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The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  437 ratings  ·  59 reviews
A Soul of a New Machine for our time, a gripping account of invention, commerce, and duplicity in the age of technology

A worldwide race is on to perfect the next engine of economic growth, the advanced lithium-ion battery. It will power the electric car, relieve global warming, and catapult the winner into a new era of economic and political mastery. Can the United States
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 5th 2015 by Viking
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Feb 24, 2015 rated it it was ok
Too much about the personalities involved, was hoping for more science. Also, Elon Musk should probably get more than the few paragraphs he gets here.
Robert Spillman
Jun 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My neighbor had given me this book with the promise "You'll love it." I really didn't believe him, but it only took a few pages for me to start wondering if he might be correct. This is a non-fiction account of the effort and race to build the next generation of battery technology that would power the electric car for a nation that wants a transportation system that will include a large proportion of all-electric vehicles over the next several years. The author, Steve Levine, gained access to so ...more
Greg Strandberg
Mar 18, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a great book that delves into the early history of how our batteries came about. It has a good bit of corporate espionage as well. What I'm getting at are Chinese scientists coming to America, seeing what we're doing, then going back to China to do it on a bigger scale for less.

There's lots of competition between these scientists, and hardly any are American the closer we get to today. And wow, these scientists have big egos!

I read about half of this book before losing interest. That's n
Nov 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Very little scientific value, but somewhat interesting from an economic perspective.

Having some experience in battery research myself, I was mainly incredible disappointed in this book. The book's subtitle makes it seem like it is relevant to the history of battery development as a whole, but its contents barely mention any research effort from outside the US. More specifically, the book almost solely describes battery development at National Laboratory Argonne and at start-up company Envia. The
Dec 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fantastic nonfiction work on the development of a new higher efficiency battery that could be used for cleaner energy. I had no idea this was such a logjam for companies and the research detail in this book was interesting and understandable even for a non scientist like myself. Parts of the story read almost like fiction due to the larger than life personalities of many of the researchers involved. It was interesting enough to read in one sitting.

I received this book as part of the good reads g
May 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
Crushingly disappointed.

This is an attempt at a Michael Lewis-style behind-the-scenes. But without Lewis's skill at extracting interesting personality traits or motivation, there's nothing here.

An endless series of play-by-play descriptions of board meetings and product pitches, which (spoiler) go nowhere.

No history of battery technology or infrastructure. No scientific description of how batteries actually work.

Only a series of big promises that didn't pan out. Like this book.
MB Ira
May 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
[Disclosure: My company TalinoEV sells lithium-ion battery powered motorcycles (called tricycles, bajaj or tuktuks) to the South East Asian market.] Steve Levine's book, The Powerhouse is an eye opener for a number of reasons, most of which augur well for the United States' role in the world's use of this technology. Firstly, author Steve LeVine posits that the lithium-ion battery sits as the transistor's "equal in terms of social and economic consequence. Not to mention pure ubiquity, invention ...more
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: energy-policy
As a fan of Steve Levine's "The Oil and the Glory", I was excited for his take on battery development. There are few oil market disrupters with more potential than a safe, affordable, high quality battery for electric cars coming on the market.

The book shows ample commitment to the subject (Levine spent several years at Argonne National Lab), but he didn't luck out on being present for that next big development. Instead, he worked with what he had, which was a snapshot of battery development at
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
Quite poorly written, but the topic is kind of interesting. Book provides a glimpse of the greed, wishful thinking, and b...hit behind the hype about batteries (in this case). Hype is out of proportion relative to actual progress and likelihood of progress.
Mar 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Eh. An okay story. It was cool to understand all of the players – but it felt like it was a long article that was stretched into a book.

If you're really into batteries, you might like it.
Fraser Kinnear
May 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, business, policy
I was hoping for much better explanations of battery science or battery manufacturing - Levine settles for very little scientific context behind the inter-lab and inter-company competition for battery development. He also hints at some really exciting technology - in particular lithium air batteries - without explaining their intended innovation.

There is, however, some pretty interesting observations about industrial policy in the us, such as the following.

- One reaon why the US National Labs h
Mahyar Hesari
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jason Hall
Jun 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Good content, but it seemed a bit chaotic and jumped around quite a bit. I just finished reading an Enron book by Bethany McLean and couldn't help but observe a strong contrast in presentation. I'm a nerd, so technical detail is interesting to me. This book had sufficient technical detail, but it came up short in the organization. The chapter length was all over the place. Some of the descriptions of events seem to be culled from the same notes. The wasn't a strong sense of overarching narrative ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it liked it
The Powerhouse is the history of the electric car battery. It describes the big players that started the pursuit of the affordable, lightweight and reliable electric car. Commercializing research was a huge factor in this endeavor since existing battery technology would not solve the problem. The author describes working at Argonne National Lab and obtaining grants from the Department of Energy as well as partnering with car companies like GM. I was hoping for a more technical history as opposed ...more
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More personalities of characters in the battery world, which is okay I suppose. Hardly anything written about Elon Musk. Interesting now to read this in 2020 and see how wrong legacy automakers are about EV's and how Tesla and other start ups are thrashing ford and gm around the market currently. The next decade is going to be exciting for EV's. ...more
Timothy Liu
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting book that tells the tale of developing a super battery. IP was a much more significant topic than I expected. The story sometimes feels like multiple unrelated threads, but they still tied together decently.
Benjamin Hill
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
It was the wrong book for me. I want more focus on why we can't build a better battery. ...more
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
Too America-centric.

Made me glad I'm not living the lives of some of these researchers.
I had a hard time following all the groups.
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Not for its literacy value .. but for being an easy and interesting read if you want to know about high level story behind Li ion battery developments. Not the most up to date of course ..
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
"The Powerhouse" - journalist Steve Levine's two-year examination of the global race to invent a battery that will 'save the world'. He's a contributor to and thanks to Levine I have discovered Quartz as a news source and visit the site often.

For such a geeky topic this is astonishingly readable - some chapters have that short, James Patterson quality with a compelling cliffhanger that makes you want keep to turning the pages. I was swayed by the back cover blurb by 'Tiger Mum' Amy Chua w
Tom Schulte
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 30, 2015 rated it liked it
We take for granted their importance in our everyday lives, and never give an ounce of thought to their industry, more than likely; yet, we all yearn for them to perform better and longer. What are "they"? Batteries. Steve Levine goes very in-depth in "The Powerhouse" in pulling back the curtain on the battery industry and the cutthroat business it has become to be the marketplace leader and all that goes with that title.

At the core of this book is the dream of many engineers to build the "perfe
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was ok
To the extent that this book was worth writing at all, it was clearly too early to write it. The story hasn't played out yet, so the book just ends with a "so that's where we're at", and most of it is just a series of light profiles of various scientists working in the battery industry.

Plus, there were a bunch of details in there that sound like petty squabbling that no one cares about. Who cares about all the different strategic patents such and such person filed? And who the fuck cares what co
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: auto-moto
A good and informative read. I love the in-depth battery explanation and the topic in general. In addition, interesting facts can also be found here:
I had my first Prius back in 2012 but I just bought it because it was a very good deal for me. Over time, I was amazed by the technology, science, and precision it was made with. I was always curious and fascinated by how the electric motor, battery, and engine cooperate and work together so effortlessly and
Aug 14, 2015 rated it liked it
A book that seems somewhat undecided whether to focus on people driving progress or the underlying technology. Overall an ok read about a great topic.

1/6 of gasoline energy density. 710s. Argonne to En-Ceasar to Hub. Bell Labs - Chu's Robinson Crusoe island? Chu-namis and culture. Cooperation isn't natural --> Reject own, unlock new. Desperation desperately needed to innovate. Diva cooperation. Economic, energy and environmental security. Engineering play vs Godot and pray. Exchange development
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
Overly focused on the invididuals involved in battery storage opportunity. I was disappointed to not gain a deeper understanding of the science of batteries available now and hopefully in the near future.

Powerhouse reminded me a bit of Charles Seife's "Sun in Bottle", though I feel Seife did a much better job bringing the subject matter to life while educating his reader on a very dense subect matter. I learned a lot reading Seife, can not say the same for Powerhouse.

- Quick read
- Enterta
Nov 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I was anxious to read this book becoming personally concerned with the lack of high tech inventions from US inventors.

The subject matter was interesting to me because over the past 10 years I've encountered a society with individuals who are extremely aware and go overboard with the concept of reuse/recycle; and other individuals who think nothing of tossing everything once it appears to be aged and of no use to them.

Energy research and new product development is not an area for the thin-skinned
Read Ng
Dec 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a Goodreads giveaway win.

So much I did not know about the progress in the development of today's modern battery, be it for your phone, or more to the point, for your next car.

I great history lesson with small segments of some of the more prominent players in the development of our current battery. I was not aware that we took a more Edison Industry method of simple trial and error in combinations of materials to get where we are.

I believe part of the solution to addressing climate chan
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: at-npl, energy, batteries
Steve Levine writes for Quartz online news site mainly on Batteries. An example found here:

I have been following battery technology advances and it's starts and miss-starts for about 10 years. An exciting and frustrating topic which you may get a sense of here from an Ultra Capacitor Blog that followed EESTOR:

Unfortunately there is no Moores Law for batteries but improvements have and will be made. An interesting challen
Dean Orfield
Mar 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Exactly the *kind*of book I love, but something about the way it was written/ presented just left me flat. As a non expert--I enjoyed insight into how natl labs are motivated to produce (or not)...and similar complexities of leaving the job to private industry. I'd hoped for more technical info on current batteries and a broader survey of technology on the horizon. There was certainly some good detail, but I may have expected too much... Overall an objective, realistic read. Worth noting the val ...more
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“This particular examination had proven exceedingly useful because when the second-generation Prius was released in the mid-2000s, some wondered whether Toyota had cheated on the fuel economy tests.” 0 likes
“This is the Prius,” he said. The car he pointed to was a shell with wires hanging out. “It is an example of what they look like when we are done,” he said. This particular examination had proven exceedingly useful because when the second-generation Prius was released in the mid-2000s, some wondered whether Toyota had cheated on the fuel economy tests. Hillebrand’s team had showed that, if the company wanted to, it in fact could game federal evaluators. That was because the car could be programmed with advance knowledge of the curves, stops, and hazards that all automakers knew the test featured. So armed, it could adjust and conserve gasoline. Hillebrand’s team did not demonstrate that the Prius folks did cheat. But the opportunity to do so was sufficient. He sent word to the Environmental Protection Agency, which devised a randomized test that was harder to con.” 0 likes
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