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The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America
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The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  447 ratings  ·  83 reviews
The late 19th century saw a surge of technological advancement, but probably nothing as important as Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Here, University of Tennessee history professor Freeberg, author of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Democracy’s Prisoner, shows how radically the light bulb transformed America, freeing it from the stranglehold of the gas comp ...more
Hardcover, 354 pages
Published February 2013 by Penguin
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I am ashamed to admit, but I had never really thought about a lot of this before. Edison invents the light bulb (sort of) but then the U.S. must get wired and ready to be lit up. Light pole makers didn't know what they were doing and these poles fell down and killed people. The electric companies didn't know what they were doing and the wires fell down and killed people. Electrical workers touched the wrong thing and fell into tangles of overhead wires. Sizzling for hours! How much light is too ...more
There are so many puns one can use in this review. And frankly I don't know if I needed this much information on the subject, but it was an interesting and pleasantly lively (for nonfiction) account of how the invention of electricity and its gradual introduction into the world has changed the society. Not much information here on Edison per se ( no bio), this isn't Edison and His Age. This book talks about other inventors who didn't get the to share in the recognition (pun opportunity not taken ...more
This book is well named. And misleading. It is not a book about but Edison. Rather it is about he age of Edison, and thereafter. It is simply a book about the history of the change that Electric Light Bulbs wrought on America.

This books tell almost nothing about individual people, including Edison. It passes lightly over the invention of the lightbulb. It mentions briefly the race between AC and DC current and the problems and politics in the creation of electric grids. It is more interested in
John Harder
There is a reason that the image of person with a light bulb over his head is the universal sign of someone with a bright idea. This is odd when arguably man’s greatest invention is beer. Yet we rarely illustrate brilliance by hovering a Schlitz can over a beaming countenance. Why? Well light and electric power helps us overcome adversity and the environment, beer just helps us to endure it.

The Age of Edison isn’t really about Edison, though he plays a large factor. It is more about the transfor
My dad collects Edison records and Edison record players. I grew up mostly associating Edison with his records and record players. I did know he invented the light bulb, but I did not know much more than that. I enjoyed reading about how he invented the light bulb. The best part of the book is learning how the early days of the light bulb changed people's lives. The book covers both the positive and negative impact that electric light had. The wires that were hastily put up on poles were very da ...more
Shannon Bench
First of all, I'd like to let you know that I'm a picky reader. I like fantasy, and not just any fantasy, either. It has to be EPIC fantasy for me to even consider reading it for my own leisure. However, this book was assigned to me by a professor and so, to the reading nook I went. All too eager to learn about Edison and his time, about the light bulb and its coming into existence. You know what? I was truly excited for it, too. I love history, always found it fascinating, and after the prologu ...more
Text Addict
A good synthesis of information about how electric light was invented, promoted, and extended to ever-larger segments of the American public. How people reacted to it - as either a menace or a panacea, and all points in between. The major personal and public safety issues involved. The canonization of Edison as a kind of secular saint of Progress. Very interesting, but rarely revelatory. A solid reference on a period and topic that needed one.
easily 4 stars. Freeburg takes the scientific discussion of electricity and makes it very relevant to the amateur study of American history. very enjoyable and I learned a lot!
Tanya Ehrler
This book needed to be edited/shortened considerably.
What could have been an interesting 2-3 hour read, was drug out for 10 hours.
This book is much more about the culture of late 19th century America than it is about the inventors themselves. While Edison is in the title and is discussed extensively in the book, this is not a book about Edison. It's about how Gilded Age America embraced the invention and inventor of incandescent light (note: the author goes to great lengths to emphasize that Edison didn't invent the incandescent bulb even though that is the popular understanding of the invention.) I enjoyed the book and wo ...more
B. Rule
This is a fun history of electric lighting that chiefly focuses on the social impact of the rapid development and commercialization of electricity in the US and Europe. It's well-written and fascinating how haphazard some of the development was, particularly safety precautions. One consistent theme of the book is the collaborative nature of invention in the field; emphasis is placed on the foundations Edison built upon to create a commercially viable incandescent light, and on his own team appro ...more
Ryan Hatch
I was pretty excited to read this book and came away quite let down. I was hoping for something more intriguing that would deal with the actual invention of the light bulb. The book is more of a look at how light bulbs and electricity affected the country and the world. I also felt like the writing was pretty uninspired. It read a lot like a text book. I would have preferred something more in depth or personal. A big problem for me is that the subject has such potential that it's almost unfo
Phil Dwyer
A bit of a slog, to be honest. Of its type it was fine: well researched and thorough in its coverage of the ground the author had chosen, but what it lacked was heart. I know no more of Edison and his struggles now than I did when I picked the book up. The insights into the impacts of this new technology on a nation struggling with its own identity were interesting and helpful, but too often couched in generalizations. Some more specific examples might have helped illuminate (sorry, no pun inten ...more
This book covers an underserved niche in the cannon of non-fiction history books - that of social history. By tracing the impact of the light bulb and it's sister electricity (Or at least how it was generated)the author paints on a wide canvas and explores the impact of the artificial light on American society. Politician and rebel, urbanite and farmer, industrialist and everyman and all in between get a mention is this comprehensive study. A wealth of characters populate this book and the autho ...more
Brian Sergi
Age of Edison paints a vivid and detailed picture not only of the nuanced "invention" of the lightbulb and the protagonists behind its discovery, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the impact that the advent of lighting had on turn of the century American society. Extensive primary source references throw new light (so to speak) on the changes that cities adopting electric light faced, from a growing multitude of dangerous wires to lighting's impacts on night life and crime. While at times ...more
Jay Connor
And we think the Internet is a disruptive technology!

Ernest Freeberg does an excellent job of telling the story of electricity – principally the electric light – against the backdrop of the Gilded Age.

The period from the 1870’s to the turn of the century is a much under-chronicled period in our history. I’ve always thought that it was due to the fact that the Presidency, after Lincoln and until Teddy Roosevelt, was occupied by such a scatter-shot cast of weak and venomous men that no historian w
It took me far too long to read this library loan, partly because I'd be content after reading 10 or 15 pages to close the book and think about the truly illuminating facts presented. This is an interesting and approachable history of the development of the electric light from the 1870s through the Rural Electrification initiative during the Depression.

Edison, the father of the light bulb as lore had it, was not the first, but he was an inventor to the core and improved upon earlier versions unt
Pierre Lauzon
Freeberg's book is a chronicle of the explosive technological growth of the late 19th Century combined with the cultural changes that resulted in American and European societies.

Edison and other inventors of the period reinvented the process of invention. Previously invention was generally an individual and trial and error system. Advances in education and the availability of capital brought development laboratories to iteratively develop new technologies using teams of inventors and supporting
May 11, 2015 Jan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: audio
I found this history quite fascinating. There were many ways that the invention of The lightbulb, leading to illumination engineering, changed The lives of people all over the world. This book explores a lot of the social implications, as well as the historical ramifications. I learned a lot, in spite of the frustrating somewhat disjointed way the author presented the material.
Interesting although a bit dry and wordy history of the development of electric light (including light bulbs) and its impact on the development of society (mostly in the US).

I didn't realize that most large east coast US cities were fully electrified by late 1800's/ early 1900's (or at least their downtown/business areas were) which at the time indicated that your city was more "modern". As expected, emergence of light both reduced crime (criminals could no longer hide in the shadows to commit
Nice book about the WOW factor felt by early users of electricity, especially lighting, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We take electricity and the light it produces for granted so was fun to read how early plans to illuminate cities relied on arc light strung at intervals above the buildings. Shadows (and poorly constructed towers) undid that plan. But once people saw the power of light, there was no turning back. Better street lighting, and then home lighting became the norm despite figh ...more
I thought the topic of this book was interesting (that is why I picked it up). I did feel like I learned about the development of electricity and how it has come to play the role it does in today's society. At times the writing tried to hard to use "light" terms, at some points the same phrases were used repetitively making me think the author should have not used those terms at all. If you are interested in electricity it could be a good read, if not, skip it.
A fascinating survey of the invention of electric lighting--no, Edison did not do it alone, he was part of a long-running international effort to harness electricity. Edison's genius was not in inventing the light bulb, but the complete electrical distribution system, and he was also a true master at self-promotion. The most interesting part of the book is that referenced in the subtitle: "The Invention of Modern America." The author looks at the myriad ways that electric lighting fundamentally ...more
Steve Dust
This was a good book, especially for someone - anyone - involved in the the electric industry in some fashion. It does a good job of wrapping the story of electricity and its use around Edison - man and myth sort of thing - but takes the reader to very interesting places of science, sociology, economics, city vs rural stuff, origins and foundations of the whole "muni" trend/desire (capitalist vs socialism/nationalism, of course), and start of professionalism in electrical engineering, how safety ...more
Carlos Alonso-Niemeyer
This is a must read for lighting professionals. Every chapter tells stories about the development of our lighting industry.
The history of the light bulb is a lesson for all new LED lamp and product manufacturers. The challenges and tribulations that the incandescent lamp (along with the industry) had to endure, can teach us what is in the future for the next generation of the lighting industry.

For me, the chapter on illumination engineering, lighting designers and utility representatives, was th
Larry Jebsen
I liked this book. I learned much. I thought Edison invented the light bulb, he didn't. He was part of the "electrification age". There were already lightbulbs. What he did was revolutionary in many ways, though. He began the first viable corporate sponsored research facility. His corporate backers were betting that he could create the first commercially sellable and user friendly light bulb. And he did. Edison was part of a major paradigm shift. The days for people looked much different, entert ...more
Quite a good read. Like most books of its kind, it's main interest is not the subject itself, but the mindset of the people who were first encountering it. I ended up thinking a lot about it, simply because light is such an integral part of modernity. I couldn't possibly imagine the romanticism of Rousseau, the heroism of Achilles, or the eloquence of Byron under the harsh glare of a lightblub. There's just something about electric light that invites looking reality in the eye, for all its flaws ...more
Alvin C.
'The Age of Edison' gives much historical info during the dawn of electricity, much like how the internet explosion changed the world today. Author Ernest Freeberg.
An interesting read on the social history of electric lighting. The technology is so obvious now that we forget, or don't realize, that its introduction created a frenzy of adoption exactly like that of the iPhone today, for example. It only took only about five years before most American cities had replaced darkness and feeble gas lamps with the new arc lighting. We think we are somehow special today in our ability to create and consume the "new," but it was exactly the same in the 1880's, and ...more
Ryan Jerchau
An enjoyable insight to a period of great innovation. Interesting to see how society adapted to a very transformative technology.
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