The war of the currents and its larger-than-life personalities are illuminated by a flickering light.
In the 1870s and 1880s, two competing systems of electrical current were backed by three very different men. Thomas Alva Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” advocated for direct current, while inventor Nikola Tesla, a Serbian immigrant, and George Westinghouse were leading proponents of alternating current. The potential for acclaim and riches was high, but it all came down to which system—direct or alternating current—would prevail. Edison had the name recognition but a flawed system, while Tesla and Westinghouse were confident in alternating current’s superiority, even when it was branded too dangerous in the press. It took a world’s fair, court battles, and worldwide financial panic to yield a winner in the war of the currents. Although the men and the historical events provide plenty of drama, Winchell (Been There, Done That: School Daze, 2016, etc.) blunts the impact by spending too much time at the beginning of the book on the development of the electric chair and its first victim. Black-and-white photographs and technical drawings supplement the text, which is based on extensive primary and high-quality secondary sources. There is unfortunately no mention of influential African-American inventor and Edison employee Lewis Latimer, who patented the carbon filament.
The appeal of the events shines through despite a shaky start. (timeline, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 12-16)