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The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern…

by Maury Klein

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1251159,548 (4.06)30
The dramatic story of the power revolution that turned America from an agrarian society into a technological superpower, and the dynamic, fiercelynbsp; competitive inventors and entrepreneurs who made it happena riveting historical saga to rival McCulloughsThe Great Bridgeor LarsonsThunderstruck. Maury Klein, author ofRainbows End: The Crash of 1929, is one of Americas most acclaimed historians of business and industry. InThe Power Makers, he offers an epic narrative of his greatest subject yetthe power revolution that transformed American life in the course of the nineteenth century. The steam engine, the incandescent bulb, the electric motorinventions such as these replaced backbreaking toil with machine labor and changed every aspect of daily life in the span of a few generations. The power revolution is not a tale of machines, however, but of men: inventors such as James Watt, Elihu Thomson, and Nikola Tesla; entrepreneurs such as George Westinghouse; savvy businessmen such as J.P. Morgan, Samuel Insull, and Charles Coffin of General Electric. Striding among them like a colossus is the figure of Thomas Edison, who was creative genius and business visionary at once. With consummate skill, Klein recreates their discoveries, their stunning triumphs and frequent failures, and their unceasing, tumultuous, and ferocious battles in the marketplace. In Kleins hands, their personalities and discoveries leap off the page. The Power Makersis a dazzling saga of inspired invention, dogged persistence, andnbsp; business competition at its most naked and cutthroat tale of America in its most astonishing decades.… (more)



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If you’re interested in such stuff, I highly recommend this thick book presenting the history of the inventions and innovations that gave us steam power and commercial electricity which, ultimately, enables Access Hollywood to invade my living room and cause my eyes to gloss over. Basically broken into two parts – the development of steam engines and the mostly subsequent history of innovation and distribution of electrical power – Klein covers all these guys who make my day-to-day societal contributions seem lame and undisciplined. A few of the gents are household names, most now obscure, all a bit off-kilter… not inventor-of-the-Flowbee off-kilter, but idiosyncratic enough (and the Flowbee’s, Supercuts-be-damned magic would be rendered useless without the AC 177 volts eventually developed by these guys).
Despite the author’s superb skill at rendering the complex into dumbed-down morsels for us laypersons, my mechanical ineptitude caused my mind to frequently wander into the realm of burritos and dismay at how startlingly awful that new Courtney Cox show is. Fortunately there’s Ned. He’s the fictional, aw-shucks, World-Fair-visiting Iowa dude that Stein introduces to segue into the two main subjects as well as conclude the book (visiting the 1939 New York event where steam and electrical systems are no longer the exhibit but merely the invisible power source for highly vaunted vacuum cleaners, toasters and other such future-detritus that will be distributed freely throughout Robert Moses freeway networks). I would normally criticize such a fictional inclusion in a well-researched book as something like using carton characters to sell smokes or preach about the many perils faced by Guatemalan children, but it really works here. The Fairs (1876 Philly, !893 Chicago, and the aforementioned New York) are selected as the appropriate gauge with which to trace the trajectory of power source development within one lengthy lifetime. The author’s atmospheric description of what one would have experienced is as well crafted as the rest of the book and adds a certain element of human normality to a story about so many genius types. ( )
  mjgrogan | Jun 14, 2010 |
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