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

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  913 ratings  ·  107 reviews
At the height of his fame Thomas Alva Edison was hailed as the Napoleon of invention and blazed in the public imagination as a virtual demigod. Newspapers proclaimed his genius in glowing personal profiles and quipped that the doctor has been called because the great man has not invented anything since breakfast. Starting with the first public demonstrations of the ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published March 13th 2007 by Crown (first published 2007)
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Oct 10, 2011 rated it liked it
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 ...more
It has been many years since I have read about Thomas Alva Edison. When in elementary and high school I read all I could find about Thomas A. Edison, but in University I discovered Nicola Tesla and since then I read about Tesla. It was nice to revisit Edison.

I found this to be an entertaining biography. Stross approached this biography a bit differently than other biographers. Instead of writing about his technical career Stross presents him as a self-promoting celebrity who knows how to control
Jan 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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.
Phil Sykora
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Wizard of Menlo Park is unlike any other biography I've ever read in that the author openly hates the person he's writing about.

It's simultaneously fascinating and a little aggravating. For instance, at one point Stross is explaining how Edison proposed a (frankly ingenious) use case for his home projector:

"Edison, however, wanted to use his projector not for entertainment but for education. For preschoolers, his idea was nothing less than brilliant [wait on it]. For teaching the alphabet,
Feb 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Normally I'm a big fan of biographies, but The Wizard of Menlo Park was painfully dull and repetitive. Thomas Edison was a towering genius, but there was no analysis of him, and no effort to engage the reader in Edison's personality or thought processes. The book failed him in favor of describing, at great length, the forgettable minutiae of his patents and rivalries. I didn't care about those things, and they got in the way of the information. There were indicators of a truly sociopathic, maybe ...more
Rich Mulvey
Nov 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
Henrik Haapala
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
"The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense."

"Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!"


Utility = success
Anything that doesnt sell I dont want to invent

Total 1093 patents with help of assistants and many for slight variations of electric light, power, phonographs and recording.
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Will Herman
Aug 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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 ...more
Kristi Thielen
Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 15, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting take. Some mention of but not a lot of focus on contributions of his employees. I had no idea he was a virulent anti-Semite.

Always fascinating to read about these mythical figures. Really shows why the Silicon Valley model of a business guy and a tech guy works... The skill sets do not often overlap.
Alasdair Reads
Jun 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Competent retelling of Edisons life and work, useful and insightful but not as much as I was hoping.
Jul 10, 2007 rated it really liked it
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.
Danny Hui
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What I liked:
The story of Thomas Alva Edison was amazing. His hustle from his early days, such as selling food on passenger trains, to his time as a telegrapher, to his final place in history as the greatest inventor of all time, was very inspiring.

I really enjoyed the story about a gentleman who was essentially homeless, but was so inspired by Edison, he smuggled himself on a train just to meet him. When he finally met Thomas, the man announces that he wouldn't leave until he became partners
Alex Devero
This book is a good biography of Thomas Alva Edison. It shows Edison in a different light than many other books. In this book, Randal Stross presents Edison as much as inventor as one who knows how to promote himself and his work. He also shows many ways in which Edison was able to control his image so the public and media showed him mostly as he wanted. In this sense, Edison did a lot to turn himself into a celebrity. And he was successful in this pursuit. The downside of this biography is that ...more
Dec 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eh. I really thought there would be more to this, something really in depth about his life and such. I listened as an audiobook and his life before being an inventor and proposing to his first wife all happened in about the first 40 minutes. It just wasnt enough.

Nikola Tesla was only mentioned one time and not until towards the end of the middle of the book. I was under the impression there was more drama to the relationship they had, specifically with Edison stealing his inventions or
Apr 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My appreciation of this book may have been influenced by the narration - it was passably good but certainly not excellent. The comparison of Jobs and Edison seems reasonable in that both were outsized egos who changed their times by their ideas, risk-taking and flourish. In the end, Jobs was more practical, more esthetically-minded, and evidently, a much more successful businessman. Edison was much more proximate to the nuts and bolts of invention whereas Jobs was strong on concepts and ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm sure I'm somewhat jaded against this book as I grew up with Edison as sort of a hero, and though I'm sure the adolescent-geared biographies I read as a youngster give a false sense of his "wizardry," this book seems like it mostly wants to say Edison was a bumbling idiot who got lucky. Though there may be some truth to that, the way the book goes about it seems to have a goal of downplaying him almost entirely. As a person who enjoys biographies, I just didn't think it was well-written at ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it
My biggest issue wit this biography is the lack of personality given to Edison. It touched on how stubborn he was, what a bad businessman, and to a small degree what a lousy parent and typical industrial revolution racist and anti-Semite.

You get a feel of the scope of his accomplishments but its more inline with, Heres the facts without any serious commentary.

More and more I realize what a talent Walter Isaacson is as a biographer because you finish them with a sense that you understand the
Joe Stack
Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it
An informative and easy reading biography that gets behind the myth of Edison. The author follows Edison's life by focusing on Edison's inventions and the impact of his celebrity status. I think the author does a fine job in exploring Edison's successes and failures, his strengths as an inventor and his weaknesses at managing his businesses, and the conflict between being a celebrity and wanting privacy. This is a fair biography in that the author is careful not to place Edison on a pedestal ...more
Feb 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Well - written and informative but essentially a bit boring as Edison does not live up to the hype. He made some monumentally bad decisions, both scientifically and business - wise, and was his own worst enemy. He also took more credit than deserved for certain inventions. He was a hard worker and certainly had an enquiring, innovative mind but his fixated and inflexible approach resulted in many blunders and an inability to capitalise on revolutionary new ideas and develope them. His iconic ...more
Jim D'Ambrosia
Jul 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Call it 2.5 stars. It's factual, and the material is laid out well. We get a good sense for all of Edison's failings ... and no sense at all of what made him great, if he even was great. That would have been a good chapter: Was Edison Great? I suspect he was greater than Stross made him out to be, but now I have to do more research to try to find out.
Santhosh Guru
Nov 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
A contrarian view point of Edison for me. Have always read/heard effusive praises or he being a cunning shrewd businessmen villain. This book throws a different light on the personality of Edison. I also got to know the snapshot view on the progress of technology and inventions in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Dominic Heng
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Always thought otherwise about Thomas Edison.

Electricity is an important driver that brought the world till now that's why I was so interested in reading about a researcher, a scientist in action.

A genius of trial and error that came out with many precursor products that power the world these days.
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well written and an interesting description of Edison's invention process, but most striking, a revelation of his lack of business skills and hubris. I would have liked more - there are many elements missing to complete the Edison story. I am reading the Last Days of Night next as I am intrigued to hear more about the roll out of the electrical street light.
Oct 19, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Not at all what I expected, which was a traditional biography of Edisons life and work. This is more. a biography of his inventions. In full technical detail. His work with telegraphy could be interesting, but I dont have to know every detail of how a telegraph system works. Didnt finish. ...more
Jun 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disappointed in Edison the man

The book was interesting and even made me laugh a few times. But, I don't think Thomas Edison was a good person. In some ways I'm sorry I read this book.
Frank Tytgat
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Most interesting. Not all 'common knowledge' about Edison appears to be true. The man had good and less good sides ...
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As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of young ...
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“Edison’s admirers endowed him with fantastical powers that would permit him to invent anything he wished (one” 0 likes
“Bell invented the telephone while tinkering with acoustic telegraphy; Edison invented the phonograph while tinkering with the telephone.” 0 likes
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