In the novel Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler separates people into two categories based on their survivability. One, of which he lists himself and Scarlett O’Hara, are hard-headed realists who adapt to and financially triumph over societal shifts (in this case, Reconstruction). The other category, personified by the dreamy and impractical Ashley Wilkes, is left in the dust.
Butler’s own category fits Thomas Edison, and the Wilkes’ one fits Nikola Tesla. While Tesla toiled away in his private laboratory, Edison had the foresight to see that the American public would hunger for such products as the light bulb and that the only way to meet this demand was through mass-producing them. From here, Edison became more factory owner than scientist, and by delegating the scientific duties to his many workers to meet the public demand, he elbowed his former genius-level IQ employee (Tesla could build machinery in his mind from a 3D angle) into an almost century-long obscurity. By racking up far more patents that Tesla (1,093 to Tesla’s 300), Edison died rich and Tesla died penniless. From such beginnings, the reader could assume that the history of the electrical industry was a triumph of the profit-factor over innovation and public service.
But author I. David Rosenstein shows that what sustained the industry through the capitalist corruption of the 1920s to the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown of the 1970s was its idealistic mission to provide excellent service to the public. Rosenstein obviously knows that the lay reader will not be interested in such arcane terms as “electric grids” and the differences between AC and DC; and he thus fashions the bulk of this excellent book on the universal appeal of survival and triumph, all for the most idealistic of reasons. Along the way readers are given a scientific education in such terms; no easy task, but one that Rosenstein pulls off admirably.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader