The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World


The electrical grid goes everywhere -- it's the largest and most complex machine ever made. Yet the system is built in such a way that the bigger it gets, the more inevitable its collapse.

Named the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century by the National Academy of Engineering, the electrical grid is the largest industrial investment in the history of humankind. It reaches into your home, snakes its way to your bedroom, and climbs right up into the lamp next to your...

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The electrical grid goes everywhere -- it's the largest and most complex machine ever made. Yet the system is built in such a way that the bigger it gets, the more inevitable its collapse.

Named the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century by the National Academy of Engineering, the electrical grid is the largest industrial investment in the history of humankind. It reaches into your home, snakes its way to your bedroom, and climbs right up into the lamp next to your pillow. At times, it almost seems alive, like some enormous circulatory system that pumps life to big cities and the most remote rural areas.

Constructed of intricately interdependent components, the grid operates on a rapidly shrinking margin for error. Things can -- and do -- go wrong in this system, no matter how many preventive steps we take. Just look at the colossal 2003 blackout, when 50 million Americans lost power due to a simple error at a power plant in Ohio; or the one a month later, which blacked out 57 million Italians. And these two combined don't even compare to the 2001 outage in India, which affected 226 million people.

The Grid is the first history of the electrical grid intended for general readers, and it comes at a time when we badly need such a guide. As we get more and more dependent on electricity to perform even the most mundane daily tasks, the grid's inevitable shortcomings will take a toll on populations around the globe. At a moment when energy issues loom large on the nation's agenda and our hunger for electricity grows, The Grid is as timely as it is compelling.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
You can't always see it, but the electrical grid is everywhere. Arguably the most significant engineering achievement of the past century, this invisible network powers nearly every facet of our daily lives. Yet, as recent outages demonstrate, this intricate electrical system is increasingly vulnerable to widespread failure. Author Phillip Schewe notes that grid failures in the new century have affected hundreds of millions of people around the globe, causing tens of billions of dollars in business damages in each year. His narrative history of the electrical grid, the first ever aimed at general readers, is both a fascinating read and an alarming wake-up call.
Publishers Weekly
With an appreciation of the technical ingenuity, human drama and cultural impact of the electrical grid, physicist and playwright Schewe illuminates how electricity has catalyzed both the best and worst of modernity since Thomas Edison devised the first electrical network in 1882. Even as the grid delivered light and mechanization, foremost minds like Westinghouse, Tesla and Insull continued to refine it, creating a society totally dependent on its invisible wonders. In the 1965 Northeast blackout, for example, New York shut down for lack of a product that barely existed half a century before. The grid's complexity demands predictability, Schewe shows, but even a minor short circuit can trigger a systemwide avalanche. Peppering his narrative with quotations from cultural critics Lewis Mumford and Henry David Thoreau, he argues that, economically, "we can't afford to throw away two-thirds" of energy as waste, and explains how nuclear and renewable resources can reduce pollution. Schewe also explores how Africa and Asia's dearth of electricity affects the participation of impoverished people in society. Though the final chapter on how astronauts took energy with them to the moon seems unnecessary, overall Schewe crafts an entertaining narrative with enlightening scientific and historical detail. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Lots of stories are written about the history of electricity, electrical generation, and power distribution systems; most are boring and inaccessible to nontechnical readers. Schewe (chief science writer, American Inst. of Physics) attempts to bridge the gap between those people interested in our electrified existence and the writings available to them. He demystifies the power grid by threading together numerous historical vignettes that draw out key stories, characters, companies, scientific concepts, events, and philosophical ideas (e.g., sustainability and human nature). He also autopsies recent blackouts to pique readers' interest in the complexity of the system, the simplicity of the parts that make it up, and the management of its operations. Not surprisingly for a book aimed at general readers, the text lacks formulas and engineering graphics, and its vignettes remind this reviewer of the stories his father used to tell in response to childhood questions about the world. Missing, however, is coverage of innovations in other countries and weather-related calamities. Recommended for public and high school libraries and for college students studying electricity and magnetism physics.
—James A. Buczynski

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780309102605
  • Publisher: National Academies Press
  • Publication date: 2/20/2007
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 788,211
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction     1
The Gridness of the Grid     5
Grid Genesis     27
Most Electrified City     60
Imperial Grid     85
Worst Day in Grid History     115
Thirty Million Powerless     134
Overhauling the Grid     157
Energizing the Grid     188
Touching the Grid     221
Grid on the Moon     250
Notes     286
Acknowledgments     300
Index     303
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 23, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Decent book, but not what I expected.

    This book was worth reading but not what I expected.Was hoping to read more about the nuts and bolts of the grid,it's history, and the personalities involved in it's creation such as Edison and Tesla.
    While there is plenty of history in this book,the author seems to concentrate more on the business of the grid and on the resulting social and political effects. Important, but a little too abstract for my taste.
    I would also like to have seen a chapter discussing the August 2003 blackout instead of just the the November 65 blackout.This may be.though, simply because I lived through the 03 event. We're always interested more in things we have direct experience with.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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