Very little that shocks or illuminates. (Illustrated throughout)

READ REVIEW

STEALING GOD’S THUNDER

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN’S LIGHTNING ROD AND THE INVENTION OF AMERICA

Yes, he actually flew that kite, and his greatest invention, the lightning rod, occasioned great debates about humankind’s audacious interference with God’s judgments.

Dray’s previous title (At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, 2002) was a Pulitzer finalist, but this latest effort lacks its predecessor’s gravitas. One of many recent works about the Founding Fathers—including Franklin (see Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, 2003, for example)—Dray’s volume is comparatively slender. The subtitle indicates a focus on the lightning rod—and, indeed, references to it do appear throughout—but the author offers, as well, a Bio Lite of Franklin, from birth to death, from slave-owner to abolitionist, from journalist to constitutionalist. We hear stories about Franklin’s inventions and are treated to an epilogue charting the frequency and destructiveness of lightning strikes, the pervasiveness of electricity in our everyday lives and octogenarian Franklin’s concerns about an afterlife. We must wait nearly 150 pages to find out if lightning rods work (no reason to spoil it here). Some amazing personalities appear along the way: Robespierre, Mozart, Handel, Phillis Wheatley and Mary Tofts, who claimed she gave birth to rabbits. Of greatest interest and relevance are Dray’s stories about Franklin’s electrical experiments (he electrocuted animals, just to see), about his scientific, religious and political opponents. Then, as now, there were some religious leaders—and myriad followers—who believed science should not interfere with God’s providence; others feared that sending electrical forces into the ground via lightning rod would cause earthquakes. For some reason, Dray does not really comment about the contemporary relevance of any of this.

Very little that shocks or illuminates. (Illustrated throughout)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6032-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more