Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World” as Want to Read:
The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World

3.45 of 5 stars 3.45  ·  rating details  ·  381 ratings  ·  61 reviews
Thomas Edison’s greatest invention?
His own fame.

Starting with the first public demonstrations of the phonograph in 1878 and extending through the development of incandescent light and the first motion-picture cameras, Thomas Edison’s name became emblematic of all the wonder and promise of the emerging age of technological marvels. But this critical biography of the man wh
Paperback, 392 pages
Published March 25th 2008 by Broadway Books (first published 2007)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Wizard of Menlo Park, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Wizard of Menlo Park

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 922)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
The Wizard of Menlo park is a bit about Edison the inventor, and a lot about Edison the public celebrity. His is an interesting story, but if you want to learn what really made him tick you won't get it here. In fact, it isn't clear how much he invented. Edison was part inventor, and part master of invention, in the sense that he created a major laboratory of invention, of which he was the maestro, but there were a lot of members in the orchestra. But the book,unfortunately, is more by the numbe ...more
Decent book-- great job of separating the man from the myth. Probably used the word "hagiography" more often than any book not talking about medieval saints. The upshot (and maybe spoiler alert) is that Edison was cranky, short-sighted stubborn, opinionated. He had one huge success that created the illusion that he had many, many more.

It would be a great exercise to read this and Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs one after the other. I was struck with the similarity between the two men.
I selected this book back at the start of last year when compiling my reading list for the year. The main motivation was to learn more about the man who founded GE since I worked for GE at that time. Although I have since left that employer, I can see a whole lot of GE in Thomas Edison, which is amazing given that he lived about a century ago.

For one, Edison was always more show than substance. Sure, he is credited with introducing a number of technological marvels to the world and his list of p
Rich Mulvey
Essentially 300 pages describing how Edison was a really, really bad businessman. The book could have salvaged with some inspired writing, but the author's style is relatively dry and tedious.
Though Stross is a technology writer, this book focuses not so much on Edison's career as an inventor but on his celebrity and the effort "The Wizard of Menlo Park" put into managing his image; if we believe Stross, Edison spent more time maintaining his persona than he spent inventing, a problem that led to a wealth of failed or incomplete creations. In fact, this belief is a major drawback of the book. Stross diminishes a number of Edison's accomplishments based largely on the fact that a sign ...more
Will Herman
Surprisingly, the book does more to disparage Edison than to praise him, IMO. It details how he failed as a commercial product creator and emphasizes how he was a brazen self-promoter of his real product, the Edison name, often at the expense of delivering decent products to his customers. For example, while Victrola and others agreed on a common and interchangeable recording format, Edison refused, just as he refused to adopt AC current when most systems were going that way. The same things wer ...more
Kristi Thielen
Good, readable book about the inventor who played a role in the creation of the electric light, the phonograph and films, although the book candidly reveals that each of these inventions should be followed with an asterisk: Edison is confusedly thought to have been the sole originator on inventions when he in fact created a well-documented improvement on a pre-existing concept. (He also was happy to take credit for work done by subordinates in his laboratories.)

His lack of any business skill an
I found the book insightful and well researched. I found the tone of the book, however, to be decidedly negative. It seems as though the author wanted to make sure the reader was well informed of all Edison's faults and failures and paint a clear picture about why many of his accolades we're undeserved. He even ended the book on a somewhat sour note by using an anticodital quote from Edison that had a negative overtone. Maybe I'm niave but when I read a biography about a notable person I want to ...more
بعيداً عن التمجيد وخيالات الكمال التي تغري بعض المؤلفين للمبالغة أحياناً وتجنب بعض الحقائق أحياناً أخرى يبحث المؤلف للمخترع الذي كان عمله نقطة تحول في حياة البشرية , كان أديسون نجماً في زمانه وقابله الجمهور بحفاوة تتوقع منه اختراع جديد في كل لحظه, فقابل الحفاوة بقلق مستمر لتكرار الإنجاز وإبقاء صورته الإعلامية والذي كان مرهقاً له بالنظر لأنه عاش خمسين سنة بعد اختراع المصباح الكهربائي الصالح للاستهلاك بشكل عملي وأضاف إليه الكثير من الاختراعات إلا أنه ظل أسير انجازه الأول
An interesting biography of 'the world's greatest inventor', showing both the genius as well as the flaws. The author lays out how Edison tended to be his own worst enemy - flitting from project to project - having huge problems settling down to complete the last 10% of a project that would make it commercially viable. He was also not a great business man, but insisted in having the final word on every decision. I think if he had had a business-minded brother who could have kept him focused and ...more
So far, this is an absolutely fascinating read. Not only does this book cover Thomas Edison's history, but really delves into the culture of inventors during that time. I'm loving it.
Thomas Edison changed our world!!! He was perhaps one of the most inventive people ever to live on the planet. He was my childhood hero. I have read just about all of the major works on his life and this one is a good one.
He had, at the time of his death, over 1,000 patents with his name on them! The man changed the way we live today. Lights, recorded sound, electrical usages, you name it, it all had his name on it!
If you are interested in reading the story of an extraordinary man, this is the b
Thomas Edison arguably failed at 90 percent of the things he tried to invent but as Randall Stross points out the 10 percent he succeeded at would change the world. From electricity to recorded sound to the motion pictures all of which would change the world. Edison continued to challenge the established norms always trying to change the world with each invention. There are many books on Edison as a business man and universally he is condemned as a bad one so that point is not up for debate. Wha ...more
Kerry Kenney
I had to abandon this book halfway through. The first chapter or so about young Edison and the telegraph and the communication explosion that was going on at that time was undeniably interesting. I can even tell you when the book started to go downhill...when he moved to Menlo Park and the author introduces the vein of reporters covering the "Wizard of Menlo Park" and then it just hit a wall and never recovered.

The book became this cycle of:

Edison puttered in his lab and neglected his family...E
I listened to the audio book of this going to and from work over the course of 2 weeks or so and it was definitely an eye opener as far as learning about Thomas Edison. At times it almost feels like a book just to destroy the reputation of Edison but after thinking about it more I am still impressed with his drive and many of his results but he does a horrible job tying his technical work into other context.
The biography itself often got repetitive, constantly we are reminded of his horrendous
An informative biography that defines the fine line between the man and myth that is Thomas Edison. Edison is essentially responsible for the founding of 3 modern industries: personal music, electricity, and movies. However, Edison was less responsible for these industries than it seems. Stross shows Edison was an incompetent businessman, and it was left to others to monetize the discoveries coming out of his lab. Furthermore, many of his inventions were primarily the results of other people wor ...more
Tom Rowe
3.5 stars. This abbreviated bio is mostly focused on how Edison mismanaged the business end of several inventions. Not much insight into the man other than he wanted to do things his way whether it was salable or not. It reminded me of the opening scene in The Fountainhead where the architect wanted to only build things that nobody wanted, and the school told him he could only build what could be sold leaving no room for compromise.
The Wizard of Menlo Park. Thomas Edison fascinates me. This book did not. It's essentially a regurgitation of letters and newspaper articles about the man. As other readers have pointed out, that in and of itself wouldn't be so terrible if each chapter didn't follow the same predictable pattern; Edison declares his interest to invent something, then inadvertently discovers an interest in something else, pushes to invent either project before someone else does, repeat. Although the reader learns ...more
Edison's story is pretty straight forward. His life wasn't overly cluttered with personal issues. The author takes the position that Edison was largely a business man (not a good one) focused on inventing for profit over discovery.
My knowledge of Edison was basic and based largely on folk lore. Reading this book taught me more about Edison--celebrity was important to him, did he really invent things or just take credit for them, he expected more of others than he gave himself, he had a profound hearing loss and he went camping with Ford & Firestone. Those are my lasting impressions.

I am glad I read (listened) to the book and learned more about Edison, but I do feel my bubble was burst as this great inventor and Ameri
Edison was a technical genius, when his ego didn't get in the way, and a complete fool when it came to business. I wonder what would have become of him if he wouldn't have been so stubborn in his ways.
David R.
Those who revere the inventor Edison may want to skip this book. Stross doesn't gloss over Edison's darker side, providing example after example of Edison's bad business judgments, misanthropic personality, nasty management, and penchant for pettiness. One is almost left wondering just how Edison did even as well as he did financially. That said, Stross does provide some insights on how Edison "invented the modern world" but it's by way of saying other people had the real vision to take Edison's ...more
John L
Interesting account of Edison's famous life. He seems to have been America's first non-political celebrity. Everyone wanted to know what he had for breakfast, etc.
He had a devil of a time making his inventions commercially viable. It was years before he had a competitive phonograph machine, evenutally losing out to now known Victrola. Henry Ford was quite an admirer of Edison. Thought that he could do no wrong, and loaned him loads of money without really expecting anything back.

Good story, re
Sam Motes
A very interesting look into the life of Edison that paints the picture of a brilliant inventor that was flawed with traits of being very vain, elitist, over opinionated, and a very poor business man. Obviously in hindsight but the author tells a story of missed opportunities due to his character flaws keeping him from thriving on his inventions similar to the story of the McDonnell brothers in the fast food world. The business and personal relationship between Edison and Ford was the most inter ...more
I've always been fascinated by Thomas Edison through hearing snippets about his life and his inventions. I liked this biography of him--focusing primarily on his inventions and his celebrity surrounding those inventions, it also gave some details about his personal life. The author brings Edison to life, showing his genius, his work ethic, his social awkwardness and his poor business skills. If you are at all interested in Thomas Edison, this is a readable and interesting book.
Florin Rosoga
It is a good bok, but in my opinion it failed to present the Edison's childhood and many details that would make the reader understand his life decisions. For its almost 400 pages it is a good lecture, now - after reading it - I think it would have been better to choose a more complete biography.

If you want to know the main facts, without details, that's the book.
A fascinating biography of Thomas Edison that focuses on the celebrity: more myth than man. The book entreatingly details Edison's public relations prowess as well as his rapid, wandering technical ability, and how these two characteristics were the genesis and undoing of his success. The biography is not comprehensive, and it strength is that is examines his life as a self-made celebrity and un-savvy business man -- a worth-while read.
Well written. Some nice anecdotes. Found Edison to be a neat guy. But somehow kinda disappointing because there is not all that much to Edison and that era.
Jeff Gabriel
A thorough and entertaining read about a very unique character. I enjoyed learning about Edison and the more detailed circumstances and facts around his major inventions. However, the depth of character was lost in favor of a focus on business dealings and the press. Every biography attempts to pick a theme and show the person through that lens. In this case I just didn't find myself all that interested in the "fame" angle.
Barry Bridges
It is easy to pass judgement when looking at nineteenth century personality and actions through twenty-first century sensibilities. The tone of this book seems to be judgmental. I wonder how Gates, Jobs, and Companies will be viewed in a hundred years.

It starts well but drowns in tedium. Perhaps it is simply a reflection of Edison's life, promising much, then caught up in celebrity and working hard at delivering little.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 30 31 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Thomas Edison: Young Inventor
  • The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret
  • Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell
  • Thomas Edison
  • Uncommon Friends: Life with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Alexis Carrel, and Charles Lindbergh
  • The Mormon Mirage: A Former Member Looks at the Mormon Church Today
  • The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century
  • Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World
  • Mexico Biography of Power
  • Jack's Life: The Life Story Of C.S. Lewis
  • Price Theory
  • Classic 30-Minute Meals: The All-Occasion Cookbook
  • Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives
  • Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses and Historians.
  • Media Virus!: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture
  • Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison
  • Zapata and the Mexican Revolution
  • Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming

Share This Book