Empires of Light
By: Jill Jonnes
Review by Sarah Reisert
It’s one of the most epic scientific rivalries of the ages: Nikola Tesla, the dreamer, the willowy eccentric, purveyor of alternating current, vs. Thomas Edison, keen-eyed inventor, ambition personified, defender of direct current. They’d lead the world from a time of sizzling, blinding arc lights into the modern world of glowing filaments—but at what cost to themselves? Tesla gave up his patents to George Westinghouse so the world could have his inventions, leaving him poor and forgotten. Edison turned his genius to vile ends, electrocuting prisoners to “prove” AC’s danger.
Empires of Light follows them through the Niagara Falls project, the first large-scale, AC-generating plant in the world. I wanted to love this, but it was sort of just okay. You almost never see Tesla compared to Edison and Westinghouse, so maybe the book cover shouldn’t have given him equal billing. It is without a doubt one of the most important scientific stories of our age, and this is definitely a well-done guide to that story, but it’ll take you a while to get through.
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About the reviewer: Sarah Reisert is a young museum professional. She believes you should never be without a book in your purse. If pressed to pick a favorite genre, she’d answer ‘All of them.’
This review is part of Book Your Summer, our 2017 Adult Summer Reading program.