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Electric Universe

Author: David Bodanis


ISBN: 9780349117669
Pages: 298
Description: I’m giving this three stars because what’s there is pretty good, for what it is. But it’s a grudging rating, for the book has one glaring, unforgivable fault.

The idea of this book is that it’s meant to be a beginner’s introduction to the underlying concepts of electricity: how it works and what’s going on, as well as interesting stories surrounding the discoveries of those concepts.

And to that extent, it succeeds.

Purists will be upset by this book because it uses the device of lies to children to get a lot of the ideas across; that is, it simplifies – sometimes grossly simplifies – concepts, sometimes even mischaracterizing them, in order to be able to make the information more understandable to people entirely new to the ideas.

But this book isn’t meant for purists. If you already have a reasonably good understanding of how electricity works, skip this book – it isn’t for you. It’s meant for people who are just beginning to get it; for them, it works.

However (and here we come to the glaring flaw I mentioned), this book contains a sin of omission: there is Not. One. Mention of Nicola Tesla. In the section on Edison, no mention of his and Tesla’s very public battle over whether the electric grid should be using direct current (Edison) or alternating current (Tesla), and why Tesla won (because he was right!).

In the bit about Marconi, he ignores the fact that many of Marconi’s patents – based on the work of Tesla, among others – were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 (6 years after Marconi’s death).

Given that much of the book is interesting stories about the scientists who discovered the properties of electricity and wrote its stories, it’s curious – not to mention disquieting – that the Edison/Tesla conflict, at the very least (since it deals with an aspect of the electrical system that is still very important to us today) would be ignored.
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