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The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and…

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

by Maury Klein

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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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"The steam engine, the incandescent lamp, the electric motor - inventions such as these replaced muscle power with machine labor, turned darkness to light, and reshaped every aspect of daily life in the span of a few generations. They were the product of an extraordinary cast of characters: dogged inventors like James Watt and Elihu Thomson; charismatic entrepreneurs like George Westinghouse; daring capitalists like Charles Coffin of General Electric and J. P. Morgan. Others include Samuel Insull, onetime assistant to Thomas Edison, who invented the modern utility business and brought power to millions, and Nikola Tesla, the eccentric Serbian immigrant whose revolutionary AC motor came to him in a vision. Striding among them like a colossus is the figure of Edison, who was creative genius and business visionary at once." "The Power Makers is a saga of inspired invention, undaunted persistence, and business competition at its most naked and cutthroat - a tale of America in its most astonishing decades."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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