The Roots of Progress

Empires of Light

Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World

Jill Jonnes

The story of the Electricity Wars of the late 1800s, focusing on Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse. This was the period early in the electrical industry in which AC and DC—alternating vs. direct current—were competing to be the standard for power distribution. The story ends around the time of the first hydroelectric power plant, at Niagara Falls in 1895, but the book contains a lengthy epilogue telling what happened to the main characters after that.

I enjoyed this book. It focuses on a narrow piece of the story of electricity, but in doing so it explains how the industry as a whole got established, and the focus gives it cohesion and a natural conclusion. Most intriguing to me was learning about George Westinghouse. It’s popular to debate Edison vs. Tesla, but Westinghouse emerges as the true hero of the story—a smart technologist and savvy businessman who also had honor and integrity.

Recommended for the general reader interested in the history of technolgy.

Relevant posts: The significance of electricity, Why AC won the Electricity Wars, When innovation hits “snooze”

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