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Publishers Weekly -Starred Review.
This captivating book zooms in with a telescopic intensity on America's blackouts, from the 1930s to the massive 2003 Northeast power failure that had many suspecting terrorism; anyone who reads this history will be unsurprised to find it was actually due to an over-burdened power grid. Beyond familiar individual frustrations, a blackout can cause major social and economic disturbance, signal political problems, and represent a massive failure of infrastructure; American history professor Nye contextualizes power failures in the U.S. as the result of long-term energy buildup and overuse. Nye examines how a "utopian" vision of electrical convenience at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair-television sets, movie equipment, a "clothes conditioning closet," the home computer-became law ("in building codes and in the 'war on poverty' electricity became a legal requirement akin to a natural right") and how, when that right is denied, utopia can give way to chaos. Nye captures the disastrous 1977 New York City blackout in its broad causes, effects, and implications, as well as its small, frightening details: "Guests of the Algonquin Hotel found that electronic locks had sealed their doors." Other chapters discuss rolling blackouts and activist-driven "greenouts." Fans of urban studies will find this text rich with insight and information. 26 illus.
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