Thomas Edison. Nikola Tesla. George Westinghouse. Three names at the heart of the race to Electrify the United States. In late 19th Century, the three battled to become the king of the Gilded age through acts of sabotage, and innovation. Tied together by a drunk who accidentally electrocutes himself, and the first death by electrocution, Winchell weaves the story of each man, his growth to become an inventor, and his eventual stance on electricity: team DC or team AC.
Edison, known for his string of inventions, and a proud support of Direct Current, was a scientist and natural salesman from the beginning. At age four, Edison fell into a grain elevator and nearly escaped death, and before age seven he burnt down the family barn simply to learn how hay burned (Winchell 24). Edison however, and his keen eye for business, kept him afloat. Meanwhile Nikola Tesla, a man of great mind but also great social awkwardness, struggled to become a financially stable inventor. Motivated primarily by his love of Science and Alternating Current, Tesla is taken advantage of until he crosses paths with George Westinghouse. Westinghouse, who got his start inventing advancements to rail travel, passionately believed in the AC system. Upon the partnership of Westinghouse and Tesla, the race to light the United States became a true, mud-slinging war.
Light, quick-reading, and sometimes enraging, Winchell’s debut is an approachable work of non-fiction amid a sea of dry, sleep provoking works. Primarily an easy read, Winchell does warn the reader of some mild graphic scenes regarding the misuse of animals for experimentation and the slow death of William Kemmler. While the book is published primarily for Young Adult consumption, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about a topic otherwise out of my realm in education. After reading, I found myself wanting to know more about the life of Nikola Tesla, the man who gave up his source of income primarily to preserve Science, and less about Thomas Edison. I was frustrated at the steps Edison and his men took to destroy AC, but that same frustration kept me reading.
Ly, Carol, and Amazon.com. Cover Image: The Electric War. 13 May 2019.
Review: Winchell, Mike. The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World. New York, Henry Holt and Company, 2019.