Reviews for Age of Edison : Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America

Booklist Reviews 2013 February #2
A history of electric light's fledgling decades, Freeberg's insightful work restores a range of primal social reactions to the new form of illumination. These are easily forgotten in the present, when power companies and sources of electrical generation are politically contentious. In the 1880s, banishing night with a light switch astounded multitudes, who thronged civic events and spectacular exhibitions to marvel at artificial day. Acknowledging Edison's contemporary and continuing association with the electrical revolution, Freeberg at the outset corrects the impression, noting that arc lighting initially competed with Edison's incandescent bulb but declined in popularity because of the comparative harshness of its glare. Recounting local incidents and accidents of various American cities' introduction to electricity, Freeberg tracks its rapid departure from Edison's workshop toward becoming a professional and corporate industry. Progressive critics arose who proposed its nationalization, while commentators catering to the consumer dwelt on refining the aesthetics of lighting in the home and in entertainment venues. Fans of the history of technology will revel in Freeberg's discussion of the profound social effects of the humble light bulb. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2014 April
In this social history of electric lights in America, Freeberg (humanities, Univ. of Tennessee; Democracy's Prisoner, CH, May'09, 46-5218) skillfully brings to life the story of the triumph of electric lighting in public spaces, the home, and the workplace. In spite of the title, this is not just another Edison biography. Instead, the author uses Edison's vision of an electrified America as a framework to explore how electric lights, including both incandescent and arc lighting, transformed the nation from one almost exclusively at the mercy of the sun into a culture that measured progress in terms of conquering the night with artificial light. Competition with the powerful gas companies for the consumer dollar, the development of an infrastructure and a whole new profession of electrical engineering, along with some of the unintended consequences of turning night into day, are just a few of the themes addressed in a clear and usually entertaining approach to the subject. In the genera of social histories of technology, this book stands out as both a valuable resource for the historian and an interesting read for the layperson. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Two-year Technical Program Students; Professionals/Practitioners. T. Timmons University of Arkansas--Fort Smith Copyright 2014 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 December #2
Freeberg (History/Univ. of Tennessee; Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent, 2008) returns with a survey of the transformative changes wrought in American culture by electric light. The author begins at Edison's facility in Menlo Park, 1879, as the inventor struggles to find a suitable filament for his bulb. Freeberg then takes us on a swift, eclectic tour of the electric world as it emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He reminds us how darkness had characterized human life for centuries and what a startling adjustment it was to live in ample light. The rhythms of daily life changed forever. The author also follows the fortunes of the gas companies, whose monopoly on light was about to topple. (Unsurprisingly, they were not happy.) He shows us how light affected many other aspects of American life, including shopping, transportation, leisure (night baseball as early as 1880), education and medicine. Freeberg also examines how the spread of light across the country came to symbolize not just American inventiveness, but for many, cultural superiority as well. The author notes that, for a while, light was the property of the well-to-do, then of urban dwellers and, finally, of rural Americans, many of whom did not have electricity until the rural electrification projects of the New Deal. Freeberg also shows the gradual growth of the profession of electrician, the standardization of products (bulb sockets) and the rise of university degrees in electrical engineering. Until training and standards became widespread, there were many fires and electrocutions--Freeberg describes some grim ones. A genial, sometimes-jolting account of the social and political consequences of crying, "Fiat lux!" Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 March #1

Freeberg (history, Univ. of Tennessee; Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent) tells the story of Edison's inventive genius in the context of the cultural, economic, and political forces of his time. The author gives greater relevance to Edison's personal achievements by portraying him as one inventor among many who worked during a time of rapid technological development that would herald the emergence of the modern world. He explains how Edison's coordinated program of research focused his and others' insights, while the inventor also championed a technology yet unrealized. The book goes on to explore how Edison's efforts to produce a commercially successful light bulb and electrical infrastructure caused mixed feelings, as people foresaw both promise and danger in electric light, itself a potent symbol of progress. Freeberg explores the impact of electric light on work, transportation, and patenting, as well as the public's reception and acceptance of electric power. VERDICT This accessible, well-written book will find audience with anyone interested in a history of early 20th-century technology and its importance to modern life.--Jon Bodnar, Emory Univ. Lib., Atlanta

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 December #3

In his illuminating newest, Freeberg, a professor of humanities at the University of Tennessee, examines the social, technological, and political context surrounding the development of the electric light bulb and its transformative effects on American society. Though numerous early thinkers and innovators drove the technology to fruition, Freeberg (Democracy's Prisoner) demonstrates that it was Thomas Edison who, by founding the Edison Electric Light Company, established a modern industrial approach that synthesized scientific collaboration, entrepreneurship, and salesmanship in the development of a "complete lighting system" that could power an "incandescent bulb of superior design." In effect, he democratized light. The excitement spread quickly, but Americans were torn: some celebrated while others reviled the undeniable ways in which their work and leisure life would be dramatically changed. Though most saw this innovation as a sign of human advancement and enlightenment, electric lighting was criticized by gas companies (for obvious reasons), labor groups, and cultural figures that saw in the ubiquity of illumination a frightful, unnatural way of life. Even though he would live to see his own innovations and patents made exponentially more productive and efficient, the "Wizard of Menlo Park" came to embody "a vanishing heroic age of invention" that "laid the foundation of modern America." Illus. (Feb. 21)

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