Read The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America by Ernest Freeberg Online


The late 19th century saw a surge of technological advancement, but probably nothing as important as Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Here, University of Tennessee history professor Freeberg, author of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Democracy’s Prisoner, shows how radically the light bulb transformed America, freeing it from the stranglehold of the gas compThe late 19th century saw a surge of technological advancement, but probably nothing as important as Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Here, University of Tennessee history professor Freeberg, author of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Democracy’s Prisoner, shows how radically the light bulb transformed America, freeing it from the stranglehold of the gas companies, turning it from a rural to an urban society and, as the electrical grid took over, drawing a sharp line between city and country, rich and poor. For history buffs and techies alike.- Library Journal Reviews:

Title : The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781594204265
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 354 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America Reviews

  • Melissa
    2019-01-13 18:32

    I am ashamed to admit, but I had never really thought about a lot of this before. Edison invents the light bulb (sort of) but then the U.S. must get wired and ready to be lit up. Light pole makers didn't know what they were doing and these poles fell down and killed people. The electric companies didn't know what they were doing and the wires fell down and killed people. Electrical workers touched the wrong thing and fell into tangles of overhead wires. Sizzling for hours! How much light is too much light? Do you need street lights when it's a full moon? Why spend all this money on a light bulb to cover it up with a lamp shade? This was a great read about how Americans praised, shunned, experimented, and adopted the light bulb.

  • StarMan
    2018-12-18 16:26

    A Dollar Tree $1 book find. It covers how an exciting, near-magical late-1800s technology quickly altered industry, shopping, entertainment, travel, and humanity itself in ways that even Edison never dreamed of. But overall, the book wasn't as exciting as I had hoped, nor did it dwell much on Edison himself. Worth the buck? Yes.DETAILS: (view spoiler)[It seems well-researched, with a moderate number of citations, and some black and white photos & illustrations (more of the latter would have been welcome). There's also a bit about the beginnings of the US Patent Office. The latter 2/3 of the book was mostly a just-skim-it affair, lest it induce slumber. Until reading this book, I knew nothing about "arc" lighting, a technology that many cities used (in addition to gas lamps) before ultimately embracing Edison-type incandescent bulbs and city-wide electric wiring/grids (another new concept).Some of the relatively more entertaining parts involved the gas companies (view spoiler)[trying to keep customers as cities moved towards electric lighting, and the wry comments made by reporters whenever yet another person was injured or killed* due to dangerous wiring in these early days.(hide spoiler)]*To be fair, electricity apparently (view spoiler)[killed or maimed FAR fewer people than gas lighting/heating did. Gas was much more dangerous! But being a novel thing, electrocutions sold papers. (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)]VERDICT: ~ 2.67 light bulbs. Could have been more exciting, but does provide a fairly thorough look at the Age of Edison (though only scant passages about the man himself), and a few interesting anecdotes along the way. A book that's fine for inventors or true history buffs, but likely a sleep aid for other readers.Consider these more engaging tales, if you are more of a mainstream reader:   ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Harold
    2018-12-31 15:40

    This book is well named. And misleading. It is not a book about Edison. Rather it is about he age of Edison, and thereafter. It is simply a book about the history of the change that Electric Light Bulbs wrought on America. This book tells almost nothing about individual people, including Edison. It passes lightly over the invention of the lightbulb. It mentions briefly the race between AC and DC current and the problems and politics in the creation of electric grids. It is more interested in the bulb rising in the east and spreading its light across the country.This book tells you that the invention of the light bulb was profound, but sheds very little light.

  • Tanya Ehrler
    2019-01-12 20:51

    This book needed to be edited/shortened considerably. What could have been an interesting 2-3 hour read, was drug out for 10 hours. Excruciating.

  • Bandit
    2019-01-10 19:35

    There are so many puns one can use in this review. And frankly I don't know if I needed this much information on the subject, but it was an interesting and pleasantly lively (for nonfiction) account of how the invention of electricity and its gradual introduction into the world has changed the society. Not much information here on Edison per se ( no bio), this isn't Edison and His Age. This book talks about other inventors who didn't get the to share in the recognition (pun opportunity not taken) or fell into the dark abyss of obscurity (another one), about larger than life expositions, socioeconomical politics of implementing revolutionary new technology, logistics, practical applications, wide eye acceptance and staunch reluctance/refusal to embrace the light, etc. Informative and accessible read.

  • Shannon Bench
    2019-01-15 12:46

    First of all, I'd like to let you know that I'm a picky reader. I like fantasy, and not just any fantasy, either. It has to be EPIC fantasy for me to even consider reading it for my own leisure. However, this book was assigned to me by a professor and so, to the reading nook I went. All too eager to learn about Edison and his time, about the light bulb and its coming into existence. You know what? I was truly excited for it, too. I love history, always found it fascinating, and after the prologue, I thought, "This book isn't half bad for a textbook." Then I started to read the first chapter... and then the second... and again into the third when I finally gave up.Is it just me, or do books like this one tend to sound like an enormously long version of an essay? The direct quotes, the citations, the introduction and concluding statements, the move back and forth from one time to another. Why can't books be more interesting as well as actually educational. Just because this stuff happened in the 19th century doesn't mean you can't make it interesting and "story-like" instead of a boring lecture about facts upon facts.I always hoped that one day I would pick up a text and open the book to find that there was a singular character, maybe even an omniscient one, that told the story of a time or of a person's life. But no, never has that ever happened and I have barely any hope left that it ever will. Intellectual books could be like that, right? They have all the possibility to be like that, but when a writer with no interest in the "story" begins to write a book, I feel that they default to the basics of education: the dreaded essay format. I get that it works, but I still don't find it interesting. At the very least, when writing an essay, I try to add a bit of my own character or even some word-flare that peaks the interest of the reader, making the essay more fun instead of just factual.Oh, when the day comes that I pick up a textbook and I enter a story that is both exciting and educational. The day will come, at least I hope so, and when it does, I will burn this book and say good riddance.

  • Ernst
    2018-12-19 12:45

    The book is about 2/3 about the years between 1879, when Edison invented his version of the light bulb, and 1892 when Edison sold out his interest to General Electric which, using alternating current (which Edison never understood) took over as the major player in American electricity. The last 1/3 covers they years up until 1929 when, just weeks before the stock market crash, President Hoover joined other luminaries at Menlo Park to honor Edison on the fiftieth anniversary of his most famous invention.The book raises many questions about the tradeoffs between the ruthless exploitation of worker safety and the killing of many ordinary citizens versus the benefits of being an electrified country so quickly. Also, even by 1929, the markets had found no way to provide electricity to rural areas -- it took the New Deal and the TVA to get that accomplished. Quick paced and fascinating to read.

  • John Harder
    2019-01-13 12:50

    There is a reason that the image of person with a light bulb over his head is the universal sign of someone with a bright idea. This is odd when arguably man’s greatest invention is beer. Yet we rarely illustrate brilliance by hovering a Schlitz can over a beaming countenance. Why? Well light and electric power helps us overcome adversity and the environment, beer just helps us to endure it.The Age of Edison isn’t really about Edison, though he plays a large factor. It is more about the transformation of America and the effect of being able to see after 8:00 PM. After a rash of divorces when spouses saw each other for the first time, ultimately all the effects were positive. This did not keep the doom and gloom group (think Al Gore) from prophesying that electric light would bring about moral degeneracy (people staying out past dark), physical danger (some thought pumping noxious and flammable gas light was safer than electricity) and disintegration of the family (families would not longer gather about the flicking kerosene flame and talk). True the ability to keep late hours has its drawbacks. Nothing wholesome ever happens after 10:00 and if by 1:00 AM you are not at home there is a 90% likelihood that you are doing something of which your mother would not approve...but on a whole I think we must all agree light is good – it says so right in Genesis 1:4. This is a wonderful snapshot of a short and highly transformative period of history.

  • Sarah
    2019-01-01 15:32

    My dad collects Edison records and Edison record players. I grew up mostly associating Edison with his records and record players. I did know he invented the light bulb, but I did not know much more than that. I enjoyed reading about how he invented the light bulb. The best part of the book is learning how the early days of the light bulb changed people's lives. The book covers both the positive and negative impact that electric light had. The wires that were hastily put up on poles were very dangerous and people were injured or killed as a result. There was a lot that still had to be learned about how to safely use this new invention. I enjoyed how the book mentioned how the World's Fair in Chicago and the World's Fair in Buffalo used electric light. The author really did his research because he mentioned Barnes' diving elks and educated horse at the fair in Buffalo. I read the Nook Book version of this book. I was very impressed with how well the images in the book showed up. They are very clear and I can see so much detail in each image. I highly recommend reading this book. We take for granted the light we have today. This book reminds us how much it has improved our lives by showing what type of lighting was used before the light bulb.

  • Chris
    2018-12-20 17:49

    An interesting read on the social history of electric lighting. The technology is so obvious now that we forget, or don't realize, that its introduction created a frenzy of adoption exactly like that of the iPhone today, for example. It only took only about five years before most American cities had replaced darkness and feeble gas lamps with the new arc lighting. We think we are somehow special today in our ability to create and consume the "new," but it was exactly the same in the 1880's, and the vast social change that resulted then offers significant lessons for technologists, sociologists and consumers of today, if anyone cares to notice.

  • Text Addict
    2018-12-22 17:39

    A good synthesis of information about how electric light was invented, promoted, and extended to ever-larger segments of the American public. How people reacted to it - as either a menace or a panacea, and all points in between. The major personal and public safety issues involved. The canonization of Edison as a kind of secular saint of Progress. Very interesting, but rarely revelatory. A solid reference on a period and topic that needed one.

  • Michael Kearney
    2019-01-05 20:35

    Well written but lacked soul. It was just the basic facts about some of the story of how electric lights crept into American life.

  • Sara
    2019-01-01 15:32

    easily 4 stars. Freeburg takes the scientific discussion of electricity and makes it very relevant to the amateur study of American history. very enjoyable and I learned a lot!

  • Sarah Coller
    2019-01-01 14:23

    From Amazon: "The late nineteenth century was a period of explosive technological creativity, but more than any other invention, Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb marked the arrival of modernity, transforming its inventor into a mythic figure and avatar of an era. In The Age of Edison, award-winning author and historian Ernest Freeberg weaves a narrative that reaches from Coney Island and Broadway to the tiniest towns of rural America, tracing the progress of electric light through the reactions of everyone who saw it and capturing the wonder Edison’s invention inspired. It is a quintessentially American story of ingenuity, ambition, and possibility in which the greater forces of progress and change are made by one of our most humble and ubiquitous objects."I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So much more than I thought I would...and so much that I could probably start from the beginning right now and read the whole thing through again. There was so much to learn and imagine and I know I missed so much being distracted by surgery and a move. I will definitely be keeping it in my collection to go back to from time to time.The advent of electric lights had such an amazing effect on society. It changed people's sleep patterns, thus changing their entire routines, traditions, and family and social lives. It served to further differentiate between social statuses. It made an impact in so many way that I never could have imagined.I thought it was interesting that so many species of birds and bugs were discovered as they were found dead at the base of street lights in the mornings. The idea of "electro"hunting and fishing was also interesting.I was also surprised by how late into the 20th century electricity became common in middle-class homes. Less than 15% of homes were wired for electricity in 1910---and only 70% by 1930.Other interesting bits:Pg. 267: "Self-evident today, the proper use of an incandescent lamp is a social practice that, according to one electrician, was misunderstood by 99 percent of Americans in the early twentieth century. Why pay so much for electric light, these customers surely wondered, only to hide it behind a shade or to place it out of the line of sight... Such an idea must have seemed like the scheme of unscrupulous electric-current salesmen eager to sell customers more light than they needed."Pg. 283: "These changes in technology produced a corresponding change in the way middle-class American families interacted once the sun went down. Some complained that since family members felt less compelled to draw together each night around a common lamp, their bonds had weakened and the art of conversation had suffered. People talked less and read more, as cheaper books and more evening light encouraged the explosive growth of what people at the time called a new 'reading habit.'"Lastly, I was compelled to ponder the last line of the book and wonder about the actual validity of this quote from Franklin Roosevelt: "Electricity is no longer a luxury, it is a definite necessity." I wonder---how would our society get by if we no longer had access to electricity?

  • Courtney
    2019-01-10 17:36

    I slowly read this one after purchasing it in the Kindle store. Thanks feels sort of funny within the connect of modern light technology---I spent my time reading most of the book in the near-dark because of my device's backlit screen.I think it's a bit hard to read continuously, and worked better for me in segments. There's coverage of accidents, safely improvements, the development of the EE field and profession, and more importantly (and interestingly for me) what the introduction and later improvements of electric lighting did to people and their spaces. The street, there factory, the home. Freeburg shapes his chapters topically so you can move from one bit to another depending on your interest. I'm sure not everyone is going to want to read the professionalization chapter. There are sections within chapters examining era reformer and critical responses as well.The book goes up until the 1930s when electric lighting became more widespread (not just a city thing). Edison himself gets a big celebration thrown by Ford, and a keynote by President Hoover.... and he is so tired of electricity, but he acknowledges that HE DID NOT INVENT THE LIGHT BULB ON HIS OWN. The competition to improve the bulb, to make it a marketable product, that was his feat. Dozens of inventors contributed to the development of the incandescent light bulb, and Edison got lucky enough to have his name written largest in history because he created a model which fit the public's need and wallet. This book is not his story, it is the electric light's history from Edison's success to his want for a nice camping trip and a nap after all the excitement.Edison and Ford used to go on yearly "escape modern life" camping trips.....with cars full of tech.....alright then.Critique: a bit too long, perhaps too many examples. I recommend skipping chapters that do not interest you.

  • Pam
    2018-12-20 17:42

    Non-fiction books are harder for me to get through and take longer for me to read than most books. I picked this book up at a book swap we had at my condo because the cover looked interesting. Stepping outside my comfort zone I found I enjoyed this book a lot. It discussed the various parties involved in the invention of the electric light, the rise of the electric companies, how this impacted the world and how it changed life for modern Americans. I thought the book was well organized and explained things well. Overall, for a nonfiction book (that is not a biography - love those), this was really good.

  • Delway Burton
    2019-01-04 16:42

    A study of the beginning and evolvement of the electric age (1870-1910). The first of the book is excellent and its chronicle of the beginning of technology, R & D, and commercial capitalism is excellent, but it bogs down later when examining the applications of electricity, perhaps the most transformative technology of all. He diverges into racism and colonialism which I think is a bit of a stretch. Applied technology is fact-based, unless you want to discuss its applications in war. The results of its application imply no blame.

  • Mark Bullock
    2019-01-10 19:25

    Has a ton of well researched information in it, but overall too long by half. It was not particularly interesting in the telling of the story, but maybe that's just me. I grew bored and wanted it to be over.

  • Onni
    2019-01-15 14:30

    How electric light came to the US. Interesting but light reading.

  • Ivan
    2018-12-24 12:34

    Great read

  • Jay Connor
    2018-12-31 15:32

    And we think the Internet is a disruptive technology!Ernest Freeberg does an excellent job of telling the story of electricity – principally the electric light – against the backdrop of the Gilded Age.The period from the 1870’s to the turn of the century is a much under-chronicled period in our history. I’ve always thought that it was due to the fact that the Presidency, after Lincoln and until Teddy Roosevelt, was occupied by such a scatter-shot cast of weak and venomous men that no historian wanted the guilt by association.But after reflecting some good sidelong studies of the period -- Devil in the White City; Destiny of the Republic; The Tycoons -- perhaps an overarching history of the period has not been undertaken simply because there was so much going on … for the first time, after the civil war, history began to move a warp speed. Reconstruction, Tycoons, Immigration, Industrial Age, Railroads, Unionization, Anarchism, Oil, Urbanization, Robber Barons, Invention, Coal, Relative Peace, and of course, Electricity. Though Edison is a prime mover in Freeberg’s story. He is by no means the only significant player in this creation of Modern America. He even bet wrong on the AC / DC standardization fracus, which served to bring electricity into each home. At it’s core, the fact that Edison was not more dominant is a tribute to the age of invention and the permission to build on others ideas. This leap-frogging is at the heart of the “democratization” built into the US patent laws, which were unique at the time. In essence, the trade off that sparked such a creative outflow was “we’ll give you exclusivity; as long as others can build on (and possibly surpass) your ideas.”

  • Brian Sergi
    2019-01-09 18:50

    Age of Edison paints a vivid and detailed picture not only of the nuanced "invention" of the lightbulb and the protagonists behind its discovery, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the impact that the advent of lighting had on turn of the century American society. Extensive primary source references throw new light (so to speak) on the changes that cities adopting electric light faced, from a growing multitude of dangerous wires to lighting's impacts on night life and crime. While at times repetitive and perhaps stretching to draw in fragments of quotes, this book accurately characterizes the many facets the arrival of the light bulb heralded, including the initial uncertainty of its success, the evolution of the form of lighting and electricity, the social implications and challenges of the technology, and evolving public support and opposition for the technology. What makes this exposition so powerful is that many of these same facets have been and are being replayed for more recent technologies, including the automobile, television, the internet, nuclear energy, and hydraulic fracturing. Two memorable quotes:"There is hope for civilization as long as man probes into the unknown and keeps experimenting" ~Edison"...some technologies are so fundamental to the growth of human dignity and happiness that access to them could become something like an American birthright, guaranteed to all as a matter of public policy."

  • Paul Lunger
    2018-12-19 13:24

    With "The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America", Ernest Freeberg gives us the story of how trans-formative & at time controversial Edison's invention of the electric light bulb was. In a book that spans the course of 50 years from it's introduction in 1879 to a golden jubilee celebration involving Herbert Hoover in 1929, we the reader learn of the struggles of finding an electric light bulb that would actually stay lit for any length of time as well as learn just how some early American cities reacted to the idea of being lit after dark in a much brighter way than before with the gas & kerosene lamps of old. The story is not just Edison's alone as inventor Charles Brush is also a big part of the early story with his work in creating the arc light is mentioned which would be a forerunner to the street lights of today. Across just over 300 pages, Freeberg takes his time explaining the challenges of lighting America as well as even some of the dissent in Europe as to how far behind they were with this American invention. The book is a fascinating read as to just how important this invention was & just how much our planet was changed simply because we could see more brightly after the sun went down.

  • Nancy
    2018-12-30 18:28

    It took me far too long to read this library loan, partly because I'd be content after reading 10 or 15 pages to close the book and think about the truly illuminating facts presented. This is an interesting and approachable history of the development of the electric light from the 1870s through the Rural Electrification initiative during the Depression.Edison, the father of the light bulb as lore had it, was not the first, but he was an inventor to the core and improved upon earlier versions until he developed the tungsten filament that ensured reliability and low cost. Electrical illumination transformed the world. Dark, dangerous streets became attractive, reducing crime and accidents. Artificial light in workplaces increased productivity (and identified slackers), reduced injuries, lengthened the work-day and was the force that added second and third shifts. Electric light in stores and store windows Electric light became, over the decades, a great social equalizer.I try to read several non-fiction books a year, since I so readily gravitate to escapist fiction. This was a good choice.

  • Brandon
    2018-12-27 20:38

    This book covers an underserved niche in the cannon of non-fiction history books - that of social history. By tracing the impact of the light bulb and it's sister electricity (Or at least how it was generated)the author paints on a wide canvas and explores the impact of the artificial light on American society. Politician and rebel, urbanite and farmer, industrialist and everyman and all in between get a mention is this comprehensive study. A wealth of characters populate this book and the author also includes the impact of external powers such a the US Patent office, the government and the creation of the first science magazines dedicated to the light bulb and how they helped shape and the young industry. He also doesn't ignore the dangers created by greedy capitalists and gullible city officials. The book can sometimes seem a little too much like a lecture and some of the major players are underserved but the story he is telling is large in scope and covers many decades and is always compelling as all social history should be and is easy to follow. A true discovery.

  • Pierre Lauzon
    2019-01-04 13:37

    Freeberg's book is a chronicle of the explosive technological growth of the late 19th Century combined with the cultural changes that resulted in American and European societies.Edison and other inventors of the period reinvented the process of invention. Previously invention was generally an individual and trial and error system. Advances in education and the availability of capital brought development laboratories to iteratively develop new technologies using teams of inventors and supporting technologists.The author goes on to highlight the advantages of the U.S. Patent system to protect the intellectual properties of inventors and incentivize the profit motive in developing new technologies.The urbanization of America was accelerated by electrification. Freeberg also discusses, with great clarity, the wars between Edison and electric companies with the gas and gas light companies.The book is part of the Penguin History of American Life Series and I will certainly be looking for other books in the series.

  • msleighm
    2019-01-12 13:49

    Fascinating history of the development of electricity and the way it shaped the country. I love these kinds of in depth books on Victorian times. Not just the subject matter, but the "flavor" of the time as well. Around page 170 I made a note "Kellogg - heat saunas - page 170 or so." I have no idea to what I was referring. At page 198: I really do feel so much smarter reading this and understanding this part of political history. Unfortunately, since it took me more than a year to complete the book due to illness, again, I'm a little hazy on what I've learned. My final note, no date or page number, says: who knew as early as the 1880s solar & wind power we're being used and experimented with. Shame they didn't prosper then. Since I neared completion and over the last few days, I've been talking to everyone about this book. I'm just sorry I had the gap in the middle when I didn't read for a long time, I'm glad I was able to come back to it.

  • Alana
    2019-01-08 14:32

    Nice book about the WOW factor felt by early users of electricity, especially lighting, in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We take electricity and the light it produces for granted so was fun to read how early plans to illuminate cities relied on arc light strung at intervals above the buildings. Shadows (and poorly constructed towers) undid that plan. But once people saw the power of light, there was no turning back. Better street lighting, and then home lighting became the norm despite fights with the Gas Men and fears of electrocution (much more common as the technology was so new). The book is particularly good getting to the thrill people felt when electric lights came to their cities and I really had to hold myself back from putting the book down and walking up to the wall switch and turning it off and on. Because I can.

  • Mary
    2019-01-17 20:45

    Interesting although a bit dry and wordy history of the development of electric light (including light bulbs) and its impact on the development of society (mostly in the US). I didn't realize that most large east coast US cities were fully electrified by late 1800's/ early 1900's (or at least their downtown/business areas were) which at the time indicated that your city was more "modern". As expected, emergence of light both reduced crime (criminals could no longer hide in the shadows to commit their crimes) and led the way to more night time activities (shopping, outdoor baseball games and amusement parks, etc.) but was also decried as hurting romance (as courting couples could no longer steal kisses while sitting on park benches in dark parks), leading many people to yearn for the "good old days" of candle light and gas lighting.

  • Larry Jebsen
    2019-01-12 13:46

    I liked this book. I learned much. I thought Edison invented the light bulb, he didn't. He was part of the "electrification age". There were already lightbulbs. What he did was revolutionary in many ways, though. He began the first viable corporate sponsored research facility. His corporate backers were betting that he could create the first commercially sellable and user friendly light bulb. And he did. Edison was part of a major paradigm shift. The days for people looked much different, entertainment, work, home life, sleep life, etc.Life was one way and then it dramatically changed - much like when the computer age came in. This was a very eye opening book. Well written, researched and readable.