The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World

  • by Randall E. Stross
  • Narrated by Grover Gardner
  • 10 hrs and 38 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

At the height of his fame, Thomas Alva Edison was hailed as “the Napoleon of invention” and blazed in the public imagination as a virtual demigod. Newspapers proclaimed his genius in glowing personal profiles and quipped that “the doctor has been called” because the great man “has not invented anything since breakfast.”
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.


What the Critics Say

"As he demonstrated in his earlier examinations of the creative lives of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, organizational historian Randy Stross once again reveals a keen eye for the hidden details and forgotten nuances in the lives of great men. His recreation of the life and achievements of Thomas Edison will become the standard reference to which all historians will turn for years to come. And yet the book is written with an eye for detail and a flair for observation that reads more like a great mystery novel than your standard biography. A must read!" (Roderick Kramer, William R. Kimball Professor of Organizational Behavior, Stanford Business School, Stanford University)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Enlightening, but not compelling

My knowledge of Edison was basic and based largely on folk lore. Reading this book taught me more about Edison--celebrity was important to him, did he really invent things or just take credit for them, he expected more of others than he gave himself, he had a profound hearing loss and he went camping with Ford & Firestone. Those are my lasting impressions.

I am glad I read (listened) to the book and learned more about Edison, but I do feel my bubble was burst as this great inventor and American hero became a self-centered, aloof man. I guess reality had to set in at some point.

The book, in general, was well written, although at times it seemed to drag on and failed to be compelling.
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- Elizabeth "A school administrator and avid reader and listener of books. At least an hour of every day is spent in the car, and that's where the bulk of my listening is done. I tend to listen to books on "faster" mode so I can get through more books!"


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.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-12-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios