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Edison: A Biography

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Regarded as the classic standard biography on Thomas Edison. It is the only biography written in the last 40 years to be recommended by the official voice of the caretakers of the Edison Laboratory National Monument in New Jersey which houses all of Edison's original records, sketches, notes, correspondence and memoranda. Depicts Edison as a pivotal figure in America's eco Regarded as the classic standard biography on Thomas Edison. It is the only biography written in the last 40 years to be recommended by the official voice of the caretakers of the Edison Laboratory National Monument in New Jersey which houses all of Edison's original records, sketches, notes, correspondence and memoranda. Depicts Edison as a pivotal figure in America's economic and industrial revolution success and at the same time as a human being, including his exploitative and, at times, crude qualities.


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Regarded as the classic standard biography on Thomas Edison. It is the only biography written in the last 40 years to be recommended by the official voice of the caretakers of the Edison Laboratory National Monument in New Jersey which houses all of Edison's original records, sketches, notes, correspondence and memoranda. Depicts Edison as a pivotal figure in America's eco Regarded as the classic standard biography on Thomas Edison. It is the only biography written in the last 40 years to be recommended by the official voice of the caretakers of the Edison Laboratory National Monument in New Jersey which houses all of Edison's original records, sketches, notes, correspondence and memoranda. Depicts Edison as a pivotal figure in America's economic and industrial revolution success and at the same time as a human being, including his exploitative and, at times, crude qualities.

30 review for Edison: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter Talbot

    An absolutely amazing biography: wise, deep, fair, perspicuous, learned, humorous, gentle but provocative. One of the most masterful biographies in the English language. Edison the man was much more interesting than Edison the icon.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Read1000books

    Even though I read the Reader's Digest condensed edition (160 pages, ISBN 0895772590), this was still a great read. I had no idea how much of an absolute genius this man was. Far from just perfecting the light bulb (others had experimented with the concept; he made it work, and practically)he also invented the phonograph, the motion picture camera (his first motion pictures had sound! How or why the "silent movies" went backward I don't know), the entire electric generating plant system, the mi Even though I read the Reader's Digest condensed edition (160 pages, ISBN 0895772590), this was still a great read. I had no idea how much of an absolute genius this man was. Far from just perfecting the light bulb (others had experimented with the concept; he made it work, and practically)he also invented the phonograph, the motion picture camera (his first motion pictures had sound! How or why the "silent movies" went backward I don't know), the entire electric generating plant system, the mimeograph, and dozens of other things, as well as improving the telegraph and the telephone (you had to yell 2 or 3 times into Alexander Graham Bell's static-filled device, but after Edison worked on it, it performed like ours today). Toward the end of his life, his many businesses were making over $20 million dollars a year. Not bad for a guy who was fired several times early in life. There is, however, a down side to this story. While Edison's first wife had been a Sunday school teacher, he himself "cared nothing for church". Some time after she died of typhoid, he married again, this second wife having had in her youth "a liking for charity and Sunday school work". Edison however was an "agnostic" and "not much for religion". Days before he passed away on October 18, 1931 someone asked him if "he had thought of a life hereafter. 'It does not matter', he replied in a low voice, 'No one knows'." One wonders if he thinks differently now.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jason Braatz

    Arguably, Thos. A. Edison was more important to the advancement of science and to the modern standard of living more than anyone else; unlike Albert Einstein but closer in style to Michael Faraday, he was an empiricist, relying on lots (and lots) of brute force testing to reach each invention (over 1,000 of them). Simplicists of history give him credit for the lightbulb, but his abilities as a polymath are truly documented in this book. Beyond electromagnetism and physics, Edison is written here Arguably, Thos. A. Edison was more important to the advancement of science and to the modern standard of living more than anyone else; unlike Albert Einstein but closer in style to Michael Faraday, he was an empiricist, relying on lots (and lots) of brute force testing to reach each invention (over 1,000 of them). Simplicists of history give him credit for the lightbulb, but his abilities as a polymath are truly documented in this book. Beyond electromagnetism and physics, Edison is written here to have been involved with everything from motion picture entertainment (before Walt Disney), botany, chemistry, new manufacturing quality techniques before lean manufacturing and Six Sigma and an array of experiments that were remarkably ahead of his time. Edison has a cornucopia of biographies out there, and so when I began doing research on him (as most inventors or businesspeople should), I had to make a decision on which one to read. It's impractical to read everything, and his Wikipedia entry doesn't come close to documenting much about his methods (nor) his paradigm for inventiveness. This book is from the late 1950s and was acclaimed in 1960 with literary honors, and it's timeline against his life puts it in perspective more accurately than, say, a contemporary writing would be able to do. Factually, very few people are alive now that were alive concurrently with his age of invention, and so having a book written by an excellent biographer from the 1950s allows us to disregard legend built up during and well after his life, while focusing on what was uncovered after his death. Without a doubt, there's a lot of mythology surrounding him, so I really needed as truthful of a biography that I could find, and this one fit the bill perfectly. His method should be taught but it's not lost to time. In summation: 1. Document the problem, in your own words, as succinctly as possible. 2. Immerse yourself in the subject with up-to-date knowledge of known solutions 3. Resolve each step in it's own time, while documenting failures, experimenting frequently with new ideas, and cross-pollinate ideas from other sources to "invent" a solution. These steps aren't explicit and are reminiscent of what gets taught for a junior high science fair, yet our business leaders, designers, public office holders and thought leaders miss these steps sometimes entirely. For businesses, inventors and thought leaders, it's clear who wins between the theorists (Einstein) and empiricists (Edison) in my view. Commercial success is required in order to further fund experimentation (R&D) in other areas. Edison taught us all that it's not the brightest among us who make a better world; it is those willing to put in the hard work. Lastly, in this world where the literati control much of the content available in printed form, this reminds us that in the end tenacity can always beat out talent every day. Resolving to solve issues within public education, this is something that should be not only taught but engrained. I highly recommend this read. There are a lot of references to other people who aren't contemporarily known in 2020, so there were a few people I had to look up online to digest a synopsis before I could really immerse myself into the narrative of his life and his methods. But it is fun to do - as reading should be a fun exercise for anyone anyway - and it brings a broader perspective to his life than reading it sans research .

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Written in 1959, this is the classic Edison biography. It's a good mix of human element and technical detail. I previously started a version written decades , but I found the technical descriptions to be too detailed and distracting for my taste. This book gives enough of that detail to help the reader understand the ideas and inventions and the implications of introducing that technology into a changing America, but it doesn't get bogged down in it. Someone looking for a more in-depth technical Written in 1959, this is the classic Edison biography. It's a good mix of human element and technical detail. I previously started a version written decades , but I found the technical descriptions to be too detailed and distracting for my taste. This book gives enough of that detail to help the reader understand the ideas and inventions and the implications of introducing that technology into a changing America, but it doesn't get bogged down in it. Someone looking for a more in-depth technical analysis should try the later version. Overall, this book does a great job detailing Edison's rise to prominence as an inventor, his role in the commercialization of many other ideas besides the light bulb, and his quirky behavior. I recommend this to anyone wanting to learn about Edison's personal journey as well as the impact of his work on American business and culture.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Don

    Edison was BRILLIANT! Edison combined his curiosity with a dogged determination to explore possibilities, and the results were amazing discoveries and inventions. He started with the simplest experiments to learn principles which he had the wisdom to turn into life changing inventions. Edison worked tirelessly day and night on his inventions. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” His work includes: 1,093 U.S. Patents Electric Light Bulb Phonogr Edison was BRILLIANT! Edison combined his curiosity with a dogged determination to explore possibilities, and the results were amazing discoveries and inventions. He started with the simplest experiments to learn principles which he had the wisdom to turn into life changing inventions. Edison worked tirelessly day and night on his inventions. “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” His work includes: 1,093 U.S. Patents Electric Light Bulb Phonograph Motion Picture Camera Alkaline Storage Battery Magnetic Iron Ore Separator Great book, I had to skim some of the more technical discussions as they were a bit hard to follow. I found his inventions amazing but even more so his implementation of the inventions employing thousands for the betterment of mankind.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Marsh

    This baby was looooong. But I’m really glad I read the whole thing. It has the perfect mix of storytelling and technical detail that I loved. He didn’t just say that Edison flipped a switch and the light went on; he actually talked about the science behind it which was cool. My main takeaway was that Edison was a pretty ordinary, and not formally educated, person that just worked his tail off and did amazing things. Mostly, I’ll remember that he is responsible for way more than just the light bulb This baby was looooong. But I’m really glad I read the whole thing. It has the perfect mix of storytelling and technical detail that I loved. He didn’t just say that Edison flipped a switch and the light went on; he actually talked about the science behind it which was cool. My main takeaway was that Edison was a pretty ordinary, and not formally educated, person that just worked his tail off and did amazing things. Mostly, I’ll remember that he is responsible for way more than just the light bulb.

  7. 5 out of 5

    John Ross

    A very informative, well-written biography, published in 1959 about 30 years after Edison's death. I had never read a biography about this great inventor and was left satisfied by this book. If someone wanted a "good biography" of Thomas A. Edison, I would recommend it, although not super-highly. While it isn't at the greatest or most thorough or most insightful biography I've ever read, I felt is was factually accurate and very satisfactory. A very informative, well-written biography, published in 1959 about 30 years after Edison's death. I had never read a biography about this great inventor and was left satisfied by this book. If someone wanted a "good biography" of Thomas A. Edison, I would recommend it, although not super-highly. While it isn't at the greatest or most thorough or most insightful biography I've ever read, I felt is was factually accurate and very satisfactory.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Brilliant! Very enjoyable read, the method of writing I found timeless, presented in a facilatory manner, to accomodate individuals to invest in their own thoughts & opinions on all things ‘Edison’. The outlining of scientific investigation & its development throughout a time of which seemed to be stuck in its ways, was a personal highlight for me, emphasising the value of practical thinking.

  9. 4 out of 5

    William Parker

    It was an interesting dive into the life of Edison but very technical in its descriptions of Edison's investigative work and inventions. The book was a slog at times and 485 pages left me a bit winded. It was an interesting dive into the life of Edison but very technical in its descriptions of Edison's investigative work and inventions. The book was a slog at times and 485 pages left me a bit winded.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Bohnert

    I learned a great deal about Thomas Edison.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    5 Stars! #read up my Friends

  12. 5 out of 5

    Perry Burton

    This felt like a slog as im not a scientist at all....but once i got half way through it accelerated and i was hooked till the end ! What a man....

  13. 4 out of 5

    Zulugoat

    excellent

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brannon

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing was dense but clear. I went into it having seen reviews that it was fairly technical. It was perfect for me (a software engineer). I found the various endeavors of Edison fascinating, and the sheer volume of his accomplishments amazing. I had never known his huge impact upon the planet before reading this book. The book is generally chronological, ordered by decades of Edison's life. His first decade dealt with his homeschooled upbringing. His second: w I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing was dense but clear. I went into it having seen reviews that it was fairly technical. It was perfect for me (a software engineer). I found the various endeavors of Edison fascinating, and the sheer volume of his accomplishments amazing. I had never known his huge impact upon the planet before reading this book. The book is generally chronological, ordered by decades of Edison's life. His first decade dealt with his homeschooled upbringing. His second: working on the train. His third: pursuit of the multiplexed telegraph. His fourth, the light bulb, and a self-financed power station for New York city to make use of his light bulb. His fifth: development of the rock crusher now used around the world in mining and cement creation. His sixth: perfection of his phonograph and movie camera. The seventh: the development of the nickle-iron battery (at last with lithium). His eighth (yes, in his seventies): his appointment to the Navy Consulting Board with his work on sonar and dragnets. The book covers his personal life, which was minimal, as well. (Edison was very dedicated to his work.) His relationship with Henry Ford, which I had no idea about, is emphasized.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tammy

    11-12-08 Frankly, after reading McCullough’s biography of Truman, everything else seems to pale in comparison. However, Josephson’s biography of Edison won the Francis Parkman award, so its quality as a solidly researched account of Edison’s life can be assured. As an inventor/businessman/industrialist, Edison’s life mirrors his restless creative energy. The details of his work with the incandescent bulb, phonograph, etc. are detailed in this book, as are his many other ventures. Following the sco 11-12-08 Frankly, after reading McCullough’s biography of Truman, everything else seems to pale in comparison. However, Josephson’s biography of Edison won the Francis Parkman award, so its quality as a solidly researched account of Edison’s life can be assured. As an inventor/businessman/industrialist, Edison’s life mirrors his restless creative energy. The details of his work with the incandescent bulb, phonograph, etc. are detailed in this book, as are his many other ventures. Following the scope of his life’s work was endlessly interesting. We find out less about the inner man in this book – perhaps because his work as an inventor consumed his life. Edison receives quite gentle, almost reverential, treatment in this book. The writing feels much more archaic than the era of the late 1950’s/early 1960’s in which it was written. One often has to wait patiently until the end of a long sentence to finish a thought begun many words earlier. In sum, the book will likely be interesting to those who have experience with and tolerance for the interesting, but not gripping, historical biography.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Steele At

    This book may or may not be the best autobiography on Thomas A. Edison, but it was enough to help me see the life of a most unusual man. I didn't realize he was actually the founder of GE, nor did I know he was mostly deaf, and that he was a problem child with virtually no formal education. I didn't know he had six kids, three from a first wife that mostly didn't know him; and three from a second that mostly did. I didn't know that he conversed with his wife by tapping her hand or leg in Morse cod This book may or may not be the best autobiography on Thomas A. Edison, but it was enough to help me see the life of a most unusual man. I didn't realize he was actually the founder of GE, nor did I know he was mostly deaf, and that he was a problem child with virtually no formal education. I didn't know he had six kids, three from a first wife that mostly didn't know him; and three from a second that mostly did. I didn't know that he conversed with his wife by tapping her hand or leg in Morse code - and that is how he asked her to marry him. I didn't know how hard he worked, or the fact that through it all he remained positive and hopeful. I didn't know that Henry Ford first worked in Edison's employ, and that Ford built a museum in Michigan, much to Edison's tribute. Now I want to see his home and laboratories in N.J., his summer home in Fort Myer Florida and GE in Schenectady. Reading offers a depth of knowledge that reaches into my soul. I'm grateful for that, and all the wonderful things that came to life & light as a result of Mr. Edison.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeromy Peacock

    This was a beautifully written biography of a man I highly respect. Edison is a fascinating character study and I would have liked to of been alive when he worked on all of his inventions. If you are into biographies you should really pick this one up. 5 stars = Yearly re-read 4 stars = Re-read eventually 3 stars = Very Good 2 stars = OK 1 stars = Pass on this one. 0 stars = Couldn't finish it. This was a beautifully written biography of a man I highly respect. Edison is a fascinating character study and I would have liked to of been alive when he worked on all of his inventions. If you are into biographies you should really pick this one up. 5 stars = Yearly re-read 4 stars = Re-read eventually 3 stars = Very Good 2 stars = OK 1 stars = Pass on this one. 0 stars = Couldn't finish it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Roland

    Excellent. What a biography should be. He did so many things besides electricity. He had incredible drive. He knew he was made for greatness. He lived in such a great time for this country. Worth reading.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Well researched book that looks at Edison's professional life and touches upon his personal life. Technical descriptions of his inventions were beyond me, but would be enjoyed by the mechanically inclined. Well researched book that looks at Edison's professional life and touches upon his personal life. Technical descriptions of his inventions were beyond me, but would be enjoyed by the mechanically inclined.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Volzer

    I thought reading about Thomas Edison would be excited. About 1/2 of the way in I decided I was wrong. I can only take so much talk of morse code.

  21. 4 out of 5

    K.akhil Sharma

    it is ok

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allen

    Hated it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    Well written and informative. I knew nothing of Edison before reading this and have learnt a lot!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mrshumolicious

    fantastic biography

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sam knowles

    This is without a doubt the best biography on the man ever made, enough said. I also recommend reading Menlo park reminiscences, since it seems to complement the biography.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jacobo

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zorony

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sergiu

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