Cover image for Edison : inventing the century
Edison : inventing the century
Baldwin, Neil, 1947-
Personal Author:
University of Chicago Press edition.
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
x, 531 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: New York : Hyperion, c1995.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TA140.E3 B25 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The genius of America's most prolific inventor, Thomas Edison, is widely acknowledged, and Edison himself has become an almost mythic figure. But how much do we really know about the man who considered deriving rubber from a goldenrod plant as opposed to the genius who gave us electric light? Neil Baldwin gives us a complex portrait of the inventor himself--both myth and man--and a multifaceted account of the intellectual climate of the country he worked in and irrevocably changed.

Author Notes

Neil Baldwin is an executive director of the National Book Foundation and coeditor of The Writing Life . He is the author of critically acclaimed biographies of William Carlos Williams and Man Ray, as well as Legends of the Plumed Serpent: Biography of a Mexican God .

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The Wizard of Menlo Park always attracted a great deal of press and biographical attention because his inventions--the lightbulb, microphone, phonograph, moving pictures--appeared nigh miraculous. Edison himself hated the Merlin-like moniker, claiming only to have been a diligent man. Baldwin agrees he was--and reports that at 65, Thomas Alva Edison worked a 112-hour week. Domestically, Edison was not so successful. Thomas Jr. became so estranged from his celebrated father that he dropped the surname and skulked about under various aliases. And Edison cut off relations with a daughter who had married an officer in the kaiser's army. Was Edison a flawed father or titanic exemplar of self-made individualism? Baldwin eschews categorical conclusions and rather invites the curious into Edison's homes, labs, and factories where they can make their own inspection. Libraries without any Edison biography (the last, by Wyn Wachhorst, is 15 years old and o.p.) should seriously consider this one, completely researched and ably executed. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

The boxed PW review of Baldwin's biography of the driven, contradictory inventor called it ``an inspirational American saga of titanic determination and protean imagination.'' (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Thomas Alva Edison, an icon to millions, was a prodigious inventor and emblem of the American entrepreneurial spirit. His impact on our century via the electric light, the phonograph, the movie, and even Portland cement truly transformed the American experience. Capturing not only the creative and inventive thrust of Edison's life but its personal aspects, Baldwin offers first-rate writing. Baldwin, author of Man Ray: American Artist (LJ 10/1/88) and executive director of the National Book Foundation, describes with care the family and business milieu Edison fostered and lived in. He also gives generous treatment to the important people in Edison's life. The story is fascinating. Highly recommended for all libraries. [For more on Baldwin and Edison, see LJ's Behind the Book interview, "Biography of an Inventive Life," on p. 116.-Ed.]-Michael D. Cramer, Virginia Polytechnic & State Univ. Libs., Blacksburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This richly textured biography of an American icon provides a picture of Edison that both humanizes him and explains the basis for his larger-than-life image, which remains engraved on our national psyche. We learn of his forbears as well as his early life, both as a boy and as a young man. But nothing ever quite explains the emergence of singular genius so that readers will form their own explanations of the rise of the greatest of American inventors just after the Civil War. He claimed, or at least tried to claim, that he was only a practical man who worked mostly on his own. In fact, Edison's greatest invention probably was the industrial research and development laboratory employing a staff of highly competent specialists. Moreover, as Charles Proteus Steinmetz, a genius in his own right, shrewdly observed before the turn of the century, although Edison had never gone to college, he knew more theory than many college-educated persons. Using the best recent Edison scholarship, Baldwin has written an unusually good popular study of the man and his times that displays the inevitable warts as well as the accomplishments in context. More than a hundred pages of notes for readers inclined to scholarship. A book well worth reading. General; undergraduate; two-year technical program students. M. Levinson; University of Washington