Book Post : Simply Electrifying : The Technology that transformed the world, from Benjamin Franklin to Elon Musk
Book Post : Simply Electrifying : The Technology that transformed the world, from Benjamin Franklin to Elon Musk

Book Post : Simply Electrifying : The Technology that transformed the world, from Benjamin Franklin to Elon Musk

Book Post : 21 

Book Name : Simply Electrifying : The Technology that transformed the world, from Benjamin Franklin to Elon Musk

Author : Craig R. Roach

Genre : Non-Fiction/Science

What is it about? : This book traces the journey of electricity from its earliest days when it was nothing but a curiosity to the present when we cant even think about living without electricity. The book is neatly divided into 5 major phases of electricity’s journey. 

Part 1: The Age of Franklin : A Time of Awe and Discovery
Part 2: The Age of Edison: Let there be light (and power)
Part 3: The Age of Big: Big Government, Big Power Plants
Part 4: The Age of Harm: Crisis, Change, and Scandal
Part 5: The Age of uncompromising belief  

How I came to read it :
When I moved to Kelowna one of the first things I did was check out the local library branch. Kelowna has the Okanagan Regional Library and while casually browsing through the books I spotted this book. I have been reading a lot of books on electricity lately and this seemed to be a good addition. 
Did I like it? : Yes I did. The book starts off nicely with Benjamin Franklin and James Watt, peaks with Michael Faraday, Maxwell, Tesla, Edison, Westinghouse, slowly starts to decline with Samuel Insull and gets a bit boring in the middle when talk moves to government, depression and policies. It ends on a high with George Mitchell and Elon Musk.  Overall what I loved about the book is how neatly the author has divided the different phases of electricity’s journey. There is discovery, expansion, exploitation and finally a hope for a cleaner future. 
During the early years its mostly about how electricity was noticed and how curious minds like Ben Franklin set about investigating it. The author makes an interesting point here. Today we might know Benjamin Franklin as one of the founding fathers of USA and the general image is that his work on science was secondary. But the author says that he was a scientist first. His success, fame and respect he enjoyed both in America and Europe gave him the leverage to become a great statesman. The book is littered with interesting insights like these on many personalities and ideas. After, Franklin comes James Watt whos invention of the steam engine made the people dependent on machines and this set the stage for the development of the electricity run motors and the whole electricity infrastructure laid out by Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse. These days whenever discussions about inventors related to electricity come up people are quick to mention Edison vs Tesla. But there was a third person in this saga who seems to be forgotten in the general public. This was George Westinghouse. A famous inventor in his own right, his invention of the air brake changed the railways forever. After his success in the railway industry he turned his focus to the nascent electricity industry.  A brilliant entrepreneur in addition to being an inventor, Westinghouse took the path of developing the Alternating Current (AC) system. The war of the currents, AC vs DC was mostly Westinghouse (AC) vs Edison(DC). It was Westinghouse who recognized the talent of Tesla and employed him in his company. I feel its a shame that Westinghouse is largely forgotten today.
Next comes one of the most divisive personalities of the book Samuel Insull. Insull like Westinghouse remains largely forgotten today but he is the person responsible for spreading electricity across the country and made it accessible to a majority of the population. He is also responsible for the tariff structure of electricity later. Both sides of his story are presented here and the trial details of Insull make for interesting reading. Then comes Franklin D Roosevelt and his New Deal. Then there is talk of the time of big projects like building of Hoover Dam and Tennessee Valley Authority. The age of Harm stars off with talking about the person ‘who started it all’ Rachel Carson and her landmark book ‘Silent Spring’. Then a large portion is dedicated to the California electricity crisis of 2003. A major portion of the book talks about deregulating of the electricity business. It was one of the most boldest moves in business and there are still debates about it going on even today. And the last part is about Obama, George Mitchell and Elon Musk. Leaving aside the criticism of Musk the author makes the point that at least he is making electricity and the science related to it cool again. 
One of the points I loved was that that electricity is a revolutionary force. The author says that during the early stages of electricity’s development there was a sense of scientific adventure and excitement which seems have dwindled down recently. No longer do people associate electricity with scientific achievement or discovery. And this is so true. When I look at electricity related news its all about policies, regulations, prices etc, all important stuff undoubtedly but pretty mundane. There is no sense of scientific excitement, if I can use that term. Hopefully things change in the future!
Overall ‘Simply Electrifying’ is a pretty decent read and I enjoyed it!

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