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Edison
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Edison
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history.NAMED ONE OF THE...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history.NAMED ONE OF THE...
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  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history.
    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Time Publishers Weekly Kirkus Reviews
    Although Thomas Alva Edison was the most famous American of his time, and remains an international name today, he is mostly remembered only for the gift of universal electric light. His invention of the first practical incandescent lamp 140 years ago so dazzled the world—already reeling from his invention of the phonograph and dozens of other revolutionary devices—that it cast a shadow over his later achievements. In all, this near-deaf genius (“I haven’t heard a bird sing since I was twelve years old”) patented 1,093 inventions, not including others, such as the X-ray fluoroscope, that he left unlicensed for the benefit of medicine.
    One of the achievements of this staggering new biography, the first major life of Edison in more than twenty years, is that it portrays the unknown Edison—the philosopher, the futurist, the chemist, the botanist, the wartime defense adviser, the founder of nearly 250 companies—as fully as it deconstructs the Edison of mythological memory. Edmund Morris, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, brings to the task all the interpretive acuity and literary elegance that distinguished his previous biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Ludwig van Beethoven. A trained musician, Morris is especially well equipped to recount Edison’s fifty-year obsession with recording technology and his pioneering advances in the synchronization of movies and sound. Morris sweeps aside conspiratorial theories positing an enmity between Edison and Nikola Tesla and presents proof of their mutually admiring, if wary, relationship.
    Enlightened by seven years of research among the five million pages of original documents preserved in Edison’s huge laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey, and privileged access to family papers still held in trust, Morris is also able to bring his subject to life on the page—the adored yet autocratic and often neglectful husband of two wives and father of six children. If the great man who emerges from it is less a sentimental hero than an overwhelming force of nature, driven onward by compulsive creativity, then Edison is at last getting his biographical due.

Excerpts-

  • From the cover Chapter 1

    At seventy-three, with his wartime career as president of the Naval Consulting Board behind him, Edison tried to make sense of a new intellectual order that challenged everything he had learned of Newtonian theory. Abstract thought did not come easily to him. “My line of sorrow,” he wrote, “lies in the realm of technical science.” He needed to feel things come together under his hands, see the filament glow, smell the carbolic acid, and—as far as possible for a near-deaf man—hear the “molecular concussions” of music.1

    Laws such as those of Faraday’s electromagnetic induction and Ohm’s relation of current, voltage, and resistance he understood, having applied them himself in the laboratory. But now, if only to slow as much as possible the entropy of his own particles (the fate of all systems, according to Lord Kelvin), Edison studied Einstein’s general theory of relativity.2 The recent solar eclipse had persuaded him, along with the academic scientists he mocked as “the bulge-headed fraternity,” that the theory was valid—even if it failed to suggest any correlation between his attempt to measure the total eclipse of 1878 and his subsequent perfection of incandescent electric light.3

    The urtext of the theory, as translated by Robert Lawson, defeated him after only eleven pages. “Einstein like every other mathematical mind,” he scrawled in the margin of his copy, “has not the slightest capacity to impart to the lay mind even an inkling of the subject he tries to explain.” He turned for help to an interpretive essay—Georges de Bothezat’s “The Einstein Theory of Relativity: A Glance into the Nature of the Question”—and filled thirty-one notebook pages with scrawled paraphrases of its main points.4

    Gravitation is due to the retardation in velocity of the ultimate particle in passing through the fixed aggregates of matter. Ultimate particles fill the whole of space and proceed in every direction. . . .

    He could imagine that at least in terms of his own observation, forty years before, of the thermionic emission of carbon electrons in a lightbulb after evacuation—a mysterious darkening since known as the “Edison Effect.” It was about as far as he ever got in his search for a “new force” in electrochemistry. Disparaged at the time by his peers, he now knew that he had discovered, if not recognized, the phenomenon of radio waves eight years before Heinrich Hertz.

    Wireless waves cannot proceed thru space but thru Matter in combination with the ultimate particle. . . . From this, if true, all matter is formed of the same material.

    Edison had once teased a science fiction writer with the notion of interchanging atoms of himself with those of a rose. He noted that Einstein envisaged particles in space with common axes converging into solidly constituted “rings,” while others remained ethereal. Hence the “primal ring” of the solar system, with its interplanetary nothingness.

    We now have matter in a form which is polar & capable of producing what we call Magnetism & Electricity.

    The religion boys, of course, would protest that what drew particles together was the will of God. Edison was as ready as Einstein to believe in a “Supreme Intelligence” made manifest by the order and beauty of the stars, and equally reluctant to personalize it: “I cannot conceive such a thing as a spirit.” The furthest he would go in the direction of metaphysics was to imagine the subcellular particles of a human being as...

About the Author-

  • Edmund Morris was born and educated in Kenya and attended college in South Africa. He worked as an advertising copywriter in London before immigrating to the United States in 1968. His first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1980. Its sequel, Theodore Rex, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography in 2001. In between these two books, Morris became President Reagan’s authorized biographer and wrote the national bestseller Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. He then completed his trilogy on the life of the twenty-sixth president with Colonel Roosevelt, also a bestseller, and has published Beethoven: The Universal Composer and This Living Hand and Other Essays. Edison is his final work of biography. He was married to fellow biographer Sylvia Jukes Morris for fifty-two years. Edmund Morris died in 2019.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 29, 2019
    Inspiration and perspiration prodigiously unite in this sweeping biography of one of America’s greatest inventors. Pulitzer-winning biographer Morris (Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan) tells Thomas Alva Edison’s story backward, opening with the creator of the first long-lasting light bulb, the phonograph, and other electromechanical marvels in lionized, imperious old age and presenting each decade of his life in reverse order, back to his boyhood spells of intense, isolated concentration. The ordering is something of a gimmick—the book reads nicely back to front—but along the way Morris vividly fleshes out Edison’s extraordinary intellect and industry as he devoured stacks of scientific treatises, incessantly brainstormed ideas with complex, elegant diagrams, and spent a lifetime of 18-hour days perfecting his designs in the laboratory, where he ate and slept on the floor. (His paternal absenteeism, Morris notes, got a tragicomic comeuppance from two resentful wastrel sons who exploited his name to perpetrate frauds.) Writing in amusing, literate prose that’s briskly paced despite a mountain of fascinating detail, Morris sets Edison’s achievements against a colorful portrait of his splendid eccentricity—mostly deaf, he was given to biting phonographs and pianos to divine their acoustics—whose visionary obsessions drove his businesses near to bankruptcy. The result is an engrossing study of a larger-than-life figure who embodied a heroic age of technology. Photos.

  • AudioFile Magazine Thomas Edison's daughter once said that biographies of her father focused on what he did, not who he was. This new audiobook portrait of the famed inventor seeks to rectify that. Arthur Morey offers an able narration, carrying listeners along despite the book's length and sometimes jarring jumps from one technological topic to another. The author relied on corporate archives and family papers to paint an intimate portrait, and Morey's tone suits this. Direct quotations are short, so Morey wisely chooses not to effect particular voices for the speakers. Some of the footnotes interrupt the narrative flow, but this is a small flaw that listeners can easily overlook. In all, this revelatory biography is narrated effectively. R.C.G. � AudioFile 2019, Portland, Maine

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