Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World Paperback – Feb 28 2006
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Despite the fact that our lives are powered by electricity to an astonishing degree, most of us have little or no understanding of how or why it works. Instead, we rely on a blurry notion that it flows--like water--through wires to turn on our appliances. In Electric Universe, David Bodanis fools readers, by keeping them entertained and intrigued, into learning the science behind electricity. He does this by telling a series of stories, starting with how a backwoods American really invented the telegraph and how Samuel Morse stole the credit for it. From there, he works through the lives of Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, and other pioneers. He shows how their experiments affected their lives--never more poignantly than with the tragic story of Alan Turing, whose early work designing computers wasn't enough to prevent him from being driven to suicide. It's surprisingly easy to identify with some of these brilliant scientists, because Bodanis relates their failures as well as their successes. In the end, although we may continue using words such as "current" to describe the "flow" of electrons, Bodanis makes certain that we see electrical energy for what it really is, at a subatomic, quantum level. Even so, there's not a single boring bit in the book. Electric Universe is an excellent scientific history, one that reveals both the progress of knowledge and the strange science of the wiggling electrons that run our lives. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
This entertaining look at how electricity works and affects our daily lives is highlighted by Bodanis's charming narrative voice and by clever, fresh analogies that make difficult science accessible. Bodanis examines electricity's theoretical development and how 19th- and 20th-century entrepreneurs harnessed it to transform everyday existence. Going from "Wires" to "Waves" to computers and even the human body, Bodanis pairs electrical innovations with minibiographies of their developers, among them Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi, Heinrich Herz and Alan Turing. In each case, Bodanis deepens his narrative by charting early failures—Edison's difficulty in finding a workable filament for the electric light bulb, for example—and financial struggles. And Bodanis can be a wry commentator on his subjects, noting, for example, how bedeviled Samuel Morse was by his telegraph patents—when the telegraph was actually invented by Joseph Henry, who refused to patent it. Surprisingly, Bodanis goes beyond the inorganic world of devices, delving deeply into the role electricity plays in the seemingly inhospitable "sloshing wet" human body, such as why being out in the cold makes us clumsy, or how alcohol works in the nervous system. Those who don't generally read science will find that Bodanis is a first-rate popularizer—as he also showed in his earlier E=MC2—able to keep a happy balance between technical explanation and accessibility.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
Book was in excellent shape and virtually pristine condition. I would highly recommend the seller!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In this book author and former professor David Bodanis presents "the shocking true story of electricity." Actually this book is more about electrical devices through history and the scientists who created them. The electrical devices investigated are as follows: telegraph, telephone, light bulb, electric motor, radio, radar, and computer. Even human biological devices are looked into-specifically the nervous system and brain. Bodanis says this more eloquently:
"The world is made of electric charges and our technologies operate through electric charges, and even our brains are powered by electric charges."
The author does present some of the science behind electricity. (Electricity is a general term used for all phenomena caused by electric charge.) But he seems to concentrate only on DC or Direct Current (a term he never uses). (Direct Current is electric charge always flowing in the same direction.) Nothing (not one word!!) is said about the more important AC or Alternating Current and its colorful scientific history. This I feel was a major, major oversight. (Alternating Current is a flow of electric charge that periodically reverses its direction.)
Chapter 1 to chapter 6 of this 12-chapter book presents the scientific history of direct current. I feel Bodanis does a decent job here with his explanations and portraits of major scientists. In fact, I feel that his writing style is very engaging throughout the book.
The next two chapters discuss radar. Unfortunately, the author goes into way too much detail about the war effort and strays significantly off topic. I feel all this information was not needed.
Chapter 9 and chapter 10 discuss the idea of a "thinking machine" (what we now call the computer) and the man behind this revolutionary idea. As well, this man's legacy is explained. This information is well presented.
The last two chapters look into human biology. Here we learn that "our entire body operates by electricity." I found this information very interesting but felt that most of it was not relevant to the theme of the book.
There are two more brief sections at the end of this book. They are entitled as follows:
(1) "What happened next." This section profiles what happened to the major people mentioned in this book. Some of these people include Samuel Morse, Alexander G. Bell, Edison, Faraday, Hertz, and Turing. I found this section interesting.
(2) "Mr. Amp, Mr. Volt, and Mr. Watt." These units (amp, volt and watt) describe, according to Bodanis, "what's happening inside all...electric devices." What happened to Mr. Ohm? An ohm is a measure of electrical resistance. I thought not mentioning this unit was a major oversight.
Finally, there are no illustrations in this book. I felt simple diagrams would have reduced the book's wordiness. As well, pictures of some of the major people mentioned would have been nice.
In conclusion, this is a well-written book about electricity that has some major oversights and that, in some cases, presents irrelevant information.
(first published 2005; introduction; 6 parts or 12 chapters; 2 concluding sections; main narrative 235 pages; notes; further reading; acknowledgements; index)
The examples are too numerous to list here, but a few examples will give you a taste:
On page 37,in attempting to explain a telephone receiver, he states that a strong electric current causes the diaphragm to move quickly while a weak current causes it to move slowly. This misses the more important point that it is moving faster because it moves further in response to a greater current.
On page 46, he implies that the reason Edison's light bulbs retained their vacuum was because of how tightly the bases were attched to the bulbs. Anyone who has ever detached a bulb from its base know that it is the sealed glass envelope which prevents air from entering.
Page 52 tells us that the darkening inside a light bulb is caused by the electrons streaming off the filament "etching" the glass. In fact, it is the deposition of metal ions from the filament that causes this.
He tells us on page 84 that the warnings given about not touching the parts of de-energized equipment (like the high-voltage section of a TV) is due to static buildup on the metal parts. He doesn't seem to know what a capacitor or capacitance is. Which, by the way, explains why he informs us on page 88 that Napolean's favoring of Volta is why we measure electrical potential in volts rather than "faradays." He never once mentions that capacitance is measured in farads, even when he describes the origin of the terms volt, ampere, watt and Hertz.
Finally, he avers that the short waves used by the German radars were superior because the longer waves the British used spread wider. In fact, the resolution of all wave-based imaging systems (microscopes, radars, telescopes, sonar, medical ultrasound) is a direct funtion of the wavelength of the signal. Shorter wavelengths resolve smaller details.
It astounds me that someone can be deemed a "science writer" and not have the scientific sophistication of an undergraduate physics student. The fact that real writers of the stature of Simon Singh and Ross King could allow their names to be used on the cover blurbs leads me to think they never opened the book. Did he even bother to have an electrical engineer or physics professor critique it before he submitted it? What is his editor paid for?
Based on other reviews I have seen, he hasn't done much better with the history part, either. That said, I can think of no reason for reading this book, unless you are in the mood for fiction.
The author makes a few claims that I have never seen before, such as one that Morse, in inventing the telegraph, stole most of his ideas from Joseph Henry, and I'd be curious to see how much of this is generally accepted. But if so, it would certainly appear that Samuel Morse was overrated by history. The book covers both Morse and Henry, and also such well-known inventors as Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, often showing sides of them that we don't see elsewhere. The book devotes a large amount of space to Alan Turing, who is obviously highly regarded by the author. It also covers much of the scientific side of the story, even giving a glimpse of quantum mechanics (the scientific theory which underlies much of modern electronics).
That being said, this is a _popular_ book. It does not attempt to present all the mathematics of Maxwell's electromagnetic theory or quantum mechamics, but simply describes them in terms that a non-physicist can comprehend, and I think it is successful at that level. If you don't expect of it something that clearly was not intended by the author, but want a well-written book on the historical aspects of electric and electronic devices, you will be well-served by this book.
A very extensive bibliography, not just listing the books but explaining what you will find in each one cited, ends the text of this book.
On the basis of my most favotable impression of E = mc2 I was eager to engross myself in Electric Universe. After the second chapter I bacame confused about the intent of this new Bodanis book. Is Electric Universe a history? Is it a science book dealing with biographies? Is the intent to scientifically explain the development of electricity? Electric Universe fails in all these purposes.
The author makes no distinction between scienctfic discoveries and technological advances. Perhaps mixing of the two is appropriate in a general book such as this, but somehow distinctions between the two must be made. An entire chapter is devoted to Edison and the development of electric motors and the light bulb. Yet, in regard to J.J. Thomson, he writes, "The quietly bumbling JJ ....". Every chemistry and physics book that I know of gives credit to J.J. Thomson for making his important discovery. Yet, in Bodanis' opinion, Thomson's discovery of the electron is considered to be a bumbling accident.
The discoveries of Hans Christian Oersted and Michael Faraday go together like hand and glove. The consideration of both Oersted and Faraday to explain that magnetism and electricity are two aspects of the same force is indeed basic. Yet, Bodanis does not mention Oersted. Is this because his biography is not spiced with the unusual?
The powerful electric motors, described in the chapter giving praise to Edison, utilized DC current which was problematic if the use of electricity was to become widespread over great distances. Not one word was written about Nikola Tesla who promoted the use of AC motors and AC current which addesssed this critical concern. What about Tesla's other many fascinating inventions? This omission is strange given that Tesla was one of the more fascinating characters of his day.
This is just a sampling of my concerns. Enough said. In short, I have no idea what the author intended to accomplish. Although the writing style is pleasant and the anecdotes interesting, they do not weave themselves into the story of electricity.
Electric universe has the makings of a good book, but it seems as if Bodanis realized once he tackled that the topic that it was too big for his planned format so he just chose to touch on a story here and a story there and call it good. The result is unfocused and doesn't help you to understand electricity or its history too much better than whe you started the book.
I don't recommend this one, but don't let that dissaude you from reading "e=mc2," which is fantastic.
Look for similar items by category
- Books > Professional & Technical > Engineering > Electrical & Electronics > Electricity Principles
- Books > Professional & Technical > Professional Science > Physics > Electromagnetism
- Books > Science & Math > History & Philosophy > History of Science
- Books > Science & Math > Mathematics
- Books > Science & Math > Physics > Electromagnetism > Electricity
- Books > Textbooks > Sciences > Physics