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The Body Electric: How Strange Machines Built the Modern American

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Overview

Between the years 1850 and 1950, Americans became the leading energy consumers on the planet, expending tremendous physical resources on energy exploration, mental resources on energy exploitation, and monetary resources on energy acquisition. A unique combination of pseudoscientific theories of health and the public’s rudimentary understanding of energy created an age in which sources of industrial power seemed capable of curing the physical limitations and ill health that plagued Victorian bodies. Licensed and “quack” physicians alike promoted machines, electricity, and radium as invigorating cures, veritable “fountains of youth” that would infuse the body with energy and push out disease and death.

The Body Electric is the first book to place changing ideas about fitness and gender in dialogue with the popular culture of technology. Whether through wearing electric belts, drinking radium water, or lifting mechanized weights, many Americans came to believe that by embracing the nation's rapid march to industrialization, electrification, and “radiomania,” their bodies would emerge fully powered. Only by uncovering this belief’s passions and products, Thomas de la Peña argues, can we fully understand our culture’s twentieth-century energy enthusiasm.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814719831
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Series: American History and Culture Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 329
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.68 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Carolyn Thomas de la Peña is Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of California at Davis.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface
Introduction 1
1 The Machine-Built Body 15
2 Measuring Mechanical Strength 50
3 Exploring Electric Limits 89
4 Powering the Intimate Body 137
5 "Radiomania" Limits the Energy Dream 171
Conclusion: The End of an Era? 213
Notes 223
Bibliography 293
Index 321
About the Author 329
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