AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War

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Overview

Long before there was VHS versus Betamax, Windows versus Macintosh, or Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, the first and nastiest standards war was fought between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).

AC/DC tells the little-known story of how Thomas Edison bet wrong in the fierce war between supporters of alternating current and direct current. The savagery of this electrical battle can hardly be imagined today. The showdown between AC and DC began as a rather straightforward ...

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Overview

Long before there was VHS versus Betamax, Windows versus Macintosh, or Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD, the first and nastiest standards war was fought between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC).

AC/DC tells the little-known story of how Thomas Edison bet wrong in the fierce war between supporters of alternating current and direct current. The savagery of this electrical battle can hardly be imagined today. The showdown between AC and DC began as a rather straightforward conflict between technical standards, a battle of competing methods to deliver essentially the same product, electricity. But the skirmish soon metastasized into something bigger and darker. In the AC/DC battle, the worst aspects of human nature somehow got caught up in the wires; a silent, deadly flow of arrogance, vanity, and cruelty. Following the path of least resistance, the war of currents soon settled around that most primal of human emotions: fear. AC/DC serves as an object lesson in bad business strategy and poor decision making. Edison's inability to see his mistake was a key factor in his loss of control over the "operating system" for his future inventions—not to mention the company he founded, which would later become General Electric.

The battle over whether alternating or direct current would be the standard for transmitting electricity around the world changed the lives of billions of people, shaped the modern technological age, and set the stage for all standards wars to follow. Today's Digital Age wizards can take lessons from Edison's fierce battle—control an invention's technical standard and you control the market.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Every time we switch on a light bulb, turn on a computer, or activate an ATM, we demonstrate the spoils of "the war of the currents," the ruthless battle fought between the proponents of AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current). Its victims included countless animals sacrificed to electrocution and, oddly enough, the inventor of electricity himself, Thomas Edison. As Wired contributing editor Tom McNichol tells it, the struggle over this late-19th-century operating system provoked electrifying aftershocks and cautionary tales.
From the Publisher
A little more than 100 years ago, two titans of industry faced off in one of the most vicious battles the marketplace had ever seen. On one side, Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, the creator of the phonograph and the electric light; on the other, George Westinghouse, tycoon and titan, backing the mysterious eastern European inventor Nikola Tesla. They fought over the very nature of the electrical system in America: would it be built on alternating current (as Westinghouse proposed), or direct currentà la Edison- Though a battle over electrical standards sounds dry, this tale is anything but. McNichol's solid if brief survey of this relatively unknown moment in the history of technology ranges from macabre electrocutions of hapless animals (and eventually prison inmates) as demonstrations of the "Death Current" to the gleaming "electrical wonderland" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Though the author focuses on when it's wise to fight a standards battle and when to give in, some might wish that he had another 200 pages in which to flesh out the story. His book tantalizingly scratches the surface of Edison's ingenuity and force of will, Westinghouse's shrewd business sense, and most of all the sheer eccentricity of Nikola Tesla.(Sept.) (Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006)
Publishers Weekly
A little more than 100 years ago, two titans of industry faced off in one of the most vicious battles the marketplace had ever seen. On one side, Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, the creator of the phonograph and the electric light; on the other, George Westinghouse, tycoon and titan, backing the mysterious eastern European inventor Nikola Tesla. They fought over the very nature of the electrical system in America: would it be built on alternating current (as Westinghouse proposed), or direct current la Edison? Though a battle over electrical standards sounds dry, this tale is anything but. McNichol's solid if brief survey of this relatively unknown moment in the history of technology ranges from macabre electrocutions of hapless animals (and eventually prison inmates) as demonstrations of the "Death Current" to the gleaming "electrical wonderland" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Though the author focuses on when it's wise to fight a standards battle and when to give in, some might wish that he had another 200 pages in which to flesh out the story. His book tantalizingly scratches the surface of Edison's ingenuity and force of will, Westinghouse's shrewd business sense, and most of all the sheer eccentricity of Nikola Tesla. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787982676
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 9/18/2006
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 426,097
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.11 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

TOM MCNICHOL is a contributing editor for Wired magazine. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Washington Post, and the Guardian. His radio commentaries and satires have aired on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace. He’s the author of Barking at Prozac (Crown Publishing, 1997), and his work appears in the anthology Afterwords: Stories and Reports from 9/11 and Beyond (Washington Square Press, 2002).

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Table of Contents

Prologue Negative and Positive.

1 First Sparks.

2 Lightning in a Bottle.

3 Enter the Wizard.

4 Let There Be Light.

5 Electrifying the Big Apple.

6 Tesla.

7 The Animal Experiments.

8 Old Sparky.

9 Pulse of the World.

10 Killing an Elephant.

11 Twilight by Battery Power.

12 DC’s Revenge.

Epilogue Standards Wars: Past, Present, and Future.

Further Readings in Electricity.

The Author.

Index.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2013

    An incredibly interesting Piece of American History that changed the world.

    A really captivating book. Inventions that changed the world. Genius Inventors and visionary businessmen who backed them with capital. The harnessing of electricity and incredible inventions for getting it to the country and the world. The great debate ( war)
    over Thomas Edisons DC or Nikola teslas AC. The lengths to which the more established Edison went to win this war are shocking ( no pun intended ) and this book serves to broaden our horizons about how this country was electrified.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2013

    Hunting grounds

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    SC

    (My horse dakota just died:'( .....) your next lives are boundless energy.metoring.fairjugment. empathy.love. cunning..insight. trusting your clan.......(sorry i couldnt do each one individuly)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2009

    Great Book

    Great book, a fun read with great insight.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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