laced with cyanide, and sleep until his prince charming would wake him from this slumber.
I look at Google maps and see that the traffic has lightened. I tell the waitress, who took a seat with me to listen to the stories that I had to leave. She asks that I ask for her section next time I come in.
Goes to prove a book should never be judged by its boring sounding title.
Electric universe has the makings of a good book, but it seems as if Bodanis realized once he tackled that the topic that it was too big for his planned format so he just chose to touch on a story here and a story there and call it good. The result is unfocused and doesn't help you to understand electricity or its history too much better than whe you started the book.
I don't recommend this one, but don't let that dissaude you from reading "e=mc2," which is fantastic.