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The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution
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The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  195 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
“Henry Schlesinger is playful and intelligent and obscenely well read.” — Richard Zacks, author of The Pirate Hunter

"Henry Schlesinger’s fascinating and superbly researched history of the battery is the story of civilization as we know it." — Michael Belfiore, author of The Department of Mad Scientists

Henry Schlesinger’s The Battery is the first popular history of the tech
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Smithsonian (first published 2010)
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Will Byrnes
Nov 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
In The Battery, Henry Schlesinger offers an interesting and entertaining look at the history of a piece of technology that is usually overlooked. The humble battery has played a crucial supporting role in the advancement of the tools of our civilization, the character actor who leaves the paparazzi to the stars while it supports show after show after show. Without the battery we might still be sending messages by pony or smoke signal. Without the battery our entire microminiaturized contemporary ...more
Nov 27, 2011 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book (I know, I know, my geek is showing). On the one hand, I learned a lot, and Schlesinger does a good job of keeping a potentially dry subject lively and engaging. But on the other hand, this book really isn't about batteries so much as all of the other things that batteries made possible. I learned all kinds of interesting things about telegraphs and stock tickers and cathode ray tubes, but I feel like I still know very little about batteries, which was the w ...more
Shane Phillips
Jan 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
Katherine Cowley
Feb 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
As a non-scientist who wishes I knew more about how and why the world and things in it work, I really enjoy popular science writing. This book tells the history of the battery--making more general connections to the history of electricity.

Things I found really interesting:
-They say that mother is the necessity of invention, but it took a long time after the invention of the battery to come up with more than a couple small uses.
-There was a time, what with your house being wired and all, that it
Oct 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
The author has a clear, conversational writing style that is both informative and enjoyable. While I am one of the more technologically oriented people that he mentions at the end of the book (and did hope for more technical material), I did enjoy his book and you should, also.

The book tries to present a balanced look at both storage/generation of electricity and it uses. Of course, in the earliest times there was no "usage", just discovery and philosophizing. There were a couple of minor errors
Mar 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a very pedagogical book full of very interesting curiosities. Here you'll have a journey through the history of electricity and, in particular through the history of the electrical battery. During the read of this book I annotated a record of 14 times. One of my favorite is (spoiler alert)

"Later, when William Gladstone, the future prime minister, asked what possible good his tiny electrical motor was, Faraday was said to have responded 'I have no idea, but no doubt you'll find some way t
Oct 30, 2010 rated it liked it
I burned through the first two-thirds of this book and learned a lot about the people who paved the way for harnessing electricity. I loved the frog-bimetallic debate about the source of electricity. Somewhere along the way this book started to drag and I read a couple other things before gritting my teeth to knuckle thru the final chapters. MK didn't think I'd do it, what with my whole shelf of unfinished non-fiction books - but I surprised her.
David Teter
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
A rather well researched and interesting read on the evolution of the battery and how it enabled a series of disruptive technologies. The book does a great job with the inventors and their personalities. There was a lot here that I wasn't aware of. The WW2 section was really interesting. I didn't know that mercury cell batteries were once classified as TOP SECRET.
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
History of batteries and the things they powered. Good and interesting.
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
A great history of wire and wireless telegraphy, among other things, related to the battery. Cool writing and flawlessly edited, if anyone cares about such superfluous details anymore.
Chris Howard
Dec 16, 2012 rated it liked it
As i am now working for a company that designs and manufacturers the next generation of energy storage devices, i figured i should get familiar with the battery's history.
Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
A few weeks back, I was in dire need of a battery and searched my whole house twice to find one, but couldn't. Eventually bought one the next day. Co-incidentally, on the same day, found this book in our college library when browsing the shelves. On any other day, I would have overlooked this book. On that particular day, it caught my attention and I started reading it. And I was very glad that I did.
I was highly skeptical about the book (I endured an Electrochemistry course during my Master's)
Geoff Graham
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is an easy read with the author covering his subject in an entertaining and non technical manner. It is more a general account of the history of electricity using the battery as the central theme. So dont't expect a detailed description of batteries, their development and chemistry. Instead you will be given an account of the discovery of electricity and its development including historic figures such as Faraday, Franklin and Edison. A lot of time is spent on the early discoveries and ...more
Bill Conrad
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have been fascinated by batteries for a very long time. The battery was a really fascinating account of the history of this amazing device. This book was more of a broad look into what the battery made possible than a technical look or an exact historical account. It reminded me of the James Burke series Connections where the battery was central to so many different technologies. I really enjoyed the overall structure of this book and I learned a lot. A definite recommended read.
I would have l
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author starts with the mysterious electrical properties of amber noted in the “ancient” age and continues through to the current innovations of micro- and bio- batteries. This book meanders on in story form, often “chasing rabbits” and opining tenuous connections. Quite fascinating, although occasionally arrogant and derisive. I enjoyed learning the historical and scientific vignettes, especially as they were “dumbed down” for someone like me, who doesn’t have any knowledge of this subject.
Dec 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a pretty entertaining and highly readable book, but I think it is mistitled. The author flatly states in the introduction that, for much of history, batteries and electricity were synonymous and thus he considers any development in electricity and electrical applications fair game for a book about batteries. True to this word, this book is mostly about the history of electricity and devices it powers. Batteries are more like a coordinating theme of this book rather than the actual subjec ...more
Seth Heasley
Oct 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm a sucker for a good popular science book, since History of Science is one of my favorite topics and one I feel gets all-too-little airplay. And I particularly love what I call short-topic science books.

The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution, by Henry Schlesinger, fits my ever-changing definition of short-topic. That is, it's relatively short (280 pages but very brisk), and the topic is narrow, being an entertaining and engaging romp through the history of the batt
James Williams
Dec 26, 2010 rated it liked it
This is a popular science book at that great genre's finest. And, of course, it necessarily will have the genre's ever-present flaws.

Contrary to what it says on the cover, this book isn't so much about the battery as it is a whirlwind tour of electronics history. Since it turns out that the history of the battery and the history of electronics matches up pretty closely (for electronics research proceeded based on capacitors and batteries for a good hundred years before generators started to app
Carlos Alonso-Niemeyer
Highly recommended to those nerds out there who like the engineering and history. The best part of the book is all the small details of all the men and women that participated in the development of the modern batteries.
On Page 208 there is a mention of one Henry Joseph Round, who unintentionally developed the first LED. This is back in 1907, when Marconi was working on his wire transmissions.
The book was published in 2011 and has no mention on the investment by the government in companies like i
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was ok
I expected to learn more about batteries in a book titled "The battery: how portable power sparked a technological revolution." Instead, I learned more about devices such as telegraphs and radios, that did or continue to use batteries, than I did about batteries themselves. I also learned that the development of the transistor, integrated circuits, and other solid state electronics allowed for more devices to use batteries once those power hungary vacum tubes were eliminated. I did learn somethi ...more
Sep 26, 2010 rated it liked it
A fascinating history of the battery technology. Does very well in the early, historical sections, revealing numerous points about the role of batteries just before centralized power was widely availible. However, sputters out a bit in the modern age. Would have liked to see the author explore resources like lithium, and control of it, along with how technical advancement vs mass production engineering was balanced at different times.
Koen Van den Eeckhout
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Entertaining book with a ton of curious stories and facts on accidental discoveries, famous and not-so-famous inventors, the introduction of telegraphy and electricity, etc.. Near the end the chapters become a lot shorter and lighter - which is not very surprising since battery development has stalled a bit over the past few decades. However, some more (technical) information and stories about Li-ion batteries would be good.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed the last few chapters of this book the most. I selected it in hope of learning more about the lithium ion and nickel cadmium batteries I use to power my electronics, but Schlesinger got to them only at the very end of the book. I learned a lot about the evolution of batteries and electricity from the early 1800s to the present, but the book wasn't a page-turner. I do feel more knowledgeable after having read it, however.
Sep 03, 2014 rated it liked it
The mediocre writing drags down a fascinating topic. The tone is breezily conversational and avoids all technical details, to it's detriment.

The best aspect is the role batteries played in numerous critical historical events and the roots of modern corporations. But the human stories are glossed over and modern battery technology is ignored entirely.
Filipe Dias
An interesting view on the understanding of Electricity throughout the ages, mainly 18 and 19th century, and possible uses of this "weird fluid".
Plenty of interesting historical events and moments, but was a bit disappointed on the little focus on the science behind it, the physics, the engineering, the technological explanations that should have been there, even if in the appendices only.
Dennis Willingham
Nov 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010, non-fiction
More than just a history of the battery, it has thumbnail biographies of the scientists, engineers and inventors involved, a condenced history of consumer electronics and a similar history of vacuum tubes, transistors and IC's. Interesting, quick read - highly readable, but not especially technically detailed.
Oct 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
A string of vignettes describing the people and devices associated with the advance of battery technology. Illustrations are nicely done and the pacing was consistent. The chapter names and placement did not clearly separate the discussion, however this did not matter too much as the author's style is very conversational. Recommended.
Jun 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Overwhelmingly informative but generally too much for the average reader. The attempt to blend the narrative to keep the book interesting for both the everyday reader and the technician makes it feel watered down in places and overtly personal in others. Generally a GREAT historical read if you understand ohm's law and know the social niceties of civil war era America.
Nov 10, 2010 rated it liked it
Bad science, good history. Please don't try to learn anything about how batteries work from this book--just how the basic design progressed. The explanation of later technology is pretty bad if not wrong. Fast read.
Jan 05, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
A very informative book on the history of batteries and technology. I would have preferred more focus on current and emerging technology, but the historical portions of the book were still entertaining.
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