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Edison: Inventing The Century

Edison: Inventing The Century

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Thomas Edison - Inventing the century

Recommended Reading | Creator ...

From Publishers Weekly...

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), who introduced the light bulb and the phonograph to a startled world from his pastoral New Jersey retreat, strides across Baldwin's engrossing epic biography as a complex, contradictory figure.

The hearing-impaired inventor was a visionary inclined "to think globally long before achieving success locally," a cranky, authoritarian businessman, a daredevil entrepreneur pathologically addicted to work, a metaphysical thinker who practiced automatic writing and who, inspired by Madame Helena Blavatsky's theosophical/mysticism, postulated that intelligence pervades every atom of God's creation.

To Baldwin (Man Ray: American Artist), the Ohio-born genius, who pioneered the microphone, the motion-picture camera and the world's first central electric-light power plant, embodied the American experiment in industrial civilization and the potential of technological change.

By charting Edison's relations with venture capitalists, unsung collaborators and competitors, Baldwin spins an inspirational American saga of titanic determination and protean imagination. Edison's later projects-his decade-long, abortive iron-ore milling and smelting operation, and his return to the soil, at age 80, in search of a natural source for rubber in his own herbarium-take their rightful place in the story. We also meet the torn family man whose neglect of home and hearth contributed to the death at age 29 of his chronically ill, emotionally troubled first wife, Mary Stilwell. His second wife, heiress Mina Miller, by this account became his subservient helpmeet, while his domineering, impossible-to-please ways drove his six children into convoluted patterns of dependence and alienation. Photos. 
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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  1. Amazon Review

    Posted by Review courtesy of Amazon on 21st Nov 2009

    Marge Simpson (tired of Homer's endless prattling about Edison): I bet Thomas Edison didn't talk about Thomas Edison all day.
    Homer: Oh, that's not true Marge. He was a shameless self-promoter!

    This is a mammoth book that seeks to provide the entire story of the world's most famous inventor. Baldwin takes us from Edison's birth to his deathbed, with equal parts of attention being paid to his personal life and his professional life.

    Some people might be disappointed by the fact that Baldwin doesn't fawn over Edison the man, but I appreciated the objectivity. While Edison's famous work ethic and engineering genius earned him the mythic status that he holds in the public imagination, his home life was troubled, unsurprising for anyone who is at the top of their field. Bringing some of the less savory aspects of Edison into the light de-mythologizes him somewhat, but this is done in the service of truth, and I generally find that this makes for a better biography.

    I notice that other reviewers have criticized Baldwin's lack of science credentials, but I didn't find that to be a problem, either. Edison wasn't a scientist himself, in the sense that a nuclear physicist or a chemist is a scientist. Edison was an inventor. He made things, and the basis of his creations was generally not an abstract scientific concept that would be difficult for laymen to grasp. That being said, I do wish that there were some diagrams and sketches, which would have given us a more clear picture of the nuts and bolts of Edison's work.

    I was actually surprised to see the simplicity of most of Edison's inventions. It seemed that his real genius lay more in tinkering with an existing idea until the dream of a working practical application became reality.

    Another big surprise to me was how much of Edison's role depended on his ability to market himself. He and the media collaborated to give him an extremely high profile. While I don't want to belittle his amazing acheivements, his profile is much higher than others who, it can be argued, made equal or even greater contributions to society.

    My biggest problem with this work was that it was kind of boring. Baldwin has found some fascinating anecdotes and facts about Edison, but they are mixed in with too many dull details. The writing itself is generally quite dry, with more of a textbook atmosphere than some other successful modern nonfiction works.

    Despite this, there are some fascinating and bizarre aspects of Edison that Baldwin gives their due. For example, in Edison's old age, when his hearing went, his wife used to keep him up to date on the dinner conversation by tapping morse code onto his thigh. He also lived on almost nothing but milk and the occasional bit of bread for the last two years of his life.

    Overall, I would recommend this book to the person who is serious about getting the real story of Thomas Edison. If you're looking for a more entertaining read, or one which treads lightly around his mythic status, go elsewhere.

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