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From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history. Although Thomas Alva Edison was the most famous American of his time, and remains an international name today, he is mostly remembered only for the gift of universal electric light. His invention of the first practical From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history. Although Thomas Alva Edison was the most famous American of his time, and remains an international name today, he is mostly remembered only for the gift of universal electric light. His invention of the first practical incandescent lamp 140 years ago so dazzled the world--already reeling from his invention of the phonograph and dozens of other revolutionary devices--that it cast a shadow over his later achievements. In all, this near-deaf genius ("I haven't heard a bird sing since I was twelve years old") patented 1,093 inventions, not including others, such as the X-ray fluoroscope, that he left unlicensed for the benefit of medicine. One of the achievements of this staggering new biography, the first major life of Edison in more than twenty years, is that it portrays the unknown Edison--the philosopher, the futurist, the chemist, the botanist, the wartime defense adviser, the founder of nearly 250 companies--as fully as it deconstructs the Edison of mythological memory. Edmund Morris, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, brings to the task all the interpretive acuity and literary elegance that distinguished his previous biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Ludwig van Beethoven. A trained musician, Morris is especially well equipped to recount Edison's fifty-year obsession with recording technology and his pioneering advances in the synchronization of movies and sound. Morris sweeps aside conspiratorial theories positing an enmity between Edison and Nikola Tesla and presents proof of their mutually admiring, if wary, relationship. Enlightened by seven years of research among the five million pages of original documents preserved in Edison's huge laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey, and privileged access to family papers still held in trust, Morris is also able to bring his subject to life on the page--the adored yet autocratic and often neglectful husband of two wives and father of six children. If the great man who emerges from it is less a sentimental hero than an overwhelming force of nature, driven onward by compulsive creativity, then Edison is at last getting his biographical due.


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From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history. Although Thomas Alva Edison was the most famous American of his time, and remains an international name today, he is mostly remembered only for the gift of universal electric light. His invention of the first practical From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history. Although Thomas Alva Edison was the most famous American of his time, and remains an international name today, he is mostly remembered only for the gift of universal electric light. His invention of the first practical incandescent lamp 140 years ago so dazzled the world--already reeling from his invention of the phonograph and dozens of other revolutionary devices--that it cast a shadow over his later achievements. In all, this near-deaf genius ("I haven't heard a bird sing since I was twelve years old") patented 1,093 inventions, not including others, such as the X-ray fluoroscope, that he left unlicensed for the benefit of medicine. One of the achievements of this staggering new biography, the first major life of Edison in more than twenty years, is that it portrays the unknown Edison--the philosopher, the futurist, the chemist, the botanist, the wartime defense adviser, the founder of nearly 250 companies--as fully as it deconstructs the Edison of mythological memory. Edmund Morris, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, brings to the task all the interpretive acuity and literary elegance that distinguished his previous biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Ludwig van Beethoven. A trained musician, Morris is especially well equipped to recount Edison's fifty-year obsession with recording technology and his pioneering advances in the synchronization of movies and sound. Morris sweeps aside conspiratorial theories positing an enmity between Edison and Nikola Tesla and presents proof of their mutually admiring, if wary, relationship. Enlightened by seven years of research among the five million pages of original documents preserved in Edison's huge laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey, and privileged access to family papers still held in trust, Morris is also able to bring his subject to life on the page--the adored yet autocratic and often neglectful husband of two wives and father of six children. If the great man who emerges from it is less a sentimental hero than an overwhelming force of nature, driven onward by compulsive creativity, then Edison is at last getting his biographical due.

30 review for Edison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    As a boy growing up there was a time when I read the biographies of famous persons. The Wright Brothers. Alexander Graham Bell. And of course Thomas Alva Edison. The books that I read then were geared towards a child and were light and not too technical. Edmund Morris's biography is very deep, extensively researched, and at times technical. Edison was much more than the inventor of the first practical incandescent lamp, phonograph, and motion pictures. This tome brings to life the man I did not As a boy growing up there was a time when I read the biographies of famous persons. The Wright Brothers. Alexander Graham Bell. And of course Thomas Alva Edison. The books that I read then were geared towards a child and were light and not too technical. Edmund Morris's biography is very deep, extensively researched, and at times technical. Edison was much more than the inventor of the first practical incandescent lamp, phonograph, and motion pictures. This tome brings to life the man I did not know. The botanist. The miner. The founder of nearly 250 companies. The husband and father. As many other reviewers have noted Edmund Morris presents this biography in reverse order. That is it starts with his death in 1931. Each subsequent chapter is a previous decade and subject. Botany - 1920 - 1929, Defense - 1910 - 1919, Chemistry - 1900 - 1909, Magnetism - 1890 - 1899, Light - 1880 - 1889, Sound - 1870 - 1879, Telegraphy - 1860 - 1869, Natural Philosophy - 1847 - 1859. I found this somewhat disconcerting. For instance in an early chapter he already knew Henry Ford and Benjamin Goodrich. In the next chapter he meets Ford for the first time and Goodrich is unknown. Also, Edison had a life long interest in sound. It was not just a passing interest in one decade and then he moved on to a different field. One of things I learned was that Edison made up for his deafness by sometimes biting on an object. As a child Edison was a bit of a misfit in school. Much of his learning came from being taught by his mother. There was an instance in his childhood where he went swimming with a friend. The friend went under. Edison waited awhile and when his friend didn't come up Edison went home. I sometimes wondered what would have happened if Edison had grown up in today's society. He would probably be diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and medicated with something like ritalin. Instead he started his first business when he was twelve years old (selling candy and fruit on a train), patented 1,093 inventions, and brought light into the world. Despite his genius and all of his accomplishments Edison was human and Edmund Morris helps us understand the man.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    I do not agree with the decision to present Edison’s life in reverse chronology. Maybe I’ll try another biography some day.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    There are certain conventions and norms that one expects when writing a biography. The biography is either going to be written chronologically or (less frequently) thematically. Those are the approaches that people know and are familiar. To do it any other way requires a skilled writer and a supportive editor/publisher. Edmund Morris is a skilled writer. This is the fourth book that I have read by him. The first three (on Roosevelt) all received 5 stars from me and one earned Morris the Pulitzer There are certain conventions and norms that one expects when writing a biography. The biography is either going to be written chronologically or (less frequently) thematically. Those are the approaches that people know and are familiar. To do it any other way requires a skilled writer and a supportive editor/publisher. Edmund Morris is a skilled writer. This is the fourth book that I have read by him. The first three (on Roosevelt) all received 5 stars from me and one earned Morris the Pulitzer Prize. Morris chose to break convention and write his biography largely in reverse chronological order. This is either a stroke of genius or idiocy. Unfortunately, in this case it was the later. By tracing his life from the end to the beginning, one misses key aspects of certain event. The backstory that helps you understand the significance of an event is covered either briefly or not at all. Early in the book you feel dropped into a situation---for example, the electrocution of the elephant Topsy. As the book is written in reverse order, you encounter the elephant’s death without understanding the rivalry between AC and DC power. You do not know about the battles with Tesla or Edison’s being forced out of his own company. These events are told in earlier--- I mean later---chapters. As such Morris is forced to spend more time setting the scenario of Topsy’s death. It also means that when you learn about issues that occurred earlier in Edison’s life, you sit there wishing that you had that perspective when you read about the later event. This was a frequent experience. Morris spent more time than necessary covering the back story of events at the end of Edison’s life, that you learn about at the end of the book. When you learn about the antecedent events it is not an ah-ha moment, but rather, “I wish I knew that when I he covered a later period of Edison’s life.” The end of the book often felt as if he was foreshadowing events that he had already covered in great detail---“this was the first time he considered mining” or he was told that if he ever experienced a full solar eclipse that it would last just minutes. By the time I finished the book, I had grown convinced that the editor made a mistake and put the chapters in the wrong order! Yes, Morris (who recently passed away) was one of the greats---but his editors or publishers should have told him no. They should have said, “We know you won a Pulitzer, but this does not work.” His editors and publishers failed him. This book had the promise of being very good, but structurally it failed. The editors and publishers deserve additional scorn for the way they handled the audio book. I think they realized that having the book written in reverse chronology would be difficult to follow, so they kept each chapter in the audio book tied to a decade of his life. This means that each audio chapter is up to 6 hours in length. If you accidentally forward or rewind an audio chapter, it is extremely difficult and time consuming to find you place.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Romero

    Edmund Morris is the author of the three Theodore Roosevelt biographies as well as the really good Ronald Reagan one. I am very sad to say he passed away just this past May. Thomas Edison was a driven man. He was constantly inventing and patenting new ideas or as he would say, he brought them out in the open, they were always there. He had a new invention about every 11 days, with over 1,000 in his lifetime. Best known for bringing us into the light, he was a man with a singular need to invent, to Edmund Morris is the author of the three Theodore Roosevelt biographies as well as the really good Ronald Reagan one. I am very sad to say he passed away just this past May. Thomas Edison was a driven man. He was constantly inventing and patenting new ideas or as he would say, he brought them out in the open, they were always there. He had a new invention about every 11 days, with over 1,000 in his lifetime. Best known for bringing us into the light, he was a man with a singular need to invent, to experiment, to push the boundaries of what was known. He was a man who needed little sleep or food and expected those around him to work the same punishing hours as he did.  He did not suffer fools lightly and like a lot of geniuses who are laser-focused on what they see as their calling, his family life suffered. We see the husband, the father, the friend. A man who was headstrong. He started 250 businesses, so you can imagine he might have been a distant father. He made no secret that he thought his children were lacking in every way.  I have read many biographies of Edison, most of which centered on his works and patents. I don't think he was a deliberately cold man, he was a man possessed with a need to create, to push boundaries and with that type of mind, relationships and family take a back seat. The research that went into this work is astounding. This is a book I will have and re-read for a long time.  NetGalley/Random House (October 22, 2019)

  5. 5 out of 5

    Casey Cep

    I reviewed this biography of Thomas Edison for "The New Yorker." You can read the review, which takes into account some other writing about him, here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lynndell

    More than just an inventor! Thanks to Amazon Vine, NetGally and Random House Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Edison by Edmund Morris. This eight hundred page book is an interesting read and engaged me easily with the history of Thomas Alva Edison. This fascinating man was so much more than just an inventor and the author conducted extensive research to bring Edison to life for us! I just wish the book had an index for research accessibility because this is the main reason for More than just an inventor! Thanks to Amazon Vine, NetGally and Random House Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Edison by Edmund Morris. This eight hundred page book is an interesting read and engaged me easily with the history of Thomas Alva Edison. This fascinating man was so much more than just an inventor and the author conducted extensive research to bring Edison to life for us! I just wish the book had an index for research accessibility because this is the main reason for wanting this biography of Thomas Alva Edison, using it for research that our library students have to conduct to complete their annual research paper. All-in-all, a great read because the author has taken the facts about Edison and made them appealing and compelling!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Camille Calman

    I received free uncorrected proofs of this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I had previously read and enjoyed one of Edmund Morris’s books on Theodore Roosevelt, so I was confident that I would enjoy this book (Morris’s last – he died in May 2019). I was correct; the book is well-researched, written in a lively, readable style, and does a reasonably good job of explaining scientific concepts to lay people. I was really impressed by the author’s ability to convey how much of Edison’s success I received free uncorrected proofs of this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I had previously read and enjoyed one of Edmund Morris’s books on Theodore Roosevelt, so I was confident that I would enjoy this book (Morris’s last – he died in May 2019). I was correct; the book is well-researched, written in a lively, readable style, and does a reasonably good job of explaining scientific concepts to lay people. I was really impressed by the author’s ability to convey how much of Edison’s success (which is what we remember today) rested on extensive trial and error, learning from multiple failures, and obsessive workaholism. My one complaint about the book is that for some reason, Morris has elected to tell the story backwards. We begin with Edison’s death, then travel successively through the 1920s, 1910s, etc., back to his birth in 1847. Within each decade, we move forward in time, but at the end of the 1920s, we suddenly go from 1929 to the next chapter, which begins 19 years earlier in 1910. The effect is choppy. Edison, and the author, are constantly having to remember and refer to events that, for the reader, haven’t happened yet. Friendships or business relationships end in one chapter and begin in the next. Edison is married to one woman in 1899, and then – a page later – it’s 1880 and he’s married to a different woman. I’m not sure what possessed Morris to structure the book this way; perhaps he did so because the most interesting inventions happen when Edison is fairly young, and in a strictly chronological book, that would have happened early and the rest of the book might have seemed anti-climactic. But it comes off as gimmicky and not very reader-friendly.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Rich Gatlin

    Edmund Morris has an uncanny ability to put you in the world he's writing about. I'm a huge fan of his Roosevelt biography, so I was very excited to receive this book from Goodreads as an advance copy ahead of publication. It did not disappoint. The format is unique, it is written from the end of his life to the beginning in reverse order. At first I was unsure but it turned out to be one of the best parts of the book. Normally I dread reading the first part of any biography as it's a slog Edmund Morris has an uncanny ability to put you in the world he's writing about. I'm a huge fan of his Roosevelt biography, so I was very excited to receive this book from Goodreads as an advance copy ahead of publication. It did not disappoint. The format is unique, it is written from the end of his life to the beginning in reverse order. At first I was unsure but it turned out to be one of the best parts of the book. Normally I dread reading the first part of any biography as it's a slog through the childhood sections to get to the part you really want to read. This method got directly to the most interesting part of this incredible man's life. Edison is a fascinating biography due to the subject matter, but Mr. Morris' skill takes this book to a different level. Highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    The thing everyone writes about this biography is that Morris wrote it backwards. It starts with his death and each chapter is the previous decade of his life. I liked this choice the further I got into the book, as it sets up Edison's greatest inventions (phonograph and light bulb) as a climax to the book. So much of his life afterwards was built around these two things, and the book deconstructs all of it as we read further into the book while moving earlier into his life. It creates a tension The thing everyone writes about this biography is that Morris wrote it backwards. It starts with his death and each chapter is the previous decade of his life. I liked this choice the further I got into the book, as it sets up Edison's greatest inventions (phonograph and light bulb) as a climax to the book. So much of his life afterwards was built around these two things, and the book deconstructs all of it as we read further into the book while moving earlier into his life. It creates a tension and excitement when you get to the moments, 3/4 of the way through the biography. I also enjoyed how this book demystified Edison's scientific process. It was less "A-ha!" moments and more 18 hours days in his lab. It also shows the magic people felt from his inventions. They could hear audio recordings of famous people or loved ones after their deaths. They could easily see in their homes after dark without gas torches or candles. These were huge moments in the world, and Morris does a great job walking us through them.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Ye gads, NO!!! There was a creative new angle for Morris in penning the life of Edison (see end of review) but not the one he actually took. No, this just doesn’t work. I’ve read an occasional non-chronological, thematically organized biography. Where it’s not intended to be an introductory biography, and may be somewhat professionally targeted, such as Heiko Oberman’s Luther bio, it can work well. I have never read a reverse chronological biography, and now, I’ll never try another. First, this is Ye gads, NO!!! There was a creative new angle for Morris in penning the life of Edison (see end of review) but not the one he actually took. No, this just doesn’t work. I’ve read an occasional non-chronological, thematically organized biography. Where it’s not intended to be an introductory biography, and may be somewhat professionally targeted, such as Heiko Oberman’s Luther bio, it can work well. I have never read a reverse chronological biography, and now, I’ll never try another. First, this is the same Edmund Morris who invented a fictional character for his Reagan bio and claimed it was because he couldn’t grasp Reagan. That would seem to be a lie, and that idea mainly just a literary conceit as is the reverse chronology here. Critics slammed Morris for that. Speaking of? You won’t see any blurbs — none at all — on the back cover here. Yes, I know he died earlier this year. Nonetheless, this isn’t a novel dependent on the author’s name, and even if there were some degree of rush, galley proofs would have been ready by May. So, either Random House quailed at sending it to Kirkus, NY Review of Books, etc., or else it did and they slammed it. That also doesn’t look good. As for the book itself, you could do as one other low-star reviewer suggests and read it in normal chronological order, ie, reverse chapter order. However, some placement-early chapters may refer forward, or is that backward, to late-placement, but earlier-chronology, chapters. Second problem, and one that an “artiste” biographer like Morris should never have stepped into, if he is indeed such an “artiste.” Lives don’t divide on precise decadal lines, and certainly not “one decade = one theme.” It looks like he tried to take a thematic approach, a la Oberman to Luther, and straitjacket it inside a chronological format. And that on top of doing the reverse chronology. The sad thing? I’d never before read much about Edison’s personal life, other than his hanging out with Ford and Firestone. I didn’t know he was married twice. Nor that his namesake eldest son from his first marriage was a wastrel. Nor that he, and to some degree all the children of the first marriage, were written off by not only Edison’s second wife, but Edison himself. It seems like there was potential for a HUGE biography of Edison the person first, inventor second. And Morris blew it. What I have learned about Edison the person is the only reason I didn’t one-star this book. Maybe somebody will come along and do the bio Morris could and should have done.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anne Morgan

    Thomas Alva Edison, known today primarily as the inventor of the lightbulb, spent his life researching, experimenting, and inventing devices in nearly every scientific field available to him over the course of his life. Edmund Morris' new biography takes a thoroughly-researched, detailed look into these aspects of Edison's life, hoping to leave readers (perhaps) with the sense of Edison as a Renaissance Man who unceasingly explored the world around him. The reader learns of Edison's tireless Thomas Alva Edison, known today primarily as the inventor of the lightbulb, spent his life researching, experimenting, and inventing devices in nearly every scientific field available to him over the course of his life. Edmund Morris' new biography takes a thoroughly-researched, detailed look into these aspects of Edison's life, hoping to leave readers (perhaps) with the sense of Edison as a Renaissance Man who unceasingly explored the world around him. The reader learns of Edison's tireless efforts to perfect phonograph recordings (although deaf himself), his proficiency with Morse code, as well as the creation of inventions that, even after Morris described them, I had no idea what they were for or what they did. That is one of the issues I had with Edison. In his push to show the reader all of the work Edison did, Morris overwhelms the reader with scientific information in some places and underwhelms the reader in others. The main problem I had with Edison however, is that it is written backwards. Starting with his death in 1931, each part of the book covers about ten years of Edison's life, retreating backwards in time until he's born in 1847. This often made the reading choppy and the biography's progression difficult to follow. Partnerships, inventions, lawsuits, and personal relationships end before they begin and often Morris has to refer the reader to later parts in the book to cover the beginning of something he's now talking about ending. If there was a reason for writing the book that way, I couldn't tell what it was- except a desire to experiment and do something different. In this case different was certainly memorable, but not, for me, in a good way. Glimpses of Edison the man manage to show through Edison the scientist or Edison the businessman but those glimpses don't give the reader much of an impression of who he was or what made him the way he was. The impressions we do get show us a perfectionist, a tyrant, and a control freak. Meeting Edison like this at the end of his life, I have a hard time knowing if I didn't like this book because I didn't like Edison as a person, and had no investment in who he would become or what he would do with his life because I saw it from the end on, or if it was the book itself. Not a book I'd recommend for any but the most fervent of Edison admirers, and even then, I strongly recommend reading the book from end to beginning to try and make some sense out of it. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  12. 5 out of 5

    Margery Osborne

    I don't know what possessed the author to invert his narrative but the end result was to make this biography of Edison a complete slog. seriously I don't think I achieved any insight into Edison or his process. Would it have been different if the story of his childhood and youth came first? Maybe but after forcing myself through all those pages I really wasn't in the mood to rethink or reread the earlier pages. I have had some personal experience hanging with 'inventors' and I do know it takes I don't know what possessed the author to invert his narrative but the end result was to make this biography of Edison a complete slog. seriously I don't think I achieved any insight into Edison or his process. Would it have been different if the story of his childhood and youth came first? Maybe but after forcing myself through all those pages I really wasn't in the mood to rethink or reread the earlier pages. I have had some personal experience hanging with 'inventors' and I do know it takes more than having a 'good idea' to engender a technological revolution like Edison's inventions have. Contrasting this book to Walter Isaacson's bio of Steve Job's--the later was so much more insightful about the man and also his creations and vision really. I was disappointed.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chris Kovacs

    This book is unusual in that the beginning of the biography starts with Edison's death and then proceeds backwards through the decades of life. For a subject such as Edison where "progress" is the essence of the story this makes it almost impossible to understand. People and inventions pop up and then go away with no clear sense of the magnificent importance of what is being discussed. Relationship with Tesla and controversy with Westinghouse is barely mentioned and when it is, it is difficult This book is unusual in that the beginning of the biography starts with Edison's death and then proceeds backwards through the decades of life. For a subject such as Edison where "progress" is the essence of the story this makes it almost impossible to understand. People and inventions pop up and then go away with no clear sense of the magnificent importance of what is being discussed. Relationship with Tesla and controversy with Westinghouse is barely mentioned and when it is, it is difficult to place into contest. Extremely difficult to follow, but writing is good. If you are to read this, I would suggest starting with the last chapter and read backwards from there.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Craig Pearson

    Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. This is a very detailed look at the life and foibles of Thomas Edison. Most people know only general facts of Ediso's genius, such as the light bulb and motion pictures. They do not know about his failures and family life. Edison was very complicated and most, even his family, did not understand him fully. This book has many technical details about his inventions and patents but they are presented by Morris in a very Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. This is a very detailed look at the life and foibles of Thomas Edison. Most people know only general facts of Ediso's genius, such as the light bulb and motion pictures. They do not know about his failures and family life. Edison was very complicated and most, even his family, did not understand him fully. This book has many technical details about his inventions and patents but they are presented by Morris in a very readable way. The biggest problem with the book is the odd timeline used. Edison's life is given in reverse chronologic order. That may work in a fictional story but not in a biography. Knowing how events unfold before they begin is just wrong.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Annette Geiss

    A comprehensive tome on Thomas Alva Edison. Admittedly, I skimmed much of it, as it is so filled with exhaustive accounts of him and his life. I learned copious details about this rare genius of a man. Kudos to Edmund Morris for his extensive research. Thanks you Netgalley and Random House for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karen Troutman

    I received this book as an electronic resource from Net Galley Noted: I am not a great history buff. For the true follower of Edison this would be great book. I however, found it exhaustive and skimmed some of the details. Not one of my favorite books but it well researched and written.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott Wozniak

    I loved Morris's biography of Teddy Roosevelt, so I had high hopes for this book. He's still a skilled writer, so there were smooth sentences and nice turns of phrase here or there. But the book was overwhelmed by the technical details of his discoveries (hundreds of them). I liked those details. But there was relatively very little space given to his personal life, his thoughts, his character. Most of all, the book went through his life backwards. Seriously, it started with his last decade. I loved Morris's biography of Teddy Roosevelt, so I had high hopes for this book. He's still a skilled writer, so there were smooth sentences and nice turns of phrase here or there. But the book was overwhelmed by the technical details of his discoveries (hundreds of them). I liked those details. But there was relatively very little space given to his personal life, his thoughts, his character. Most of all, the book went through his life backwards. Seriously, it started with his last decade. Then to his second to last decade. Not only was it a bit jarring, but it ruined some of the poignancy to hear the ending of relationships before I knew what they'd done together. I actually read the second half of the book out of order, and it was much more enjoyable that way. Oh well. Edison himself was a workaholic jerk, actually. He had an impressive work ethic and creative mind. But he was a bad human being. I don't just mean he worked hard. For example, his teenage daughter got small pox while on a trip and couldn't travel. So he left her behind with one of his staff to help and went home. Despite being urged to talk to her, he not only didn't visit her while she recovered (and found she had facial scars), he didn't even stop long enough to write her a letter. He didn't even ask her to come home and she was so hurt she didn't leave that country for years. Yeah--jerk.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Scott Martin

    (Audiobook) A good read, but one that could have been better. Admittedly, I didn't know a lot about the man, so this book does a good job of offering good insight into the man. Like many famous folks, there was good and bad about the man. Hard-working, and did much to advance human development. Interesting that Edison felt that the phonograph was his most important invention, rather than the lightbulb, but both continue to define humanity. His family life was difficult, especially when his sons (Audiobook) A good read, but one that could have been better. Admittedly, I didn't know a lot about the man, so this book does a good job of offering good insight into the man. Like many famous folks, there was good and bad about the man. Hard-working, and did much to advance human development. Interesting that Edison felt that the phonograph was his most important invention, rather than the lightbulb, but both continue to define humanity. His family life was difficult, especially when his sons struggled to find their way in the shadow of their famous father. Yet, I had an issue with the organization of the work. The author decided to go with a reverse life perspective, starting with the ending of Edison's life and working backwards to his origins. That in and of itself is not always bad, but it did make the narrative disjointed, and it might work better for someone who knew more about Edison than I did. However, for those who are reading to really learn about the man, it can make it hard to follow for the facts. The work is generally positive in its descriptions of the man, and while it alludes some to his struggles with former collaborators/employees, Morris doesn't really discuss those interactions, when they offer a lot of insight into the man. Worth a read, but maybe not the best read/organized work about Edison. The reader does a decent job with the material, but doesn't add or detract from the work.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    I think I like the concept of presenting a biography in reverse order more than the actual execution here. There’s lots of fascinating insight, and Edison definitely comes alive, but it doesn’t feel like the book was written with this express intent. There’s too many moments of confusion that could have been smoothed out if Mr. Morris had lived to take another pass at this. As it is, it feels like a gimmick, as other reviewers have noted. But I think this idea has potential to better understand I think I like the concept of presenting a biography in reverse order more than the actual execution here. There’s lots of fascinating insight, and Edison definitely comes alive, but it doesn’t feel like the book was written with this express intent. There’s too many moments of confusion that could have been smoothed out if Mr. Morris had lived to take another pass at this. As it is, it feels like a gimmick, as other reviewers have noted. But I think this idea has potential to better understand someone about which much is assumed but less is actually known (as is certainly the case of Mr. Edison). For all that, I still found lots of inspiration here.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Thank you to Netgalley for the free e-book in exchange for a review. I really enjoyed this book in the beginning - or should I say at the end? This biography is written Benjamin Button's style, starting with Edison's death and then going backwards. I found Edison's micromanagement and interest in the tiniest details of his company fascinating. Who knew that Edison spent so much effort to find a domestic plant to make into rubber? This book's unique format made it so that I was fully immersed in Thank you to Netgalley for the free e-book in exchange for a review. I really enjoyed this book in the beginning - or should I say at the end? This biography is written Benjamin Button's style, starting with Edison's death and then going backwards. I found Edison's micromanagement and interest in the tiniest details of his company fascinating. Who knew that Edison spent so much effort to find a domestic plant to make into rubber? This book's unique format made it so that I was fully immersed in Edison's later innovations. This made for quick page turning at first, but as I continued reading I became confused in the timelines and ultimately lost interest. Edmund Morris did a massive amount of research. This biography is perfect for someone who wants to know everything about Edison's business. Unfortunately, I learned enough in the first couple hundred pages and stopped reading. Maybe I'll pick it up later and finish.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Becky Loader

    Morris is an excellent researcher, and by presenting the biography in reverse order, he takes the reader from the end to the beginning of an amazing life--and career. No punches are pulled about the extremely eccentric parts of Edison's life and the relative indifference he displays to his family. I learned a lot of details I had not read about before. Many interesting photos are also included.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian DeVries

    An exhaustive study of Edison's life and achievements. I enjoyed the amount of detail in describing Edison's inventions but I don't feel it was so much that it would frustrate a non-technical reader. The only negative for me was the reverse history format. (His last 10 years, then the 10 before that etc.) I found that frustrating.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Duffy

    I really liked that the author wrote about Edison’s life in a reverse timeline.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    I love Morris' writing (RIP Edmund!), and this book did not disappoint. I wavered a bit on whether I liked the reverse chronology format, but I ultimately came down on deciding that yes, it was good. Not only is it an interesting way to structure a non-fiction book, but also, I think it served to keep the narrative moving towards the ultimate inventions everyone knows him for (phonographs and lightbulbs) which came relatively early in his career. Moving backwards through the decades dropped I love Morris' writing (RIP Edmund!), and this book did not disappoint. I wavered a bit on whether I liked the reverse chronology format, but I ultimately came down on deciding that yes, it was good. Not only is it an interesting way to structure a non-fiction book, but also, I think it served to keep the narrative moving towards the ultimate inventions everyone knows him for (phonographs and lightbulbs) which came relatively early in his career. Moving backwards through the decades dropped interesting breadcrumbs along the way and actually made the end of the book move quicker than the beginning (like, how did his first wife die? What was his dad like?) Morris is such a fantastic writer, and not only knows his subject well, it is also apparent that he knows Edison's work well too. I did like the Teddy Roosevelt book a bit better, because I felt more comfortable in the political world than the business/science world, and TR himself left such a large body of writing, it was more immersive. At times, Edison comes off as a horny asshole. Still fascinating, but less likable.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jud DeLoss

    An exhaustively detailed book filled with dates and notes and snippets of the inventor’s life. But there was also insight into the man and what he was about. Edison’s life was not just phonographs, light bulbs, and celebrity. He was driven and not by financial success. This book captures that inner drive and lack of concern about anything or anyone on Edison’s part.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    The story of Thomas A. Edison’s life is recounted in an unusual manner in this biography. Told from the perspective of the man’s fascinations with different fields, electricity, sound, light, chemistry, and botany, it does not follow the normal life’s progression found in most biographies. I found this interesting and while each section was detailed I was not put off by the detail as each related to former or future endeavors of Edison. For instance, the book begins with Edison’s work in the The story of Thomas A. Edison’s life is recounted in an unusual manner in this biography. Told from the perspective of the man’s fascinations with different fields, electricity, sound, light, chemistry, and botany, it does not follow the normal life’s progression found in most biographies. I found this interesting and while each section was detailed I was not put off by the detail as each related to former or future endeavors of Edison. For instance, the book begins with Edison’s work in the field of botany at the behest of friends, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone. Something I knew nothing about, but was not surprised to learn, Edison pursued finding latex in native plants with the same singularity of purpose that he is noted to have used in the pursuit of a viable filament for incandescent lamps. The arrangement made the book easier to read and perhaps provided a better understanding of what made the man than many biographies.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    I am constantly amazed by the depth and breadth of Edmund Morris biographies, and I am sad to think that Edison is the last I will read. Mr. Morris spent years researching and writing this book, and his dedication is certainly reflected in the amount of detail presented, both of Thomas A Edison the man and the inventor. The timeline of this biography is somewhat confusing, it is not as linear as I am used to seeing. Mr. Morris paints a vivid picture of Edison's family life, most of which I was I am constantly amazed by the depth and breadth of Edmund Morris biographies, and I am sad to think that Edison is the last I will read. Mr. Morris spent years researching and writing this book, and his dedication is certainly reflected in the amount of detail presented, both of Thomas A Edison the man and the inventor. The timeline of this biography is somewhat confusing, it is not as linear as I am used to seeing. Mr. Morris paints a vivid picture of Edison's family life, most of which I was unaware. It definitely humanized Edison. Thomas Edison was a man of high standards, which he extended to his family, co-workers and employees. He is responsible for more than 1,000 inventions, most of which are presented in very technical detail. Edison failed often, especially in business (he started around 250). Edmund Morris had unprecedented access to Edison's personal papers, extensive library, and to his family. 4.5 I received my copy through NetGalley under no obligation.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    Though it was in many ways an “unenlightened” era, the late 1800s to early 1900s --- when Jim Crow laws and anti-Semitism were still rife in American culture, and women would not obtain the right to vote until 1920 --- saw the creation of some of the modern world’s most needed systems and machinery, much of them the product of one man’s scientific genius. Pulitzer Prize winner Edmund Morris composed this lively, fact-laden biography of Thomas Alva Edison over the course of seven years. Edison Though it was in many ways an “unenlightened” era, the late 1800s to early 1900s --- when Jim Crow laws and anti-Semitism were still rife in American culture, and women would not obtain the right to vote until 1920 --- saw the creation of some of the modern world’s most needed systems and machinery, much of them the product of one man’s scientific genius. Pulitzer Prize winner Edmund Morris composed this lively, fact-laden biography of Thomas Alva Edison over the course of seven years. Edison would eventually hold more than a thousand patents, including sound recording, though his life was marred by deafness that began in his early youth. He was homeschooled and showed entrepreneurial talent as a newsboy, often using his earnings to purchase items he needed for his own chemical experiments. He was, as portrayed by Morris, obsessive, hardworking and well aware of the extent of his mental capacities. He had an early job as a telegrapher, shining with his unusual speed and ability to improve systems, while simultaneously annoying his superiors by neglecting his work and getting sidetracked by his own complex interests. When he opened his own shop, starting a new industry that would become General Motors, he devised his own employment testing system, asking potential workers in his lab “general knowledge” questions that stymied even Albert Einstein. Edison is shown as someone who would not shrink from risk-taking, who was “honest and honorable,” yet willing to do almost anything necessary to beat a competitor to the patent office. He was pals with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, contemporaries who shared aspects of the inventor’s genius and commercial aspirations. The three, along with President Harding, went vagabonding in Edison’s latter years, when the Wizard of Menlo Park was famously photographed stretched out on the ground for a nap in a white linen suit. Morris, who passed away in 2019 after completing this remarkable work, chose to organize the book in a backwards chronology, beginning with Edison’s death and ending with his birth. EDISON, nonetheless, is definitive. His inventions are described in strict, painstaking detail, and likewise, the events of the great man’s personal life add rich background. His sign-offs to letters to his wife, Mina, speak both to his passion and his unrestrained intellect: “With a kiss like the Swish of a 13 inch canon projectile I remain as always your lover sure solid & unchangeable.” Edison invented not only the light bulb, but also the means of illuminating entire cities, bringing about such an enormous alteration in American life and livelihood that upon his death, President Hoover refused to call for a memorial of a total blackout, which he believed “would immobilize the nation and quite possibly kill countless people.” Private citizens, though, turned their lights out for one minute in a gesture of respect for the man who had made their lives brighter. Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    “I would say to one particular atom in me—call it atom No. 4320—‘Go and be part of a rose for a while.’ All the atoms could be sent off to become parts of different minerals, plants, and other substances. Then, if by just pressing a little push button they could be called together again, they would bring back their experiences while they were parts of those different substances, and I would have the benefit of the knowledge.” Morris, Edmund. Edison. P. 495. (2019) Edmund Morris’s biography of “I would say to one particular atom in me—call it atom No. 4320—‘Go and be part of a rose for a while.’ All the atoms could be sent off to become parts of different minerals, plants, and other substances. Then, if by just pressing a little push button they could be called together again, they would bring back their experiences while they were parts of those different substances, and I would have the benefit of the knowledge.” Morris, Edmund. Edison. P. 495. (2019) Edmund Morris’s biography of Thomas Edison brings to life all sides of the genius’s character. His lifelong curiosity about how things work, his ability to dream up new devices, his ability to focus deeply on achieving his goal, and his legendary capacity for hard work. Readers will learn not only about Edison’s many inventions, his incredible number of patents, but more importantly how his work has changed they way we live. Morris chooses to tell the story of Edison’s life in reverse. Beginning with his diabetes, stomach ailments, and the severe hearing loss he dealt with all his life, Morris chronicles Edison’s business success and failures through the years. As Edison’s physical health wained, his strong desire to continue finding solutions to problems maintained its dominant hold on his life. A man more at home in his laboratory than at home with wife and children. He was married twice and had children from two marriages. His first wife died at age 28 leaving him a widower with 3 young children. Edison’s early years were marked by people mistaking his power of concentration or day dreaming for slowness or an inability to comprehend daily life as others do. Educated at home by his mother, due to difficulty fitting in at school, Edison is in large part that rare breed of self educated man. Moving through the biography, readers will see Edison’s ability through reading to gather information about whatever area he was interested in whether it is electricity, mining, or botany. A true life long learner. - [ ] If you read nothing else in this biography, read Morris’s Epilogue. For in it, he evokes the tremendous sense of loss felt through out the United States at Edison’s death. A sense of loss felt only in my lifetime with the death of President Kennedy. A brilliant writer and biographer Morris is now lost to us as well having died in May 2019.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Many biographies have been written about Thomas Alva Edison. I read one the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school and reported on it as part of a required US history course I took in summer school. I've always had a deep respect for this man who did much to change the world. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris opted for an unusual structure of presentation in this book. He starts with the final year and death of Edison in 1931, and thereafter, chapter by chapter, he Many biographies have been written about Thomas Alva Edison. I read one the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school and reported on it as part of a required US history course I took in summer school. I've always had a deep respect for this man who did much to change the world. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris opted for an unusual structure of presentation in this book. He starts with the final year and death of Edison in 1931, and thereafter, chapter by chapter, he works backward by decade but relates each decade in normal sequence, so there is 1920–29, then 1910–19 and so on until we reach Edison's babyhood. He was born on February 11, 1847. While I respect the author's desire to do something original and the fact that it's all very good reading, structurally this does not work for the simple reason that this is not how we experience the passage of time. Consequently, we encounter too many best friends and relatives who later on are suddenly spoken of as new to the story. To cite one prominent example: One of Edison's closest friends and greatest admirers in later life was automobile king Henry Ford. Later on, we find Ford as a talented engineer working for Edison and telling him that he has an idea for a kind of automobile that would run on a gasoline engine. Edison was at the time working on a way to make a better electric car but encouraged Ford to continue because his idea sounded like a good one. It's also confusing when you're not sure when certain of Edison's inventions came on the scene. He did work in telegraphy, photography, telephony, the famous incandescent lightbulb, the phonograph, motion pictures, mining, and countless other corners of technology. How many people have a good sense of what order these world-impacting changes came in? And so it went, and as I said, the quasi-reverse chronology is a clumsy device. But Morris died early this year, so I can criticize but not throw stones. Other than that, it's a fine book and is accompanied by an extensive set of notes and a bibliography for those who want to know more.

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