From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

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Overview

The blackout of 2003 illuminated just how dependent America is on electricity. It was not just that some 50 million people in eight states and Ontario were cut off from their televisions, microwaves, ATMs, and email. Without the electrical juice to keep their sockets alive, factory managers were forced to close production lines, city managers shut down water deliveries, grocery store clerks watched their frozen inventory slowly melt away. Economists estimated that the blackout cost Americans $5 billion even as energy analysts were predicting that a similar blackout could happen again. The catastrophe forced us to marvel at the unusual ability of sub-microscopic particles to move like waves inside a wire and cause bulbs to glow. It highlighted the complex requirements for managing the massive generators, transformers, transmission lines, and switch boxes needed to tap and deliver flowing electrons. It encouraged us to recognize the profound impact of electricity on all aspects of commerce and culture.

Such events as the blackout, the Enron debacle, and the California brownouts also reveal the cracks in a 100-year-old industry structure that have been building ever since Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and their contemporaries first managed to harness electricity and make it available to the masses, and tycoons, such as Sam Insull and George Norris, began to concentrate financial control and political influence. From Edison to Enron traces the controversial history of this $210 billion industry—the nation's largest—showcasing the key individuals, technological innovations, corporate machinations, and political battles that have been waged over its domination. Munson maintains that today's technological and regulatory infrastructure, as a function of its history, is a relic that has long outlived its usefulness; he points out that two-thirds of the fuel burned to generate electricity is lost, that Americans pay roughly $100 billion too much each year for heat and power, and that environmentally unfriendly generators are the nation's largest polluters. Meanwhile, innovations in technology and business models are being blocked by entrenched monopolies. Ultimately, Munson argues that current policies and practices, including those favored by the Bush Administration, are preventing entrepreneurs from producing more efficient, healthy, and sustainable power supplies. Moreover, he presents an agenda for business and policy reforms that will stimulate economic development in the United States and around the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Richard Munson has written a fine history of the U.S. electric industry, no mean feat. His From Edison to Enron is a good survey, with enough technical content to satisfy us geeks, but not so much as to overwhelm a good yarn. His mini-bios are particularly well done, giving a human face to a huge and often imposing, impersonal industry. His material on Edison was familiar, as it will be to many readers of this publication. But his work on George Westinghouse, Nicola Tesla and Samuel Insull will prove enlightening to many."

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The Electricity Daily

"From Thomas Edison's struggle with George Westinghouse to the pending trial of Kenneth Lay, Munson spins a timely and well-researched story. Munson addresses the most recent concerns of elevated energy prices, while expanding on many new technologies that can improve pollution and more reliable energy. Perhaps the most insightful look into this industry is the current policy barriers that hinder their implementation. Munson explores these policies, some favored by the Bush administration, to show how environmentalists and energy executives can improve this industry by changing their positions….This book is for those of you with inquiries dealing with the innovation and welfare of a more-reliable energy system, especially for boaters, where fuel concerns are present. From Edison to Enron is chock full of eye-opening information."

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Great Lakes Boating

"Traces the history of the electricity industry, highlighting key individuals, technological innovations, corporate tactics, and political battles; assesses the current status of the industry; and presents an agenda for the future."

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Journal of Economic Literature

"[A] lively and readable account of electricity in the US, starting in fact before Edison and continuing beyond the debacle of Enron."

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Modern Power Systems

"Munson presents a 100-year history of the electric power industry. The early history focuses on important persons--Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, Samuel Insull, and George Norris--emphasizing technology and entrepreneurship. The later history traces a series of interrelated problems, developments, and events: public power (TVA, Boulder/Hoover Dam), blackouts, oil embargoes, Con Edison's missed dividend, Three Mile Island, increased competition, alternative energy sources, cogeneration, deregulation, California's 2000-01 crisis, regulation supporting monopoly, possibilities for greater efficiency, and problems of an aging capital stock. The author also examines the dead hand of governmental regulation: barriers to new competition, the preservation of vested interests, and the grease of political contributions. This stimulating book offers many fine and valid points….Recommended. General readers."

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Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275987404
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/2005
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

RICHARD MUNSON is Director of the Northeast-Midwest Institute, a non-partisan policy research center in Washington, D.C. Having founded the National Solar Lobby and Center for Renewable Resources in the 1970s, he has spent the last 25 years spearheading innovative public policy approaches to help meet America's energy needs. He frequently testifies before Congress, collaborates with regional energy and power providers, briefs local and state governments on their energy options, and provides consumer information on energy choices. His articles on the business and politics of the electricity industry have appeared in publications ranging from The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times to the journals of the National Academy of Sciences, environmental organizations and utility associations. He is the author of The Power Makers, Cousteau: The Captain and His World, and The Cardinals of Capitol Hill.

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Table of Contents

An Industry in Transition

Early Competition

Monopolists

The Golden Era and Shattered Momentum

Partial Competition

Stresses

Entrepreneurs

Modern Technologies

Barriers to Innovation

Innovation-Based Restructuring

Notes

Index

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2006

    Important

    The movie 'An Inconvnient Truth' lays out the need to reduce greenhouse gases. 'From Edison to Enron' outlines a way -- through efficiency and innovation -- to achieve that goal by reducing the pollution from electricity generators. The book, while providing a fascinating history of electricity, offers a hopeful review of modern technologies, and it describes ways to overcome the policy barriers to those innovative technologies. The book is engaging, informative, as well as hopeful. I only hope a lot of policymakers read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2006

    Insightful history and prescription for innovation

    Richard Munson has written a first-rate history of electricity and the industry that delivers it. The story features entertaining characters -- such as Thomas Edison and his secretary Samuel Insull -- and it sheds an insightful light on the 20th century. 'From Edison to Enron,' however, is much more than a history. It offers the best description I've read of our power industry's problems, and, more importantly, it offers a prescription for innovation and efficiency. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2006

    From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

    I've always been fascinated by the power industry, but have never read anything really good on it -- until now. This new book makes the power industry engaging. It provides profiles of the individuals who made the inventions and then built the companies that generate and deliver power. This new book also shows that all is not right with electricity companies. Efficiency is low and reliability is not what it should (or could) be. Munson explains some of the new technologies, in layman's language, and he introduces some of today's entrpreneurs trying to push innovation. I read the book almost in one sitting. It offers perspective and hope.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2005

    From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

    'From Edison to Enron' is the best book I've read on energy, which, of course, is the backbone of our economy. The book provides compelling portraits of Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, Kenneth Lay, and other industry leaders. It also clearly describes the shortcomings of today's electricity system and offers suggestions for how to enhance innovation, increase reliability, and cut pollution.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2005

    From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

    'From Edison to Enron' is an extraordinarily comprehensive and enjoyable historical portrait of the nation's critical energy supply system, and its indispensable engine of progress and prosperity. This splendid book is as readable as it is rigorous in its fascinating journey through the creation and and evolution of the electricity enterprise in the 20th century. What sets Munson's work apart is his probing exploration of the powerful and diverse personalities who collectively shaped what has become the world's largest and most complext machine. From the creative tension among Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla, through the monopolistic vision and excesses of Insull, to the overextensions of Ken Lay, this is truly a history of leaders as remarkable as the technologies and business practices they harnessed for the unparalleled benefit of mankind. This also remains a living history as the journey concludes with an insightful glimpse of the innovative opportunities for electricity's even more valuable future. Leadership also remains the most critical and elusive asset in shaping this enduring destiny.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2005

    From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

    'From Edison to Enron' is a compact history of U.S. electrical utilities that demonstrates the urgent need for reform and explains how Americans can use new technologies to become more efficient, less dependent on oil imports, and more environmentally responsible. This book is not only essential reading for anyone who cares about the electric bill, but also for anyone concerned about what we bequeath the next generation.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2005

    From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

    'From Edison to Enron' is not an environmental diatribe, but it makes the best case for bringing innovation and efficiency into the electric power business. Richard Munson writes both an entertaining history and an agenda for reform. He explains the short-sightedness of utility monopolists, and even shows how main-stream environmentalists are missing opportunities to promote green, low-polluting power. This is an important book that lots of people -- including politicians -- should read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2005

    Timely

    'From Edison to Enron' is most timely. With the pending trial of Kenneth Lay, the book explains the Enron debacle and places it within an historical context, both by comparing it to earlier scandals in the electricity business and by explaining how the power trading advanced by Enron continues to transform the industry. The book is also timely because of this winter's skyrocketing energy costs and the growing concern about electricity's unrealiability. It explains the many new technologies that can improve power's delivery and provide more economic opportunities. The book is also timely because of the power industry's enormous pollution. It explains how policies can be reformed so that new technologies are allowed to enter the marketplace and reduce emissions dramatically. The book also offers a fascinating review of electricity's history, explaining how this magical energy source changed our lives. It also offers entertaining portraits of Thomas Edison, Nichola Tesla, George Westinghouse, Samuel Insull, George Norris and others who electrified America. 'From Edison to Enron' is very well written and features telling anecdotes. Readers will enjoy this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2005

    From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

    This is a very good read. The portraits of Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla are entertaining and provide good insights. I also liked the policy recommendations and the reasoned plea for innovation and efficiency.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2005

    Imminently readable and throughly enlightening

    A must read for the experienced to the inexperienced. This book is full of fascinating facts and behind the curtain stories little told. Well researched and entertainingly written. Don't miss it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2005

    Engaging

    'From Edison to Enron' is a really good read. It presents compelling profiles of Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and Insull. It offers reasoned arguments for reforms that will reduce environmental pollution and increase economic efficiency. I highly recommend the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2005

    Informative and Entertaining

    'From Edison to Enron' is a great book. Although I thought I understood the energy industry, this book taught me a great deal about the sector's history and it presents cogent arguments for future reform. Munson makes a solid case that innovation, if allowed to flourish, will reduce pollution and increase economic development.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2005

    From Edison to Enron: The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity

    'From Edison to Enron' is a great read. The portraits of key players are engaging and entertaining. The descriptions of modern technologies are clear and easy to understand. The book's suggested reforms are reasonable and offer hope.

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