- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Random House (1 Aug. 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375507396
- ISBN-13: 978-0375507397
- Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 3.4 x 24.1 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,054,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World Hardcover – 1 Aug 2003
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About the Author
Jill Jonnes is an author and historian with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. She has received awards from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is the author of South Bronx Rising and Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams. She lives with her family in Baltimore, Maryland.
Please visit www.empiresoflight.com
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However, the author seems to have not made a clear decision between writing objectively or subjectively. The book is full of
speculative sentences that can be irritating after a while. Namely, the constant use of the word "lovely", which annoyed me a bit.
There are also some technical inaccuracies that should be looked at for a future edition.
But overall, It will inform you a lot!
The best things about this book are in overview and context. I learned about the business environment and practices during the Gilded era, which was indeed extremely interesting and useful for my current project. This is well researched and clearly written. Moreover, what each of these individuals faced - their frustrations, ambitions, motivations, and methods - are also examined in some detail. While I know a lot about Edison from previous research, this was a gold mine of info on his principal competitors, Westinghouse and Tesla, whose technology (AC) won the battle to become the standard of wire-furnsihed electric power. Edison was an incredible inventor, but his obstinancy for sticking to what he created led him to bypass AC for the less workable DC (this is a pattern that led him to many strategic mistakes thru his career). Tesla was an eccentric visionary and loner, who made great discoveries early on only to get mired into megalomanaical schemes during the last decades of his life. Westinghouse was a true "broker of innovation" - finding and using talent with great efficiacy - and in many ways a brilliant pioneer of corporate and industrial organization; he was also a decent man with populist ideals in a time of ruthless exploitation and manipulation.
However, this book failed for me on many counts. First, it did not go into enough technological detail for me - I still don't understand the difference between AC and DC from a scientific point of view. Second, I did not get much of a feeling for a story (billed on the cover as a titanic struggle) that was unfolding: instead, the book jumped around and got bogged down in certian details, such as the grizzly chapter on Edison's promotion of an AC-current electric chair (to scare the public) or the maneuvering that preceeded the COlumbian Exposition.
Third, and this is a very personal perception, I did not like the way that Jonnes writes. While her book certainly was not as dry or lifeless as so many academic studies tend to be, I felt she was straining to write as eloquently as McCullough or Schama, which I believe is beyond her talent. This criticism may come from writing 101, but she uses too many adjectives. Waves of panic are "ungulating," electicity is "ethereal," etc., each time failing to find "le mot juste." I really don't mean to be a snob about this - she is a better historian than I ever could be - but her writing style irritated me several times on every page.
Recommended with these caveats in mind.
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