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Power Makers

by Maury Klein
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press
  • Publishing date: 01/06/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781596916777
  • ISBN: 159691677X


In The Power Makers, one of America’s most acclaimed historians of business and society offers an epic narrative of his greatest subject yet?the ?power revolution” that transformed American life in the course of the nineteenth century.

With consummate skill, Klein recreates the discoveries, the stunning triumphs and frequent failures, and the unceasing battles in the marketplace. The Power Makers is a dazzling saga of inspired invention, dogged persistence, and business rivalry at its most naked and cutthroat?a tale of America in its most astonishing decades.
Maury Klein is the author of many books, including The Life and Legend of Jay Gould, Days of Defiance: Sumter, Secession, and the Coming of the Civil War, and Rainbow’s End: The Crash of 1929. He is professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island.
Maury Klein is one of America’s most acclaimed historians of business and industry. In The Power Makers, he offers an epic narrative of his greatest subject yet?the ?power revolution” that transformed American life in the course of the nineteenth century and that turned America from an agrarian society into a technological superpower.

The steam engine, the incandescent bulb, the electric motor?inventions such as these replaced backbreaking toil with machine labor and changed every aspect of daily life in the span of a few generations. The power revolution is not a tale of machines, however, but of men: inventors such as James Watt, Elihu Thomson, and Nikola Tesla; entrepreneurs such as George Westinghouse; savvy businessmen such as J.P. Morgan, Samuel Insull, and Charles Coffin of General Electric. Striding among them like a colossus is the figure of Thomas Edison, who was creative genius and business visionary at once. With consummate skill, Klein recreates their discoveries, their stunning triumphs and frequent failures, and their unceasing, tumultuous, and ferocious battles in the marketplace.

In Klein’s hands, their personalities and discoveries leap off the page. The Power Makers is a saga of inspired invention, dogged persistence, and business competition at its most naked and cutthroat?a tale of America in its most astonishing decades.
"The Power Makers is at once grandiloquent and granular. At technical descriptions, Klein excels. In explaining a disadvantage of Edison’s direct current?the greater the current, the bigger the wire needed to conduct it?he offers this nifty illustration: ?to light Fifth Avenue from Fourteenth to Fifty-ninth Street, the conductors would have to be as large as a man’s leg.’ If you haven’t given Boyle’s law much thought since the Reagan revolution, reading Klein will reward you with an excellent course in heat, electricity, and magnetism, at very little cost to your composure."?Jill Lepore, The New Yorker

"Maury’s Klein’s The Power Makers allows us to step back and remind ourselves?and we do need reminding?that the past two centuries have been a period of extraordinary invention . . . Fascinating."?William Tucker, Wall Street Journal

"Klein’s book reads like a fairy tale . . . Klein himself rarely fails to reach for the full significance of events. (?Every material achievement that would characterize civilization during the next two centuries began with the possibilities opened by the steam engine,’ he writes of James Watt’s invention.) The Power Makers is at once grandiloquent and granular. At technical descriptions, Klein excels. In explaining a disadvantage of Edison’s direct current?the greater the current, the bigger the wire needed to conduct it?he offers this nifty illustration: ?to light Fifth Avenue from Fourteenth to Fifty-ninth Street, the conductors would have to be as large as a man’s leg.’ If you haven’t given Boyle’s law much thought since the Reagan revolution, reading Klein will reward you with an excellent course in heat, electricity, and magnetism, at very little cost to your composure."?Jill Lepore, The New Yorker

"The Power Makers vividly and brilliantly reveals how the revolutions of steam and electricity, one facilitating the other, combined to reshape American society. Maury Klein tells a fascinating, heroic tale peopled by such giants as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and J.P. Morgan?whose partnerships, subterranean deals, and marketplace battles redefined not just American commerce, but the American landscape as well."?Edward J. Renehan Jr., author of Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

"Maury Klein's stories of heroic inventors creating the industrial revolution make the history of technology come alive."?Daniel Walker Howe, NBCC Award nominee for What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

"This well-oiled colossus of a book?its moving parts working together like a mighty machine?illuminates an epic period of national growth, when the country's first big carbon footprints were made on a march toward greatness and plenty."?Thomas Mallon, author of Henry and Clara, Bandbox, and Fellow Travelers

"Business historian Klein brings the steam and electrical power revolutions memorably to life. The author enlivens the narrative in two ways. First, he tethers it to three industrial exhibits?the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago and the 1939 World's Fair in New York?all occurring within the span of a lifetime, each neatly showcasing for the common man (and the general reader) the successive fruits of the power revolution and together linking the steam to the electric era. Second, he sprinkles lively portraits of the uncommon men responsible for the stunning transformation in the way we live: James Watt and the steam engine, Michael Faraday and the electromagnetic motor, Thomas Edison and the incandescent lamp. Klein also tells the story of Edison's principal rival, George Westinghouse; the eccentric visionary Nikola Tesla; Samuel Insull, who figured out how to deliver electricity cheaply to the masses; and scores of lesser-known figures who played a significant role in the advancement of the technological revolution. In addition to his comprehensive discussion of the discoveries, inventions and improvements, Klein also explains the centrality of politics, finance and public relations to the development, marketing and widespread adoption of the many wonders coming from progressive workshops like Menlo Park. From steamships, locomotives and trolleys, to telephones, radios, record players and a host of household appliances, the era was packed with astonishing developments that came with dizzying speed. The author makes room for a few cautionary tales about the blessings of this new technology, about the rampant materialism it helped inspire and about the damage inflicted during the rush to the future. For the most part, though, the book is a paean to the genius of an age not long past and a tribute to the men who made?far more than any politician or statesman?the modern world. An endlessly entertaining and informative treatment of a vast, sometimes difficult subject."?Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Klein presents an engaging, annotated, and accessible portrait of 18th- through early 20th-century inventors and entrepreneurs who fashioned America into the world's economic powerhouse . . . Klein highlights the famous?Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, and George Westinghouse?and the lesser known?including Nikola Tesla, Samuel Insull, and Charles Coffin?while also surveying the proliferation of industry based on their inventions, notably the railroad, steamship, and electric motor . . . This book will especially satisfy new or younger devotees of American applied scientific and technological history."?Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library Journal

"In an ambitious and expansive narrative, Klein chronicles the advent of steam power and the electrification of America. Klein's descriptions of the science of steam power, beginning with James Watt, and electricity are clear and detailed. He is especially strong when exploring the confounding engineering feats needed to make electricity a commercially feasible commodity. The heart of the book is the collision of entrepreneurs, inventors and financiers, and the epic battle between two icons of American industry, Edison and Westinghouse, to control and profit from the electrification of America. Along the way Klein brings dramatically to life the triumphs and disappointments, both human and technical, as the fledgling electric companies sought to service American homes and businesses. In a well-written and satisfying account, Klein makes readers aware of the magnitude of the energy, genius and tenacity of not only Edison?whose development of the world's first power station in 1881 on New York's Pearl Street was a momentous accomplishment?but also of Westinghouse and many others whose discoveries and vision made cheap electricity possible."?Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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  • Dark Light Redux?
    From Amazon

    Disclaimer: I have not read this book; so my 3-star rating is meaningless, but... The cover picture and lay-out looked familiar to me; as well as the themes discussed in the comments. Going through my library, I understood why: a couple of years back I read "Dark Light" by Linda Simon, written in 2004 (ISBN 0-15-603244-9). It had the same cover, the same topic, described the same period in electricity's history in America. It dealt with the same Edison/Westinghouse dispute, the same Harold Brown topic, even the same electric chair commentary. Strange, very strange.

  • It's Tough Translating a Technical Subject into Simple Langauge
    From Amazon

    Book is very good, although the explanations of early alternating current pilots and preliminary designs are a jumble of technical accuracy and layman's language. Not much different from the experiences of a college freshman in a second semester physics class. I also tripped over the use of expressions like "in the limelight", I struggling with whether that was intentional or not in describing the people who installed arc lighting in Manhattan. These minor criticisms aside, it's a great book in bringing the personalities of the inventors into a dry technical subject, and also because the author provides excellent insight into the dramatic leapos in technology that took significant study to theorize, identify through experimentation, and define through physics and mathematics.

  • A Fine Read
    From Amazon

    I was born and raised in Schenectady, New York, at a time when the locals still proudly, if a bit ruefully, referred to it as "The City That Lights and Hauls the World" because it was home to both the sprawling General Electric Company and the then-diminishing American Locomotive Company. But I didn't realize until reading this superb book that I never really understood how GE came to evolve out of the earlier Edison enterprises nor how and why it became headquartered in my home town. Nor did I realize how most of the giants behind the "energizing" of America, men like Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and Insull ended their lives, with the exception of Edison, disassociated from their great innovations, disillusioned with their business undertakings, and in the case of Insull, the unheralded pioneer of electric power distribution, indicted. I do now, thanks to this marvelously well-written survey of the history of steam and electricity in our country. I agree with the other reviewers that the technical discussions get a bit "thick" from time to time, and even perhaps fall somewhat short of how senior MIT and RPI engineering wonks would set them out, but I reminded myself as I read through them that this is not the story of the devices, but rather the story of the men behind them, and that story could hardly be better told. This distinction brought to mind Kate Colquhoun's delightful, "Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking:" the reader need not get hung up on the recipes described by the author; their significance lies in their time and place and what they reflected of their preparers and consumers. So it is with "The Power Makers." Professor Klein tells the story of the great inventors and their innovations so seamlessly and authoritatively that I would rank him right up there with the great historians of my reading experience, Ferguson, Schama, Hibbert, Porter, Anderson, Farwell and, well, you get the idea. Finally, have you ever interrupted a really pleasurable history read and thought to yourself, I wonder if the author enjoyed writing this as much as I am enjoying reading it? My guess is Klein certainly did and had some very good idea that he was producing not only the definitive popular history of the subject but a book that is nothing short of a total joy to read. Highly recommended.

  • A good history with shaky technology writing
    From Amazon

    A historian of business and society, Professor Klein's has written well on these two topics, an inspiration for techies like me, bringing back the pride I felt in the 1950s in reading biographies of inventors and scientists, and building electromechanical gadgets. A background frame of reference is provided based on a very young man attending the US centennial exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, where a huge Corliss steam engine was the star, and powered many other machines. Electrical exhibits were little more than scientific curiosities. Later the same man attended the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Here a hundred thousand light bulbs and hundreds of arc lights and dozens of machines were powered by electric generators or alternators, themselves powered by steam engines very much in the background. Finally the same man, quite old, attended the 1939 World's Fair in Queens, NYC. Now electricity was a given, and new appliances, radio, and even early TV as well as fluorescent lights were on display. The new star was the internal combustion engine. Cars had changed the landscape and were promoted as most desirable possessions for an unlimited future. Steam trains still ruled, but electric light rail, subway and elevated lines made densely populated cities livable. Steam engines are shown be have been empirical creations of tinkers, basically. Newcomen, Watt, Evans, Fitch, Rumsey, Trevithick, Fulton and many others are described. Personalities, business tribulations and/or success, acceptance of inventions, and patent fights are all there. These aspects were very well done. Later the move to steam turbines for more thermal efficiency appears. Early work on electricity that will remind you of grade school physics and chemistry courses comes next. Galvani, Volta, Ampere, Joule, Rumford, Carnot, Clausius, Faraday and others are well described. Then the applications guys -- Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, Steinmetz, Thomson and dozens of others are portrayed well. Here, too, the battles over patents that consumed so much effort and time received proper attention. Formation of General Electric around 1892 from Thomson-Houston and several other companies, especially Edison Electric is described, with smaller Westinghouse as the only significant independent for generators, alternators, motors, power stations, lighting and all. The battle of the currents, direct (Edison) and alternating (Westinghouse), gets the attention it deserves, including Edison's provision of alternating current for the first executions by electricity, and his vicious coinage of the term "Westinghoused". The adoption of 60-hertz frequency for alternating current and the voltages we have known all our lives has a history also. Finally the slow rise from about 1890 and sudden fall around 1930 of Samuel Insull, formerly an assistant to Edison, is shown. Here and elsewhere, the takeover by financial tycoons or bankers of companies already proven successful is described. Insull's little known contribution was working out how the electric utilities of today would operate to best advantage all around, as local monopolies under government regulation, allowing the economies of scale to be a benefit to all. Insull was among the first to realize that evenness of load was so important because, then as now, it is so hard to store huge amounts of electricity. Prof. Klein's writing is excellent in style and readability. There is very extensive referencing and an index, 16 photos, and some simple circuit diagrams from about 1885. More would have been very welcome, especially in explaining how 3-phase alternating current works. He has carefully avoided any present day political views about power and its makers or detractors. He has pulled together a story with more threads than a Persian rug. So why not 5-stars? While Prof. Klein realized that some description of steam engines and of all aspects of current electricity were needed to give the reader any understanding of what was accomplished, his efforts in this important area were less than perfect. The same with business terms. Some examples are given below. For a list of all 35, e-mail me at 1. On p15: "The Newcomen engine first heated the water in the cylinder..." The photo shows that water was heated in a boiler, and that steam entered the cylinder. The expression: "...create the vacuum to lift the beam..." is an obsolete description long replaced by: "air pressure pushed the piston down, lifting the beam". The errors were repeated on p21. 2. On p23 and elsewhere the advantage of one of Watt's inventions for the steam engine, the condenser, is not well explained, nor the air pump used with it. Since it appears that steam engines for railroads did not have condensers, I do not understand why it was so important for stationary ones. 3. On p45 and elsewhere, the term "tube boiler" was used without clarity on whether it was a fire tube or water tube type, these being quite different. 4. On p60 the fire tube boiler was said to have become the standard, but other sources say that the water tube type became standard. On p67 Prof. Klein wrote that this happened by 1876. 5. Also on p60, the Westinghouse air brake was said to stop a train by use of compressed air. This is not a good explanation; springs stop the train when the compressed air is released. And p193 was no help either. 6. On p64, anthracite coal was said to be almost pure carbon. But my 1953-4 CRC Handbook has 83% as the highest carbon content for any coal, far from almost pure.

  • Interesting book
    From Amazon

    A very interesting book, well written and obviously well researched---in some instances a bit too detailed but I am not an engineer and someone with more training, might find the detail worthwhile---

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