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Starting with the first public demonstrations of the phonograph in 1878 and extending through the development of incandescent light, power generation and a distribution system to sustain it, and the first motion picture cameras - all achievements more astonishing in their time than we can easily grasp today - Edison's name became emblematic of all the wonder and promise of the emerging age of technological marvels.
But as Randall Stross makes clear in this critical biography of the man who is arguably the most globally famous of all Americans, Thomas Edison's greatest invention may have been his own celebrity. Edison was certainly a technical genius, but Stross excavates the man from layers of myth-making and separates his true achievements from his almost equally colossal failures. How much credit should Edison receive for the various inventions that have popularly been attributed to him - and how many of them resulted from both the inspiration and the perspiration of his rivals and even his own assistants? How much of Edison's technical skill helped him overcome a lack of business acumen and feel for consumers' wants and needs?
This bold reassessment of Edison's life and career answers these and many other important questions while telling the story of how he came upon his most famous inventions as a young man and spent the remainder of his long life trying to conjure similar success. We also meet his partners and competitors, presidents and entertainers, his close friend Henry Ford, the wives who competed with his work for his attention, and the children who tried to thrive in his shadow - all providing a fuller view of Edison's life and times than has ever been offered before. The Wizard of Menlo Park reveals not only how Edison worked, but how he managed his own fame, becoming the first great celebrity of the modern age.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jean on 09-15-16
It has been many years since I have read about Thomas Alva Edison. When in elementary and high school I read all I could find about Thomas A. Edison, but in University I discovered Nicola Tesla and since then I read about Tesla. It was nice to revisit Edison.
I found this to be an entertaining biography. Stross approached this biography a bit differently than other biographers. Instead of writing about his technical career Stross presents him as a self-promoting celebrity who knows how to control the power of media. Stross did a brief review of Edison’s inventions but mostly he concentrated on the business aspect of Edison and his inventions. Edison was one of the first to use “branding.” It is commonly used today by celebrities.
The book is well written and researched. Edison’s inventions created our modern world. Stross did not cover much of this but covered his marketing skills. I do not think Stross was being negative about Edison and his inventions but was trying to reveal another aspect of the man. This should not be the first biography of Edison one should read; but if the reader is well versed about Edison this book will provide another aspect of the man.
Grover Gardner does an excellent job narrating the book. Gardner is an actor, voiceover artist and an award winning audiobook narrator. In fact, Gardner was chosen by Audiofile as a “golden Voice” narrator.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
By Pete on 08-07-16
Learn about Edison, not a full biography
The book will teach you about Edison's accomplishments. The book also does a good job of demystifying Edison and sharing some of his setbacks and unfulfilled promises.
That said I didn't finish this book feeling like I knew everything about Edison. The book doesn't read like an exhaustive Walter Isaacson bio where you finish feeling like you know almost everything about the person.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful