As much as any man in history, Thomas Alva Edison changed the fabric of everyday life. Here’s a big new biography of the great inventor, by a leading Edison scholar. Israel, managing editor of the Rutgers edition of Edison’s papers, takes pains to place the inventor in the context of his times. A good deal of attention is devoted to his early career. The son of Canadian emigrants to northern Ohio, Edison (1847—1931) learned to read and write from his schoolteacher mother, rather than from his sporadic formal schooling. His father’s books taught him the scientific method and analytical thinking. His first jobs were as a telegrapher, moving from city to city. His desire to master this skilled profession led to his first invention: a device to allow novice telegraphers to vary the speed of a message for practice. Edison’s growing body of experimentation was recorded in notebooks he kept as early as 1867, and from which Israel produces numerous drawings and excerpts. By 1869, his search for new telegraphic applications bore fruit in a service delivering financial news to brokerages. Edison quit his job as a telegraph operator to move to New York and concentrate on developing new inventions. There, with a reputation for cleverness and an ability to enlist wealthy backers, he was soon putting in 16-hour days fulfilling new contracts. His insatiable curiosity led him to branch out into fields ranging from metallurgy to plastics to, eventually, the triumphs of the electric light, sound recording, and literally hundreds of other inventions. Israel covers his career in depth, with discussions of technical considerations at the forefront, and frequent reference to Edison’s own writings and reported conversation. The inventor’s personal life, which he himself put a distant second behind his work, receives the occasional sidelong glance, though it’s hard to say that any great new light is shed on it. Exhaustively researched, with a strong emphasis on Edison’s methods and achievements.