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Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death

by

Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A Discover magazine Top Science Book

Thomas Edison stunned America in 1879 by unveiling a world-changing invention--the light bulb--and then launching the electrification of Americas cities. A decade later, despite having been an avowed opponent of the death penalty, Edison threw his laboratory resources and reputation behind the creation of a very different sort of device--the electric chair. Deftly exploring this startling chapter in American history, Edison & the Electric Chair delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Edison himself.

Edison championed the electric chair for reasons that remain controversial to this day. Was Edison genuinely concerned about the suffering of the condemned? Was he waging a campaign to smear his rival George Westinghouses alternating current and boost his own system? Or was he warning the public of real dangers posed by the high-voltage alternating wires that looped above hundreds of Americas streets? Plumbing the fascinating history of electricity, Mark Essig explores Americas love of technology and its fascination with violent death, capturing an era when the public was mesmerized and terrified by an invisible force that produced blazing light, powered streetcars, carried telephone conversations--and killed.

Mark Essig earned a doctorate in American history from Cornell University. A native of St. Louis, he now lives in Los Angeles. This is his first book.
A Discover magazine Top Science Book

Thomas Edison stunned America in 1879 by unveiling a world-changing invention—the light bulb—and then launching the electrification of America's cities. A decade later, despite having been an avowed opponent of the death penalty, Edison threw his laboratory resources and reputation behind the creation of a very different sort of device—the electric chair. Deftly exploring this startling chapter in American history, Edison and the Electric Chair delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Edison himself.

 
Edison championed the electric chair for reasons that remain controversial to this day. Was Edison genuinely concerned about the suffering of the condemned? Was he waging a campaign to smear his rival George Westinghouse's alternating current and boost his own system? Or was he warning the public of real dangers posed by the high-voltage alternating wires that looped above hundreds of America's streets? Plumbing the fascinating history of electricity, Mark Essig explores America's love of technology and its fascination with violent death, capturing an era when the public was mesmerized and terrified by an invisible force that produced blazing light, powered streetcars, carried telephone conversations—and killed.
"A thoroughly modern view of Edison, removed from his pedestal."—The Washington Post Book World
 
"Steeped in historical scholarship and written with sober elegance."—Newsday
 
"Reads like a good novel."—The Economist
 
"Mark Essig's story of the dawn of the electrical age is technological history at its very best."—John Steele Gordon, author of The Great Game and An Empire of Wealth
 
"Thomas Edison was deeply concerned about public safety and stoutly opposed to capital punishment. Yet except for the rivalry with George Westinghouse, he would have remained a closet humanitarian. Or so historian of science Essig argues in his first book. The race between Edison, advocate of direct current (DC), and Westinghouse, champion of alternating current (AC), to build an electrical empire in the 1880s is a classic example of runaway Gilded Age capitalism. Essig recounts Edison's early work on electricity and the opening of Manhattan's Pearl Street power plant in 1882. Just four years later, Westinghouse opened his own plant and quickly outpaced Edison in acquiring municipal contracts. Edison publicly decried AC as a safety hazard and convinced New York legislators that electricity offered the cleanest execution method available—provided it was done with AC. Thus in 1890 William Kemmler became the electric chair's first victim. He was not, however, the first victim of electrocution. Around this time, a spectacular series of fatal accidents triggered a citywide panic, and New York ordered unsafe wires cut down. Westinghouse protested while Edison applauded: DC cables were underground. Nonetheless, AC triumphed in the end."—Publishers Weekly

Synopsis:

This "Discover" magazine Top Science Book delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Thomas Edison himself.

Synopsis:

A Discover magazine Top Science Book

Thomas Edison stunned America in 1879 by unveiling a world-changing invention--the light bulb--and then launching the electrification of Americas cities. A decade later, despite having been an avowed opponent of the death penalty, Edison threw his laboratory resources and reputation behind the creation of a very different sort of device--the electric chair. Deftly exploring this startling chapter in American history, Edison & the Electric Chair delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Edison himself.

Edison championed the electric chair for reasons that remain controversial to this day. Was Edison genuinely concerned about the suffering of the condemned? Was he waging a campaign to smear his rival George Westinghouses alternating current and boost his own system? Or was he warning the public of real dangers posed by the high-voltage alternating wires that looped above hundreds of Americas streets? Plumbing the fascinating history of electricity, Mark Essig explores Americas love of technology and its fascination with violent death, capturing an era when the public was mesmerized and terrified by an invisible force that produced blazing light, powered streetcars, carried telephone conversations--and killed.

About the Author

Mark Essig earned a doctorate in American history from Cornell University. A native of St. Louis, he now lives in Los Angeles. This is his first book.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780802777102
Subtitle:
A Story of Light and Death
Author:
Essig, Mark
Author:
Essig, Mark Regan
Publisher:
Walker & Company
Subject:
History
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Electricity
Subject:
Penology
Subject:
Science & Technology
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Edison, Thomas A
Subject:
Electrocution - United States - History
Subject:
History of Science-General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paperback
Publication Date:
20051001
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
52 BandW illustrations
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.50 in

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Related Subjects

Biography » Science and Technology
History and Social Science » Crime » Prisons and Prisoners
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
Science and Mathematics » Electricity » General Electricity
Science and Mathematics » History of Science » General
Science and Mathematics » History of Science » Technology

Edison and the Electric Chair: A Story of Light and Death Used Trade Paper
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Product details 368 pages Walker & Company - English 9780802777102 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , This "Discover" magazine Top Science Book delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Thomas Edison himself.
"Synopsis" by ,
A Discover magazine Top Science Book

Thomas Edison stunned America in 1879 by unveiling a world-changing invention--the light bulb--and then launching the electrification of Americas cities. A decade later, despite having been an avowed opponent of the death penalty, Edison threw his laboratory resources and reputation behind the creation of a very different sort of device--the electric chair. Deftly exploring this startling chapter in American history, Edison & the Electric Chair delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Edison himself.

Edison championed the electric chair for reasons that remain controversial to this day. Was Edison genuinely concerned about the suffering of the condemned? Was he waging a campaign to smear his rival George Westinghouses alternating current and boost his own system? Or was he warning the public of real dangers posed by the high-voltage alternating wires that looped above hundreds of Americas streets? Plumbing the fascinating history of electricity, Mark Essig explores Americas love of technology and its fascination with violent death, capturing an era when the public was mesmerized and terrified by an invisible force that produced blazing light, powered streetcars, carried telephone conversations--and killed.

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