Fleet Fire: Thomas Edison and the Pioneers of the Electric Revolution

Fleet Fire: Thomas Edison and the Pioneers of the Electric Revolution

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by L J Davis
     
 

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The electric revolution, which eclipsed the Industrial Revolution by the end of the 19th century and continues to this day, changed our world forever. Fleet Fire tells us how it all began. In an engaging and entertaining narrative, L. J. Davis fields a cast of both prominent and forgotten characters, from dedicated scientists and mischievous rogues to

Overview

The electric revolution, which eclipsed the Industrial Revolution by the end of the 19th century and continues to this day, changed our world forever. Fleet Fire tells us how it all began. In an engaging and entertaining narrative, L. J. Davis fields a cast of both prominent and forgotten characters, from dedicated scientists and mischievous rogues to enlightened amateurs who lit the sparks of discovery. Franklin's kite, Davenport's electromagnet, Morse's telegraph, Cyrus Field's transatlantic cable, and Edison's phonograph are but a few of the achievements Davis discusses. Explaining the science in lucid prose, Fleet Fire conveys the arc of discovery during one of the most creative epochs in the history of mankind.

Author Biography: L. J. Davis is the author of three novels and four works of nonfiction. He contributes to a wide range of periodicals including Mother Jones, Harpers, and The Daily Deal. He was a Guggenheim Fellow and the winner of a National Magazine Award. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ben Franklin abandoned his research in the 1750s when he could find no practical uses for electricity. Yet Davis places him first in the succession of American entrepreneurial inventors who created the electric revolution. Skipping ahead to the mid-19th century, Davis follows the adventures of the blacksmith Thomas Davenport and his electric motor, the painter Samuel Morse and his inspiration for the electromagnetic telegraph, and the businessman Cyrus Field and the transatlantic cable. He devotes a third of the book to Thomas Edison and his rivals, who together made electricity a household technology in the 1880s. According to Davis, the revolution's first surge ended around 1900 as Guglielmo Marconi perfected wireless (i.e., radio) telegraphy and Reginald Aubrey Fessenden made the first voice broadcast. By juxtaposing the famous with the obscure, Davis shows that success depended upon an aptitude for business as well as mechanical genius. The winners in this story care less about understanding scientific principles than about figuring out how to make their inventions pay. A contributor to Harper's and other magazines, Davis (The Billionaire Shell Game) emphasizes the most astonishing anecdotes and eccentric characters, showing little regard for their historical significance. His best narratives, judging from the footnotes, derive from dated biographies; and he frequently interrupts himself with declamations about the lone inventor and the pace of progress. Patchy and distorted as it is, however, this account colorfully portrays the chaotic nature of the electric revolution and the men who made it happen. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Question: Why did Ben Franklin fly a kite? Answer: Because he was ticked off at the scientific establishment. So writes seasoned offbeat-tales-from-history writer Davis (The Billionaire Shell Game, 1998, etc.) in this anecdotally rich, eminently entertaining tale of how fluorescent bulbs, boom boxes, and other fruits of electricity came into being. Davis brings a light touch to the story without dumbing it down. He notes, for instance, that Franklin was indeed more than a little annoyed that the learned societies of London had failed for years to respond to his voluminous theories on electricity (lightning and electricity, he observed, were likely one and the same thing, for the observable qualities of each were alike in such matters as "rending bodies it passes through" and "destroying animals"), so much so that he determined to do something truly memorable to demonstrate that he knew whereof he spoke. Franklin was one of many experimenters and natural philosophers at work divining the mysteries of electricity during the appropriately named Enlightenment, and Davis pays homage to them and their successors, from Humphry Davy, "the prototype of the new nineteenth century’s emblematic figure, the lone inventor," to Thomas Alva Edison, who, in Davis’s account, emerges as something just this side of loony. "In addition to the Old Man," he writes, Edison’s underlings "also called him the Beast," and for good reason: he was addicted to chewing tobacco and pie, reckoning that Americans were superior to the English and the rest of the world for their devotion to the latter; he was suspicious of Jews and fond of "coon jokes"; he lost huge fortunes creating weird contraptions; and he believed thatautomobiles and home radios were passing fancies. Still, Davis notes, Edison was a master of vertical integration, and his development of not just parts of the grid but the entire system made the "Electric Revolution" a part of everyday life. A pleasure for students of technological history—and for readers with a fondness for bizarre personality types.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781559706551
Publisher:
Arcade Publishing
Publication date:
03/12/2003
Pages:
358
Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.09(d)

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Fleet Fire: Thomas Edison and the Pioneers of the Electric Revolution 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can this be the med. cat den?
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fantastic. At first the book just sat on my coffee table for weeks, but then, as I read a little here and there, I began to delve into it more deeply. The book gives insight into the sometimes odd (Tesla) or unlikely (Morse) characters responsible for trailblazing electric discoveries and technology. Why do we never hear about an electric revolution anyway when it was equally important to the industrial revolution? We see that these early inventors, notably Edison, were often deeply flawed -- both in business abilities and in ethics. As a former devotee of Ayn Rand's mythic lone inventor, we see more clearly the nature of genius and the role of groups of people in various capacities in advancing an idea.