The Age of Edison [Ernest Freeberg]

Source: National Library Board Singapore

Start Date: 17 June 2019

Finish Date: 24 June 2019

Goodreads link.


  • I came to know about this book from the Flash Forward episode on night vision and wishlisted it immediately. NLB fortunately had the ebook ready to borrow.
  • Things I learnt:
    • About the Brush company and how it was trying to popularise carbon – electrode arc lighting before Edison was able to make the incandescent filament bulb successful
    • That electric companies had to take on entrenched gaslighting companies with municipal contracts and monopoly power, and very quickly became hated monopolies themselves. Something something die a hero something something become a villain.
    • Politically, the book is a bit lefty and focuses heavily on how Americans and Europeans took electric lighting and used it to be smug and superior and portray themselves as civilised compared to Native Americans or Asians or Africans who would gibber or cower at electric lighting. Nothing wrong with that, but I wish the book had showed primary research on how said people had actually reacted.
    • Obvious when you read about it but not something you ever think about: electric light made possible high quality printing (because the printers could finally see the colours in bright light on a regular basis) and baseball (fans could go watch a night game after getting off from work).
    • Thomas Jefferson was philosophically opposed to patents and never patented his own invention, but ended up in charge of the US Patent Office thanks to a constitutional quirk. And then made the US patent system the first one to insist on novelty. Whattaguy.
    • There was a brief period of early technology when overhead electric wires would catch fire, or be knocked over in windstorms and then electrocute everyone around. But burying these wires meant that they would still spark, but this time around the spark would hit a gas pipe (also underground), and cause an explosion. Njybl.
    • The early days of electric light saw authority figures using it to remove privacy for cuddling lovers; and Yale students opposed it for this very reason. Whatay.
  • But overall, the book was a bit meh.


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