When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts in America

When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts in America

by David E. Nye
     
 

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Where were you when the lights went out? At home during a thunderstorm? During the Great Northeastern Blackout of 1965? In California when rolling blackouts hit in 2000? In 2003, when a cascading power failure left fifty million people without electricity? We often remember vividly our time in the dark. In When the Lights Went Out, David Nye views power

Overview

Where were you when the lights went out? At home during a thunderstorm? During the Great Northeastern Blackout of 1965? In California when rolling blackouts hit in 2000? In 2003, when a cascading power failure left fifty million people without electricity? We often remember vividly our time in the dark. In When the Lights Went Out, David Nye views power outages in America from 1935 to the present not simply as technical failures but variously as military tactic, social disruption, crisis in the networked city, outcome of political and economic decisions, sudden encounter with sublimity, and memories enshrined in photographs. Our electrically lit-up life is so natural to us that when the lights go off, the darkness seems abnormal.

Nye looks at America's development of its electrical grid, which made large-scale power failures possible and a series of blackouts from military blackouts to the "greenout" (exemplified by the new tradition of "Earth Hour"), a voluntary reduction organized by environmental organizations.

Blackouts, writes Nye, are breaks in the flow of social time that reveal much about the trajectory of American history. Each time one occurs,Americans confront their essential condition — not as isolated individuals, but as a community that increasingly binds itself together with electrical wires and signals.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Library Journal
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780262525077
Publisher:
MIT Press
Publication date:
09/13/2013
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Paul Israel
David Nye's history of blackouts in America is much more than a history of these events. What he has given us is an insightful and often surprising social and cultural history of our relationship to, and increasing dependence on,electricity and its unseen grid.

Arthur P. Molella
Fifteen years ago, David Nye's groundbreaking Electrifying America showed us how the social, cultural, and political terrain shifted when the lights went on.

Now he shows us what happened When the Lights Went Out a must-read for anyone who lived through or just heard about the big-city blackouts of 1965 onward and wonders what they meant.

Robert Schmuhl
Meticulously researched and engagingly written, When the Lights Went Out is part history and part cautionary tale. David Nye illumines his subject with such insight and skill that a reader won't ever be able to flip on an electrical switch without thinking of this book and its consequential message.

Meet the Author

David E. Nye is Professor of American History at the University of Southern Denmark. The winner of the 2005 Leonardo da Vinci Medal of the Society for the History of Technology, he is the author of America's Assembly Line (MIT Press) and other books.

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