Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review: Edison: His Life and Inventions

Edison - His Life and Inventions, was written in 1910 by Thomas Commerford Martin (with a co-author, F.L. Dyer), a long-time Edison engineer employee and all-round fanboy. Note that the book is in the public domain, so you can get it here in e-form or at the previous link for a print version. I actually consumed it in audio book form, in an 'abridged' series of 25 podcasts of about 40 minutes each, for the first 25 chapters, and remaining 4 chapters in text form online. You can find the audio version here, done as part of the excellent Story Speiler Podcast.

This is not the easiest book to get through, even in audio form. It's sixteen hour length being only one of the reasons. Being written in 1910, the style in which its written takes a little getting used to and takes a while getting to the point. At the same time, I found this entertaining as well. The hardest thing about it is that Martin & Dyer's fandom rivals that of all but the most die-hard religious zealots. It's tough to cut through the walks-on-water BS and to what the truth might be.

This aside, it's a *really* interesting read. Most people are familiar with the stories around Edison's incandescent bulb and phonograph. However, the details around these are interesting unto themselves and are lost in the high-level story. For example, the fact that over a decade elapsed between the first success with the light bulb and reaching a point of commercial viability (lowering cost, increasing life, etc, over that time).

It's also interesting in covering how many other enterprises Edison was involved in and covering some of the details around them. He had a hand at mining, cement making, housing construction, electric railways, the stock ticker, and more.

There are a lot of interesting historical lessons to get out of this read, all involving disruptive technology and business models. They are so far removed from our current time and technology that it makes for interesting contrast, and the metaphors with current day are many.

I'd recommend the audio version for someone that enjoys audio books on a regular commute, as it'll take you a while to get through.

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